Tag Archives: States’ Rights and Racism

Racism, Racism Everywhere

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This article ably explains why Ron Paul is a disgusting, and dangerous, public figure.

I have written about Ron Paul before (herehere, here, here and here) and received the predictable blowback from his internet minions. The cult of personality that has formed around this man is disturbing. Many young people attach themselves to his banner, despite the fact that he is essentially an evolution-denying, Christian fundamentalist from Texas.

Ron Paul, along with many prominent leaders of the Tea Party, have revived an idea that most people hoped was long dead: nullification. Nullification is the theory that states have the right to disregard federal laws they deem unconstitutional. Its earliest incarnation can perhaps be found in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the presidency of John Adams. Jefferson and Madison believed that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and the states had the duty to nullify such laws.

However, the intellectual father of nullification was a Congressman from South Carolina named John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was considered an expert on the Constitution in his day. He had the reputation as a theorist of sorts who justified the southern way of life. Andrew Jackson tapped him to be his Vice Presidential running mate in 1828. By the end of his first term, Jackson would come to regret this decision.

Besides slavery, another wedge issue between north and south at the time was the tariff. A tariff is a tax on imported goods. Northerners tended to support high tariffs since they protected American industry, which was the backbone of the northern economy. Southerners tended to oppose high tariffs since it raised prices of all goods, especially the low-quality clothing they bought from Britain in which southerners clad their enslaved human beings. Southerners were hopeful that President Jackson would do away with the hated “Tariff of Abominations” put in place by Jackson’s predecessor and American hero, John Quincy Adams. When Jackson did not move fast enough, Calhoun claimed that South Carolina had the right to nullify the tariff. If the federal government insisted that the tariff be paid anyway, then South Carolina had the right to secede, or leave, the union.

Jackson’s response to Calhoun’s challenge is the stuff of legend in American history. At a Washington dinner party, Jackson stood up, looked Calhoun in the eye and gave a toast saying “Our federal union. It must be preserved!” He later threatened to have Calhoun hanged from the highest tree. During this so-called “Nullification Crisis”, Jackson penned an eloquent defense of the American union as a combination of people and not of states. Jackson’s firm response, combined with a compromise that lowered the hated tariffs, served to end the Nullification Crisis. Needless to say, Jackson did not choose Calhoun as his running mate in 1832, opting instead for his closest advisor, and political opportunist, Martin Van Buren.

28 years later, it would be no surprise that the first state to “nullify” the election of Abraham Lincoln was South Carolina. They ended up seceding from the union and bringing many other slave states with them. This was the crisis that led to the firing on Fort Sumter which precipitated the greatest tragedy in American history: the Civil War. President Lincoln, from his first inaugural address all the way to the end of his life, picked up on the old Jacksonian idea that the union was one of people and not states. No state had the right to nullify or secede. The issue was settled in favor of Lincoln on the battlefield. It was at that point that the idea of nullification and secession should have died.

However, throughout the Reconstruction Era, southerners waxed poetic about their “Lost Cause”. Their genteel way of life where blacks lived under the lash of the slave master was gone forever. In its place was northern capitalism with its focus on pecuniary acquisition and industry. Many southerners held on to an idealized version of the Old South that would never totally be shaken. Towards the end of the 1800s, southerners would revive the old mantra of “states’ rights” to disenfranchise black people and reduce them to a status not much better than slavery itself. The Supreme Court supported this practice with Plessy v. Ferguson. It would not be until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s that this system of segregation and disenfranchisement was dealt its death blow, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is the story that American history textbooks tell anyway. While it is tempting to believe this system was overturned in the mid-1960s, the truth is that it has been making a comeback. It has been making a comeback because it is, as usual, clothed in the idea of “states’ rights”. One of the biggest proponents of states’ rights in recent years has been Ron Paul. He has done a great job of masking his ideology as libertarianism. However, as the article cited above states:

“Paul’s agenda has included the rejuvenation of paleoconservatism through his youth outreach and a strong emphasis on his “libertarian” credentials, despite his record as the most conservative legislator in the modern history of the U.S. Congress.25 The libertarian elements of Paul’s political agenda derive primarily from his allegiance to states’ rights, which is often mistaken as support for civil liberties.

Paul is far more transparent about his paleoconservative—rather than libertarian—agenda when he speaks to audiences made up of social conservatives, as when he assured LifeSiteNews that he opposed federal regulatory power and supported state-level banning of abortion, and that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if he were a governor.26

He also told an enthusiastic audience at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 2008 that “you don’t have to wait till the courts are changed” to outlaw abortion, pointing out that his plan for removing jurisdiction from the federal courts would allow South Carolina to enact laws against abortion. And he sponsored the “We the People Act,” which proposed stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases related to religion and privacy, freeing state legislatures to regulate sexual acts, birth control, and religious matters.”

Pure libertarianism is the idea that the state should play as little a role as possible in our lives. However, Ron Paul has successfully confounded the idea of libertarianism with the idea of states’ rights. They are not the same thing. States’ rights holds that the states have the ability to wield all types of power over the lives of the people who live within their borders, which is why Paul can say with a straight face that states have the right to make policies regulating women’s wombs. This is not libertarianism of the anarchy stripe. This is downright autocratic rule.

Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, is another darling of the Tea Party. He made headlines not too long ago for saying he would essentially eviscerate the Civil Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that government had no right to tell private business what it can and cannot do with its property. If the owner of a business wishes to discriminate against an entire race of people, that is perfectly fine by the likes of Rand Paul.

Even more scary perhaps is the recent Supreme Court ruling eviscerating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that it violates the 10th Amendment, which is the amendment most cherished by advocates of states’ rights. Those of us who were taught in high school that the Civil Rights Movement achieved a huge goal with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts have been horrified by the attacks on these laws. We hear these cries for states’ rights when states refuse to participate in the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of the old Calhounian idea of nullification. The Tea Party right has gotten a hold of the Republican Party, making it more reactionary than it has ever been before.

What makes Ron Paul disgusting, and disturbing, is how he has tricked young people into believing his brand of Republicanism or Libertarianism is some sort of independent rogue ideology that cherishes freedom. His words, his deeds and his voting record should give the lie to this idea. His brand of Republicanism is essentially the idea of the Lost Cause of the South dressed up in 21st century garb. It is the South Carolina, Calhounist, slave owner mantra of states’ rights, nullification and secession. It is not just a conservative ideology, but what the article deems a paleoconservative ideology. It is a throwback to an oppressive, white supremacist past, one that is not as dead as some of us would like to think.

What it means for those of us in the education world who are fighting against this so-called wave of reform is that we must be careful about with whom we ally. We might be tempted to make common cause with the Ron and Rand Pauls of the world because it is politically expedient. This should be avoided at all costs. They partake in a brand of dog whistle racism that should be exposed and denounced at every turn.

Yet, at the same time, the rhetoric of the reform movement is also clothed in a type of dog whistle racism. Just recently, Newark schools chancellor and education reform darling, Cami Anderson, demonstrated this when she implied that students in Newark public schools (who are mostly minority) were criminals. She denounced Newark teachers who attended the state union’s conference in Atlantic City by saying that giving the students of the city a day off from school would lead to violence in the streets. This type of language exposes the type of racism implicit in the words, deeds and policies of practically every education reformer.

When reformers say that public schools are failing, they are really saying that “those” children are failing. When they say that public school students need Common Core Standards, they really mean that “those” kids need to finally be held up to standards. This is why Arne Duncan was so quick to call out “suburban white moms“. It gave him cover from the obvious racism implicit in the reforms that he supports. When we look at the most prolific charter schools, like the Success Academies here in New York City, they pride themselves on strict discipline and decor. They pride themselves on getting “those” kids to behave.

And this is also why the attack on “those” children’s schools have been accompanied by attacks on “those” children’s teachers. Many times, “those” children’s teachers come from the same “communities” as “those” children. Even when they do not, teachers of “those” children get an up-close look at the horrid conditions in which “those” children live. They might speak out against these injustices, inciting “class warfare” and “socialism” in the process. Only by silencing them do they keep the issues of poverty and racism out of the mainstream.

Those of us who oppose this “education reform” do so because we understand the paternalism and racism it implies. Unfortunately, we cannot fight against the Race to the Top or the Common Core on the grounds that it violates “states’ rights”, since that just replaces one dog whistle term for another. It also replaces the paternalism of the corporate reformers with the paternalism of state governments, who tend to be the most odious and retrograde entities in the country.

No, opponents of education reform must base their opposition on civil disobedience. This is what the idea of “opting out” is all about. Civil disobedience recognizes that Race to the Top, along with many other reforms, are the laws of the land. It recognizes the supremacy of the federal government over the states. It opposes these reform laws not because they are federal, but because they are unjust.

The idea of opting out, of true civil disobedience, would be tainted if associated with the idea of states’ rights. Opting out is the future. States’ rights is the past. Most importantly, states’ rights brought to its ultimate conclusion would bring us back to the Jim Crow era or worse. We would then have to fight a much more serious battle against a much more dangerous brand of “education reform”.