During the 2012 presidential campaign the Republicans talked an awful lot about democracy and American principles, but after the November 6 election, when their ideas were rejected by a large majority, it turns out they’re not all that fond of those things. Mitt Romney’s dream of a nation of yeomen corporations was downsized and shuttered–despite the countless roadblocks to voting in Democratic-leaning and minority-heavy districts, erected by people who talk loudly about democracy and the constitution, but their actions send a very different message.
Now they’re mad as hell and they just want to get away from it all.
Over at the White House “We the People” online petition forum, tens of thousands of these dead-enders are signing secession petitions, asking that their state (actually, not just their own state, as you don’t have to be a citizen of the state whose petition you’re signing) be allowed to go its own way, perhaps to become an indie republic, perhaps to team up with other unhappy-feeling states to form a sort of post-modern Confederacy.
It’s a weird thing. After his defeat, Mitt picked up his sad face and went to Disneyland,but the sorest of losers seem to be heading off to Civil War Land.
Raging against the iron boot heel of affordable health care on their necks, not to mention clean air and water, a path to energy independence, foreign wars ending, terrorists hunted down and expanded guarantees of fairness and equality in marriage, the workplace and the military, these sore losers want to take their toys and go home. Actually, the place they yearn for isn’t home, exactly, but some fantasyland version of the USA, one that exists somewhere in the silver mists of their misguided adolescent fantasies. In a time when so many conservatives believe in a literal interpretation of the biblical story of creation, as well as absurd new definitions of rape and personhood, it’s no surprise that their ideas about the founding fathers’ vision of the Republic seem about as thin as a pop-up book on the US constitution.
Silly as this secession talk sounds, in some a ways it’s a big deal. As of noon Friday, December 7, secession petitions from 40 states had been filed through the wonderful new White House widget. Not surprisingly, Texas leads the pack, with 118,949 signatures. The person who created this petition, identified as “Micah H., Arlington, TX,” filed it on November 9, 2012. That’s three days after November 6, when Barack Obama was reelected, and three days plus 152 years after the election of Abraham Lincoln. The prelude to the US Civil War began on December 20, six weeks later, when South Carolina voted to secede. Ten additional states left the Union over the next several months. (Texas was number seven.)
As of December 7, 2012, only 24,809 had signed the South Carolina petition to secede (again). Since it’s known as the “Cradle of Secession” you’d think there would be more interest. Maybe it’s a case of been-there-done-that.
The 2012 petitioners complain that the federal government has egregiously abused their constitutional rights. Interestingly, the 11 treasonous states who withdrew from the Union in 1860-1861 also complained about their rights being steamrolled by both the fed and the northern states. The primary rights at issue concerned slavery–the right of Southerners to buy, sell, keep, rape and otherwise utilize slaves as their personal property, to have such property returned to them when runaway slaves escaped to states where slavery had been outlawed, and other such deeply cherished rights.
Ironic and ugly, isn’t it? Why would anyone want to be associated with a verb like “secession” these days?
As we have seen in so many other examples of tragic-comic bad behavior, Texas is only too proud to be leading the way. None of the other secession petitions comes close to Texas. The second most popular, Louisiana, had 37,289. Five other states have 30,000-plus signatures, six others have 20,000-plus signatures, and then the numbers fall off rather quickly. In case you want to see where your state ranks in this online wall of shame, go to the “We the People” home page at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov.
To qualify for posting on this online platform, a petition must collect 150 signatures within 30 days. The petition must amass 25,000 signatures in the next 30 days to merit an official response from the White House. This could be interesting to watch. I’m anxious to hear what the President says about the petition to: “Deport everyone that signed a petition to withdraw their state from the United States of America.” That one already has 26,405 signatures.
As a Texan, I feel some responsibility for this, sort of like inheriting an original sin. When I was a boy growing up in Johnson City, Texas, I remember how proud it made me that Texas was so big and storied, a state that was once an independent nation. We used to take our toy guns to the dumping ground by the creek near my house and reenact famous battles like Custer’s Last Stand, the Shoot-out at the OK Corral and the previous week’s episode of Combat. Every adolescent boy had a coonskin cap in those days, and so we idolized Davy Crockett, and we fought the hell out of the Battle of the Alamo, over and over again. In that one, we all died, just like the 200 or so doomed defenders in San Antonio on March 6, 1836. Then we’d spring back to life and reenact the Battle of San Jacinto, where on April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston led a larger Texan Army into a deadly ambush of Santa Anna’s forces, who happened to be sleeping at the time. The Texans howled “Remember the Alamo” as they drove the Mexican Army into a humiliating defeat. Thus, liberty and revenge were achieved in one fell swoop.
Houston’s military leadership, combined with his service in public office, his skills as a multi-cultural ambassador, and the fact that he was just a damned interesting dude, combined to make him Texas’ greatest hero–even more beloved than Rick Perry, even though Perry has served longer in office than Houston.
When you’re a kid, fighting with make-believe weapons and invisible bullets, it’s awesome fun to go down in a blaze of glory, fighting for a seemingly brilliant cause–even though you don’t yet have the fuzziest idea of the facts behind it (even though we were obliged to take a full two years of Texas history in public school).
What a thrilling fantasy it must also be, for all those disgruntled Republicans and severely disgruntled right wing conservatives, shaking off their post-election depression by marching in the army of secessionist petitioners, citizens so disenchanted with the federal government and the ideas and feelings of the rest of the nation that they no longer want their state to be one of the United States.
In fact, Houston was heartbroken over the vote to secede from the Union in 1861. He made an impassion plea to the secession convention, trying desperately to inject some reason into the debate, but to no avail. He retired to his home in Huntsville, heartbroken.
As an Austinite, I’ve always been immensely proud of the fact that this part of the state, Travis County, voted against secession. And we are still in the liberal Democrat column today, a bold blue marble in a sea of red Republicanism.
And so, as this parade of knuckleheads follows Texas down this rutted path, I can’t help being reminded of the fantasy play of snot-nosed young boys in Texas in the 1960s. We thought war and revolution was glorious, but hell, we thought bubble gum cards were glorious, too.
I worry what will happen. If these petitioners don’t cool it with their pseudo-Confederacy schemes they might give Civil War reenactors a bad name.
When it comes down to it, the petitions aren’t very impressive, either. The one from Texas, for example:
We petition the Obama administration to: Peacefully grant the State of Texas to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government.
The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending. The citizens of the US suffer from blatant abuses of their rights such as the NDAA, the TSA, etc. Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it’s [SIC] citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.
So, a big complaint here is that the US has failed to “reform domestic and foreign spending.” But is this an objection to financial aid to the poor, student loans and protecting the environment, or wasteful expenditures such as subsidies to oil companies, tax breaks for billionaires, that sort of thing? If one is to believe the claim that the federal government is a bloated bully with its satanic hooves upon our backs, wouldn’t one expect a beefier list of “blatant abusers” than “NDAA, the TSA, etc.”?
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a arguably a nasty piece of work, as it includes provisions like the one allowing the federal government to indefinitely detain domestic terrorism suspects. Naming the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA), however, I suspect was done to placate some of the uptight elderly Tea Party members who think that only swarthy air travelers in Bedouin robes should be groped and body scanned at security check-points.
Then there’s the last part: “Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union…”
Here, a few inconvenient facts come to mind. As most of us start working on our Christmas shopping lists and exchanging fruitcake recipes, Governor Rick Perry and other state officials are forced to contemplate a very uncheerful set of possibilities. If Obama administration and the Republicans fail to make a deal to avoid the dreaded financial-geographical metaphor we know as “the fiscal cliff,” on January 2, 2013, automatic federal spending cuts will be triggered (as per the sequestration outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011). If that happens, then states like Texas, yes, even mighty Texas, will face Draconian cuts in federal aid.
Some of the specifics were mentioned in a December 4, 2012 story in the Austin American-Statesman. According to the Texas Legislative Budget Board, the cuts could reach $1.1 billion and affect 13 state agencies over the next two years. Over the next week or two, expect to see some pained expressions around the granite domed state capitol building (which, in case some Texan hasn’t told you already, is five feet taller than the one in Washington, D.C.).
The Texas Legislature has scheduled a hearing to discuss the issue the second week of December, but miracles are not expected. If the automatic cuts should come to pass, Texas’ genitals, caught in the proverbial vise, would be torqued even further because of the state’s dependence on federal spending on defense, homeland security and border security, and so forth. All of this, despite the fact that Texas used to be an independent nation, with a president, a flag, and everything. Yes, and despite the fact that Mexico was so badly routed at San Jacinto, the Republic of Texas continued to be invaded by Mexico with great regularity. Like it was a sport or something.
Oddly enough, for a state claiming to be the “15th largest economy in the world,” Texas and the federal tit are never very far apart.According to Eva DeLuna Castro of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, (cited in the Statesman article) federal spending accounts for about one-fifth of the Texas economy. In 2010 a total of $226 billion federal dollars were expended in the Lone Star State, including $43 billion from Social Security; $16 billion from Medicare, and a total $59 billion from the Department of Defense.
If the fiscal cliff comes under our wheels, just try throwing a rock without hitting someone reeling from the impact. OK, maybe you could just drop it on a Houston oil man’s head or something.
Public education would be poleaxed: Title 1 grants to schools cut by $100.8 million, 1,386 education jobs gone, 254,704 fewer students served, 422 fewer schools receiving grants, and many other cuts to areas already hurting. Thus would acceleration be applied to the state’s race to the bottom in education.
These quirks and coincidences are all kind of tangled up together. If there’s any logic to my presentation, it should become clear enough soon. The aforementioned fiscal freak-out story was reported on December 4, the same day that Elizabeth Flock, on the US News blog Washington Whispers, quoted a series of breathless brags from Dan Miller, president of an organization called the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM). According to Miller, the group’s paid membership had risen by 400 percent in recent months. Although Miller declined to provide any specific numbers or proof of these claims, he also claimed that traffic to the group’s website, TexasNationalist.comhas increased by 9,000 percent.
Some of that increase, however, is likely due to a copy editing error that was overlooked when a pro-gambling group, Let Texans Decide, ran a series of radio spots, seeking support for a referendum to legalize gambling in the state. In the ad copy, the organization’s home page URL was misspelled, and thus, instead of sending listeners to LetTexansDecide.com, they were directed to LetTexasDecide.com, where they found a petition sponsored by TNM advocating a referendum on Texas independence. It’s an ill wind that blows a Libertarian no good. (My definition of libertarian, by the way, is a redneck with a bong.)
Miller insists that the secession/independence fad is not merely a reaction against the reelection of Barack Obama, who happens to be a Democrat, an African-American and a non-Texan. “A lot of people in the opposition want to downplay this as extreme and fringe,” says Miller, “But at our meetings in different counties, we’re sometimes drawing more people than the Democratic and Republican parties…. This political and cultural disconnect between Texas and the federal system has been talked about for generations. Now, it has entered into mainstream political discourse.”
Miller is obviously enjoying his moment in the spotlight, but I would disagree that being talked about in the mainstream political arena is the same thing as being involved in the mainstream swing of things. I mean, when traffic on the freeway slows down to gawk at a bloody accident, it doesn’t mean all those drivers wish they were sitting in a crumpled car, waiting for the jaws of life to arrive.
Speaking of disconnect, there’s a cherished myth in this state that rugged, independent Texas folk, particularly those who live in rural areas or who happen to own oil producing land, could get along quite nicely without the generous pipeline of federal money carried between the federal government and the state. You know, such as agricultural subsidies, defense contracts, oil company tax breaks, and things like that. Maybe you actually believe that.
Maybe you were actually excited at the prospect of President Rick Perry.
There’s also a misconception that Texas joined the Union under some sort of non-binding agreement, one that allowed it to leave again, no strings attached, whenever it felt like it. There’s not one molecule of truth to this notion. Zip, nada, zero. By now, we hope someone has shared this info with Rick Perry, who helped spread this bit of misinformation.
Texas’ abrasive, disconnected character got a boost in the 1950s, when the oil was flowing and all that oil money helped make Texas a valuable player in right wing political discourse. It was a rich Texas oil man who gave Senator Joseph McCarthy a brand new Cadillac for being such a great American. Conservative Texas Republicans also never quite forgave FDR for not only leading the Allies to victory over Germany and Japan during World War II, but his New Deal programs that got us out of the Great Depression.Gov. Allan Shivers, a hard line conservative old school Deep South Democrat, desperate to win reelection, turned even more severely conservative and delivered the state’s conservative Dems to Eisenhower in 1952 and ’56. Shivers fought hard to preserve segregated schools, too. Everyone remembers Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus in Little Rock in 1957 as a racist retrograde, but he was emboldened and inspired by Shivers’ crackdown on the attempted integration of public schools at Mansfield the previous year. Shivers was a cold piece of work.
Texans just like to talk tough, right? Here’s a couple more examples from this season of madness. Last August a county judge from Lubbock named Tom Head warned that Obama’s reelection could spark a second civil war. Why? Because Judge Head expects Obama to hand the reins of power over to the United Nations. (And are we positive that this guy’s first name isn’t actually Dick?)
Another tough guy, Peter Morrison, treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, said there was no reason for the Lone Star State and bastions of effeminacy and communism, like, Vermont, for example, to “live under the same government.” The people who had elected Barack Obama, he said, were “maggots,” many of whom voted on an “ethnic basis.”
But enough digression. Back to the state of Texas’ budget woes, which will be getting worse in the next couple of years, even if the fiscal cliff is avoided. Very early in Obama’s first term, Gov. Perry went on record as being adamantly opposed to the federal stimulus program. Like so many Republican political leaders, he railed against the stimulus, but he was waiting at the trough when it was doled out, and it was those six billion dollars of dirty federal dough that allowed Gov. Perry to claim that his administration had not only made big spending cuts, but created jobs and balanced the budget.
The dreaded stimulus program also happened to be the subject of discussion back in April 2009, when Perry made his first veiled threats about secession.
Speaking to a rowdy crowd of tax protesters in Austin, back in the heady, early days of the Tea Party movement, Perry obviously sought to burnish his right-winginess in a memorable way.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” he said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”
If everyone who thumbed their nose at me was about to give me six billion dollars, or even a few hundred, I’d be very happy. Who knows what might come out of that?
Why would a governor of a state joke or tease or play around with the concept of secession? Maybe Perry thought it was the best way to guarantee a seat on the classic clown car that was the 2012 Republican presidential campaign. If so, the gambit paid off. For a few heady minutes there, Perry was the man to beat. A few minutes later, he was beat. Few other rising stars have so efficiently showcased their shortcomings. Making a fool of yourself when your only competition is Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul really is not as easy as it looks.
Now Perry and his team have another big show ahead of them–another balancing act with the state budget. But this time, he won’t have the dreaded fed forcing another six billion dollars on us, and if Perry’s colleagues in Congress want to continue their fantasy battles with President Obama and the US economy, sending us over the fiscal cliff, Perry’s budget woes will become a whole lot worse.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Rick Perry. He’s got the kind of problems that would make any chief executive want to run away to Civil War Land, or Disneyland. Even one who can count all the way to three.
One final observation about numbers, and then it’s down to the research lab to start working on the next installment of these Secession Chronicles. The numbers of signatories on these post-modern secession petitions are chimerical, just like all the action over at Daniel Miller’s Texas Nationalists Movement. When you look at the Texas petition, with its 115,000 signatures, the addresses are from all over the country. On the first screen of 40 names, only 12 have Texas addresses.
That’s just a random example, but even if three-fourths of the unhappy Republicans in this state wanted to secede, that still wouldn’t be a majority. There may be a lot of dumb Texans, but they’re not all dumb, and this state doesn’t want to secede, nor do any other of the forty-nine. And as excited as people like Daniel Miller might be about their growing ranks, they’re all dying breed. Demographics are against them. Even in Texas, most of the big cities went to Obama. Some rural counties where the vote was a lopsided 80 percent Romney vs. 17 percent Obama are adjacent to counties where the voters preferred Obama over Romney in equal proportions. As you may have guessed, those counties are home to Latino majorities, and that’s the direction the whole country is headed.
In the same Washington Whispers post that dutifully repeats Daniel Miller’s claims that the tide of Texanism is on the rise, she writes that “according to the New York Times, even sales of a ‘SECEDE’ bumper sticker have dramatically increased in Texas in recent weeks.” Big deal. Those things came out at least 20 years ago. Usually you saw them on the backs of banged-up pickup trucks driven by cosmic cowpokes, whose idea of a new Republic of Texas had something to do with cheap pot, braless women and Willie Nelson as president.
It was a joke then.
It’s a joke now.
Finally, here’s a kind of sad note. This Google search result indicates that a large number of people who want to know if Texas has the right to secede are not very good at spelling it.