For tea party conservatives, this is their winter of discontent. Their movement, which peaked in 2010, garnered a mere 21 percent approval rating in the 2012 national exit polls. Their most prominent fake-grassroots group, FreedomWorks, was in such dire straits this fall that the group’s leader took it upon himself to fire staffers at gunpoint (I kid you not), whereupon the group’s brass paid the leader $8 million to quit. And, of course, the tea partyers’ worst nightmare came true in 2012: the Other who dwells in the White House was solidly re-elected.
But to truly appreciate how rudderless they have become, check out this sentence, which was buried deep in a Christmas Day story about the movement’s hard times: “Another issue boiling is the ‘nullification’ of the Affordable Care Act. Angry that Mr. Obama’s re-election means that the health care law will not be repealed, some activists claim that states can deny the authority of the federal government and refuse to carry it out.”
Just wondering: Do these bitter-enders have an original thought?
The tea partyers floated this “nullification” nonsense two and a half years ago. Their bright idea was constitutionally ignorant then, and remains so today.
Back in early 2010, when they were parading around with posters alleging that President Obama was a commie/Nazi/Joker, they contended that if Obamacare ever became federal law, the states would have the right to disobey it. With the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization bankrolled by conservative foundations and the corporate sector, tea-partying conservatives in various state chambers came up with language that would’ve supposedly empowered the states to defy Obamacare entirely.
But the nullification crusade went nowhere, for one simple reason: It’s unconstititional. The founding document that tea partyers purport to revere explicitly says that federal law trumps state law. If tea partyers had a clue about their own nation’s history, they would recognize this incontrovertible fact. They would also know that we fought a civil war, at a cost of roughly 750,000 American lives, to settle the issue once and for all.
In their rudderless 2012 incarnation, tea-partyers seem to think they can again turn back the clock to 1832, when South Carolina came up with the nullification idea, declaring that it would not comply with federal tariff laws. President Andrew Jackson threatened to send federal troops in order to enforce compliance, citing “the letter of the Constitution.” And he was right. The Supremacy Clause in Article VI, Paragraph 2, says it all: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States…under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
The 1832 crisis passed, but more than a century later, (in the words of Yogi Berra) it was deja vu all over again. Southern states invoked nullification in the late 1950s – as they sought to defy federal mandates on school desegregation. They passed nullification laws, and Arkansas even wrote nullification into its state constitution, in a bid to keep its schools segregated. But the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously said no to nullification, ruling in 1958 that the federal desegregation mandate had a “binding effect” on the states, and that “no state legislator…can war against the Constitution.” The nullification issue flared again 1982, in connection with a federal-state dispute over commerce, and again the Supreme Court said no to nullification, ruling that “a state statute is void to the extent that it actually conflicts with a valid federal statute.”
So how come the tea partyers are talking, yet again, about resurrecting nullification as a rallying cry? Because they don’t have anything else. Obamacare is the law of the land (courtesy of the Supreme Court, and Obama’s re-election), and they’re out of ammo. All they can do is repeat themselves; as a North Carolina tea party chapter declared this fall, “We need new representatives dedicated to state’s rights and nullification.” C’mon, folks, read some American history. That stuff didn’t work in 1832. Or 1958. Or 1982. Or 2010.
There’s a famous line about the futility of “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” That was Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.
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