Yesterday, I made a brief mention of Steven Taylor’s excellent article, The Anti-Federalist Impulse. It deals with Cliven Bundy and the militia people and more generally the “constitutional conservatives” and the Tea Party folk. They all claim to be the protectors of the Constitution, but if you listen to them, they are just the opposite. They are making the same arguments that those who stood with the Articles of Confederation and against the Constitution.
I am not the first person to note that a large part if not a majority of the people in these groups are neo-confederates. This also goes for libertarians. One of the reasons I fell out with the libertarian movement was that most people in it wanted to get rid of the federal government. Indeed, if you listen to libertarians argue, they will always come to states’ rights at some time. They will claim that the more local a government is, the better it represents its people. That was never what I saw. It was state and local governments who prevented blacks from voting under Jim Crow and allowed lynchings. When it came to protecting the most basic liberties a human can have, it is the federal government, not the states that have walked the walk.
All of this came up for me when I heard about Operation American Spring. The leader of this movement, Retired Army Col Harry Riley had some pretty amazing things to say. For example, he is calling for the ouster of pretty much everyone, including the Republican leadership. “They have all abandoned the US Constitution, are unworthy to be retained in a position that calls for servant status.” He went on to say that he hoped it would all be peaceful, but thus far, that tactic hadn’t worked. “For more than five years, ‘we the people’ have been writing, calling, faxing Congress, the media, screaming in town halls, marching, rallying, demonstrating, petitioning, all to no avail.”
I’m the first to admit that this is hilarious. But it’s also dangerous. And just plain sad. Democracy is not a system where you just get what you want or you take up arms and start killing people. All the while that Riley was “writing, calling, faxing” his elected officials, so have I. And guess what: I’ve been telling them to do the opposite of what Riley’s been telling them. It isn’t as though in a fundamental sense Riley’s wrong. The truth of the matter is that our elected officials don’t actually listen to either of us. But rather than looking at the real problem—money in politics—he’s more of an “ACORN stole the election!” guy. He said, “We have no faith in the ballot box any longer, as many believe this sacred secret box has been compromised.” Translation: the darkies are voting!
Well the day has come! It is 16 May 2014, and the “10 to 30 million” people have converged on Washington. Well, they didn’t quite reach their target. Think Progress had the best headline I’ve seen today, Tens of People Descend Upon the Capitol to Drive the Obama Administration Out of Office. They had a whole lot of fun with the story:
And while the photos that poured in from Tahrir Square were incredible, depicting tens of thousands of people in the streets, the pictures from American Spring were…less so:
It does rather look like a failed church picnic, but the weather looks fine. You couldn’t ask for a better day for armed insurrection!
Most of the coverage was like that. Gawker went with much the same, writing, “Compared to the Tea Party, Operation American Spring is… nothing, in truth. Like, literally tens of people sitting around being crazy.” But for pure derision, no one compares to Abby Ohlheiser’s article yesterday in The Wire, How to Manage Expectations for Your Rally to Overthrow the American Government:
So, for the benefit of the future of the Overthrow Obama protest movement, here is a guide to managing expectations and making your attempted coup the best version of itself.
She offers some tips like: look at past events. She goes into Glenn Beck’s rather successful rally, that I managed to have a really nice flame war about four years ago. She points out that the million man march had only 837,000 people, and that was fine. It was close enough. But if you say ten million, you are probably setting yourself up for a fall. She also suggests a backup plan. You know: if you are planning to overthrow the government, it would be a good idea to have something else to do when that doesn’t happen. My suggestion: puppet theater!
But Ohlheiser brings up one really important point, “Look at Some Polls.” This is what I find so exasperating about conservatives generally but the far right especially. I used to always say that the difference between MSNBC and Fox News is that the people who watch Fox News think they are getting neutral reporting. I have some pretty radical opinions like my belief in a guaranteed minimum income. But I’m not under the illusion that this is a widely shared belief or that the only reason Congress hasn’t passed this bit of legislation is because they aren’t following the Constitution.
These people are neo-confederates. And I don’t mean that they are racists, although I think a great many of them are. Mostly, they have no idea just how much the federal government does from them. But they are very aware of how much money they pay in taxes and they fret over every federal dollar spent on people and things they find unworthy. They are living in a fantasy land. That’s all fine; there is no law against being delusional—nor should there be. But it really bugs me that these people claim to be the defenders of the Constitution. Because they are the opposite. They want to destroy the Constitution. They want to do more than that. They want to destroy democracy at the federal level, and you can bet if they managed that, they’d set about destroying democracy at the state level too.
The “Constitutional Conservatives” are a great danger to the United States and the Constitution. I do think they’re funny. I do laugh at them. But I am more than a little wary.