Secessionists should take a lesson from Lincoln

By on December 8, 2012
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By Lee Cole–

I can’t help but think that the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was conspicuously timed.  In the wake of an Obama victory, a movie about the great healer of a divided nation seems appropriate.  What made the irony all the more delicious was the fact that after President Obama’s successful re-election bid, a number of states submitted petitions to the White House to peaceably secede from the union.  The number of signatures eventually rose above 500,000, with all 50 states participating.

Naturally, the number of citizens who have signed pales in comparison to the number of people who are perfectly satisfied with the union as it is.  There have even been  a growing number of petitions by those who wish to distinguish themselves from the secessionists.Nonetheless, the petitions got a lot of attention and the threshold of 25,000 signatures for a White House review was reached easily.

If you’re wondering how many signatures they need to actually secede, well, the answer is infinity, because it will never happen.  Secession is illegal and the notion that states would be allowed to “peaceably” secede is ridiculous.  It would require all upper-level military officers to declare allegiance to their state above their country and furthermore, it would require the support of state legislatures, governors and congressmen.  To actually pull off secession in this day and age would require a tremendous, concerted effort and widespread international support.

The whole incident comes across as a distraction at best and unpatriotic and childish at worst.  What we have on our hands here is a massive case of sour grapes.  Spielberg’s film arrived at the perfect time to remind us how petty our disagreements are now compared to the 1860s.  Lincoln was fighting to free people who were enslaved and upon whose backs an economy rested.  These modern day secessionists are fighting because their president has a funny name and they have to pay 14 cents more per Papa John’s pizza.

The petition from the state of Texas, shown above, has garnered the most signatures of any state so far.

President Obama is the most threatened and the most hated president in our history.  Most of the articles I’ve written over the past months have been attempts to illuminate that fact and to point to possible reasons why.  I’ve suggested racism and xenophobia and a religiously influenced “us versus them” mentality, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that a new word is needed to describe the peculiar brand of dislike that so many feel for our president.  Driving through the American south, you see countless anti-Obama stickers, signs that read “Obama or America, you can’t have both,” and a slew of restaurants have begun imposing what they call an “Obama tax’ to supposedly make up for the high costs of the Affordable Care Act.  Should we call it “Anti-Obamaism?”  After “Biden his time” and “Romneyverse,” I’m all out of good puns.

In all seriousness though, the specific hatred of President Obama is becoming something of a cottage industry.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that all of the anger is being directed at one man who is heavily guarded and highly unlikely to be gotten to, rather than, say, immigrants, African Americans, gays and lesbians, etc. The problem, of course, is that there always seems to be enough intolerance to go around.

The petitions point to a greater trend, however, and it may be fair to say that many of the same tensions and rivalries that existed during the Civil War era are alive and well today.  We still fundamentally disagree about states’ rights and the proper role of government.  Those who claim the Civil War was only about states’ rights miss that the right in question, specifically, was the right to own slaves.  And as Supreme Court Justice Scalia pointed out, if the Civil War proved anything, it is that no state has the right to secede. Nonetheless, the big government versus small government argument is one that is well worth having.  The signers of these petitions may have been better off focusing on real, addressable issues or garnering support for their states’ rights over and above the federal government.  Attempting to secede, however, just makes them look like imbeciles.

opinion@louisvillecardinal.com
Photo courtesy Dreamworks

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