I’ll not mince words: The Supreme Court, having arrogated to itself a responsibility constitutionally reserved to the states, deserves a lot of blame for the ravaging effects that the abortion issue has had on public discourse. This issue arguably would be a lot less psychologically charged if it had been left to state legislatures to resolve.
I will carry the argument a step further: I contend that the court, by insinuating itself into every facet of American life, has undermined the deliberative capacity of states and localities in many ways. One could argue that this is a symptom of just how impossibly large and unwieldy the federal union has become.
The abortion issue not only has morphed into one of most contentious issues in America but has but also, certainly over the last 50 years, has sparked a considerable divergence of opinion over what exactly defines life.
Moreover, one could make the case that the wide divergence on the issue, which arguably was exacerbated unnecessarily by the Court’s 1973 ruling, also serves to underscore that the Framers were right from the start about country simply being too culturally diverse to be governed centrally.
Within the last century, the court ostensibly has expanded its purview at least partly based on the argument that Congress and state legislatures simply aren’t equipped to resolve such contentious, multifaceted issues. Yet, why should we assume that a court of nine legal specialists is any better equipped to resolve such a complex issue?
Fifty state legislators, comprised of thousands of people who arguably have far more knowledge of local concerns and aspirations of ordinary Americans, strike me as far better equipped to deal with such a damnably and emotional charged issue as abortion.
To re-affirm what I have stated time and again on this forum, I am a Southern nationalist. And if that doesn’t strike the average reader as strange enough, I’ll add that I am the rarest of Southern nationalists: I am one who wants to dispense with the perennial fixation with the Lost Cause and “saving Confederate money” (on the basis that “the South will rise again”). I choose instead to concentrate on the South as it exists today, more specifically, how it has changed during the last 150-plus years.
I have held to this view for the last quarter century, ever since sitting down with 40 distinguished Southerners to organize the rather ill-fated League of the South. Though I was small and marginalized voice among this august group of scholars and writers, I was certain of one thing: that the South would not rise again on the foundation of the Lost Cause, the old Confederacy. I argued instead that whatever merged from meeting should function as both a think tank and clearing house for secessionist and radical decentrist ideals. In fact, I even argued that it was not necessarily in the South’s interests to secede ahead of the other regions or, at the very least, to demand radical autonomy from the rest of the country.
Yes, the South is different enough from the rest of the nation. Yet, even then, such deep cleavages were forming between what is now known as blue and red America that a new constitutional arrangement sooner or later would have to be worked out, not only to resolve this impasse but even to avoid another civil war. And emerging reality essentially would work to free up the South to pursue its own destiny.
I essentially argued that all we had to do was to work assiduously to popularize concepts of neo-secessionism and radical decentralization. The deep cultural and political fissures forming within the country – recall the League organized shortly after the 1994 GOP congressional sweep – essentially would complete the work for us.
It wasn’t to be. There was a handful of diehard Confederate restorationists on hand who would carry the day for the Lost Cause narrative. They believed that the anger welling up over the growing assault on Confederate symbolism and heritage would supply a sufficient center of gravity for a new Southern nationalist movement.
They were proven wrong within the next 5 years.
For my part, I went along with it, albeit rather grudgingly, until 1999. Shortly thereafter, I broke with the League and developed a web presence known as “Home Rule for Dixie!” that made the strong case for the wholesale abandonment of the Confederate restorationist narrative, calling instead for an entirely new approach to Southern self-determination that factored in all the changes that had transpired since the collapse of the Confederacy in 1865.
I argued that there were legions of contemporary Southerners who never would be won over to be Lost Cause narrative but who could be persuaded that the 15 historically cultural Southern states, which included historically Unionist West Virginia, ultimately could be won over to the argument that the South represented the best of what remained of fraying American Republic. It would, over the course of time, constitute the declining Republic’s moral and cultural lifeboat.
The “Home Rule for Dixie!” concept sparked a lot of acrimonious debate in the Southern movement before its effective collapse a few years later. After concluding that my message likely was premature, I abandoned the effort in 2003.
Since the 2016 presidential election, I am now more convinced than ever that such a movement not only is viable but likely foreshadows how events will play out in the future.
One of the nation’s premiere conservative intellectuals, Victor Davis Hanson, apparently shares a similar view. Hanson, a Straussian conservative, believes that the South and the rest of Red America, far from representing the region of the country where Lost Cause rhetoric and animosities still are being nursed, now comprises the well-spring of American values and virtue and possibly even the foundation on which these values will be re-affirmed and renewed. Hanson even goes so far to argue that the “New North” has become the Old South, and the New South the Old North.
It many ways, his argument comes very close to the one I made a generation ago through the “Home Rule for Dixie!” effort.
As Hanson contends, the New North in many ways embodies the racial exclusivity, single-party hegemony and single-crop economies ascribed to the South a half century ago. And amidst all of this, a remarkable sorting-out effect is ensuing in which the South and other red states have begun to bear the hallmarks of a functional America.
As Hanson argues:
It seems that Hanson essentially has arrived at the same conclusion I did a quarter century ago: that the South, despite all its historical blemishes and setbacks, really does represent the most redeemable part of America – truly the most viable part, the moral and political lifeboat.
The South is going to rise again, albeit in a distinctly America form, though embodying those traits that, generally speaking, have set the region apart from the rest of the country: civility and unwavering devotion to faith, family and personal liberty.
Speaking as one who loves American history, the thought has occurred to me time and again: We have never been as united as we think we are. It was a major concern of the constitutional framers and, apart from a few factors in history that have created the illusion of unity, we remain a very pluralistic polity, culturally and politically, and we simply have to find a way to create new political structures to ensure we remain adequately equipped against geopolitical threats such as China but that also ensure that we don’t end up beating out each other’s brains.
If you have been a frequent reader of this forum, you are likely aware that I have come to describe all what is unfolding in the United States as our very own “Gorbachev moment.” Recall that some 30 years ago the ill-fated refomer of Soviet society? Mikhail Gorbachev tried to negotiate a union treaty to hold things together but events got ahead of him. Boris Yetsin, president the Russian Soviet Republic, signed a compact with his counterparts in Byeloerussia and Ukraine that resulted the breakup of the Soviet state.
As this article attests, we seem to be approaching a similar impasse in the United States, reflected in the growing number of ordinary Americans who express an interest on secession.
For now, our leadership class remains conspicuously silent on the topic of secession. But the inevitable “the Emperor hath no clothes” moment inevitably will arise. Sooner or later, some prominent American, perhaps a governor or senator from either a blue or red state, simply will have to state frankly, “Something’s got to give.”
This is when the facade will crumble.
Then, pehaps, we can hope for some sort of modus vivendi that holds the country together to fend off geopolitical threats, though while ensuring that domestic power is returned to states or, perhaps more realistic, compacts of states, that we can be assured of sufficient insulation from our increasingly malignant and consolidating ruling class.
I wondered how much longer it would be before the Confederate Constitution, much like Confederate statues, would fall victim to cancel culture. Quite honestly, though, I don’t know what is more maddening: cancel culture or the intellectual laziness evincedby journalists, even relatively elite ones, who, either intentionally or unintentionally, aid and abet this malignant cultural trend.
AP journalist Jay Reeves characterizes the Confederate Constitution, which, incidentally, was debated and drafted in the Capitol in Montgomery in my native state of Alabama, as a vestige of white supremacy without even bothering to consider the document within its full historical context. And let’s make no mistake here: The Permanent Confederate Constitution was conceived within a wide intellectual and historical Anglo-American constitutional context and, for that reason alone, is worthy of serious discussion, despite its provisions safeguarding the institution of slavery.
It is appalling to me that Reeves never even bothered to explore this unusually rich context, which would have been standard practice among journalists as recently as a decade ago.
A Watershed Document
Before public discourse became so poisoned, the Confederate Constitution, despite the controversy associated with it, would have been characterized by some writers and academics as a watershed document, one that represented the outcome of a protracted, intense and often acrimonious debate on the nature and scope of federal power that began immediately following the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1789.
The Permanent Confederate Constitution could be accurately characterized as embodying the Jeffersonian School argument, which maintains that the federal government – the “general government,” as it was characterized by many in the decades following constitutional ratification – simply functioned as the agent of the contracting sovereign states. This was underscored by the Confederate Constitution’s preamble, which affirmed that each state, in ratifying the document, was acting in its “sovereign and independent character.”
Aside from reaffirming the Jeffersonian view of federal power, this revised constitution also introduced some remarkable innovations that not only are instructive today but that still hold currency as contemporary Americans struggle to rein in federal power and even more significant, contend with mounting interest in sectionalism and even secession. Indeed, the case could be made that these innovations are especially relevant today amid new sectional divisions pitting predominantly liberal blue-coastal states against predominantly and implacably conservative red heartland states – issues not all that different from the ones that plagued federal relations in the early 19th century.
A Six-Year Presidency and a Line-Item Veto
One notable innovation was how the Confederate framers altered the office of the presidency, both limiting and strengthening it. While restricting the chief executive to a single 6-year term, the Confederate Constitution also empowered him with line-item veto power. Such a constitutional prerogative potentially would have gone a long way toward reining in the Leviathan federal state, one that not only extends its hand into increasing facets of American life but even holds tremendous sway over the affairs of nations in far-fling corners of the world. Moreover, with such a constitutional safeguard, we likely wouldn’t be contending today with a $20-million deficit.
The constitution also prohibited Congress from levying protective tariffs that tended to benefit one section of the country over others, an issue that proved contentious in the formative stages of the young American Republic and that virtually rent it apart in the early 1830’s.
The long-term effects of protective tariffs arguably have had an especially deleterious effect on the fortunes of American development and national cohesiveness, not only by allowing one section of the country, namely, the mercantile Northeast, to grow rich at the expense of most of the others but also by enabling it to transform much of the rest of the country, notably the war-ravaged, economically prostrate post-Civil War South, into an economic extraction zone.
Reining in Federal Judicial Power
In what arguably could be regarded as the most noteworthy innovation of them all, state legislatures were entitled to remove corrupt or constitutionally unscrupulous federal judges living in their states by a two-thirds vote of both houses. Ponder for a moment all of the contentious 21st century issues that could have been resolved by this provision. It would have obviated the need for state legislatures to resort to strategies such as interposition and nullification that contributed significantly to two serious constitutional crises stemming from passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and the Tariff Act of 1828. Each of these contributed significantly to the protracted political impasse that culminated in a national breakup in 1861. Even more significant, though, such a constitutional safeguard likely would have contributed significantly not only to higher levels of restraint in the judicial branch but also in the federal legislative branch, as lawmakers would been more cognizant of the futility of passing laws that encroached on state sovereignty.
Yes, the Confederate Constitution was both an innovative and instructive, one among a long line of written constitutions within the Anglo-American tradition, one that also incorporates those of Commonwealth realms. And that is why it, along with others, should figure in prominently in any undergraduate or graduate coursework dealing with the protracted historical debate about the nature and scope of central power within a federal system. But like so much else in woke 21st century America, the Confederate States Constitution is now so thoroughly tainted by the stigma of white supremacy that it can never be regarded as anything more than a “forgotten relic of an ignoble cause,” borrowing Reeves’ description, and, consequently should remain locked away in archive and forgotten.
This only ensures that substantive debate in this country will grow even more constrained. But, of course, by now it should have dawned on most of us that this is one of the underlying aims of wokeness and cancel culture, which aren’t so much about fairness and inclusiveness as they are about stigmatizing views that threaten their hegemonic standing within American politics and culture.
Reeves’ article only served to underscore that we no longer function aa vibrant, open and free society, only one that pretends to be. And many of us are beginning to wonder how much longer elites, increasingly confident of the political and cultural power they increasingly wield, will bother with maintaining this pretension.
Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. (Photo: Courtesy of the Alabama Republican Party.
Based on the resultsof the June 5th primary, Alabama continues to affirm its reputation as one of this nation’s reddest of red states.
Case in point: My native northwest Alabama county of Franklin. Based on my quick but possibly faulty math garnered from The New York Times’ election data, I noticed that some 4,500 voters participated in Franklin County’s GOP primary, while only around 600 participated in the Democratic one.
This is a remarkable turnaround from the early 80’s, when I was a young Franklin county voter and GOP poll worker. The first GOP primary was held in Alabama in 1978. Before then, a GOP state convention nominated candidates, who generally served as sacrificial lambs in the November general elections.
The only basis for excitement for Franklin County Republicans way back then was the presidential elections in which GOP presidential nominees were generally competitive. With the exception of 1976, when Jimmy Carter swept the South, Republican presidential nominees carried the state. Franklin County, a historically yellow dog Democratic county, generally proved no exception to this rule, though Democrats continued to dominate the down-ballot offices, as they did in mf the rest of the state.
Early GOP Forerunners
Even so, there were a few talented Republican outliers holding aloft the Republican banner in spite of all these daunting obstacles.
One especially memorable Republican insurgent was an unusually gifted and charismatic GOP forerunner named James Douglas Martin, a highly decorated WWII combat veteran.
James Douglas Martin
He was one of a handful of Republicans who secured a seat in Congress during the Goldwater sweep in ’64. How? By positioning himself to the right of Alabama Democrats, which, needless to say, took some doing.
He even employed a phrase about “returning to the principles of ’61 – 1861,” which, needless to say, sounded like a veiled call for secession – certainly a statement laced with irony, considering that he was a candidate of the party of Lincoln.
Martin was an unusually gifted public speaker with a very polished and charismatic bearing that rivaled Reagan’s. I can vouch for that, having attended in the late 70’s a Reagan Rally at the Jefferson County Civic Center, featuring Martin as a warm-up speaker to Reagan.
One of Martin’s most memorable acts of chutzpah was running against the wildly popular Lurleen Wallace as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in 1966. It proved to be another ill-fated Republican attempt at storming what remained an all but impregnable Democratic electoral wall. He polled only 31 percent of the vote and carried only Greene County and the maverick and perennial Republican county of Winston, known as the Free State.
He made a last attempt at a statewide office in 1978 against a relatively liberal Alabama incumbent senator named Donald Stewart. His campaign slogan: “Alabama Needs Another Jim,” referring to the late conservative Democratic Senator Jim Allen.
Martin was defeated handily and suffered a severe heart attack shortly thereafter but recovered and lived to be almost 100.
Comparatively late in life, he was appointed director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Several of my Cooperative Extension colleagues worked with him and described him as one of the most brilliant and dynamic people they ever encountered.
In a very real sense, Jim Martin was the John the Baptist of Alabama Republican politics, one who entered the political fray as a Republican about 20 years prematurely. If he he had been born a generation later, he not only would have secured high office but also would be remembered today as one of the most gifted and influential statesmen in Alabama history – of that I have little doubt.
The 1986 Breakthrough
Republican fortunes improved markedly after the election of 1986, when the Alabama Democratic Party was widely perceived among voters as stripping conservative Democrat Charlie Graddock of his gubernatorial nomination on highly specious grounds and handing it to party stalwart Bill Baxley. That was the first sign of fissures within what had been the indomitable Alabama Democratic Party.
The obscure 1986 GOP nominee, Amway salesman and former Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt, was swept into office and subsequently won reelection in 1990.
Corruption charges forced Hunt out before the completion of his term and he was succeeded by Lt. Governor Jim Folsom, Jr., who was upset in the 1994 election by former conservative Democrat-turned-Republican Fob James.
James was defeated in 1998 by the Democratic nominee, then Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, but this Democratic resurgence proved short-lived.
Siegelman was defeated by congressman Bob Riley in 2002. Less than a decade later, the GOP secured control of both houses of the Legislature in 2010, the first time in 136 years.
Today the Republicans dominate the Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin in the Alabama House of Re and by 5-1 in the Alabama Senate.
With the possible exception of Utah and Oklahoma, Alabama, once considered virtually synonymous with the Democratic Party, is now the ruby-reddest Republican of U.S. states.