Reviving a Vile Legacy

States' rights. For most CityBeat readers who are too young to remember it, the phrase sounds vague and innocuous, but it's a code word frequently used throughout the 1950s and '60s when Southern states resisted federal efforts aimed at ending deep-seate

Aug 5, 2009 at 2:06 pm

States’ rights. For most CityBeat readers who are too young to remember it, the phrase sounds vague and innocuous but it’s a code word frequently used in one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history.

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Southern states invoked the phrase to resist federal efforts aimed at ending deep-seated racist policies, integrate public accommodations and finally give African Americans full voting rights in practice instead of theory.

“It’s not about racism,” was a common refrain uttered by many Southern politicians and residents about their resistance. “It’s just that the federal government is overstepping its authority. We know best when, how and to what degree to end Jim Crow laws. Don’t force it upon us.”

In reality, it was all about racism.

People who otherwise had no interest in government and probably slept through their high school civics classes latched onto the complicated and obscure debate over the meaning of the Constitution’s 10th Amendment to justify their hatred. Who among us doubts that if Presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson hadn’t acted forcefully to more fully integrate the nation, there still would be some Jim Crow laws on the books in the Deep South to this day?

It’s amazing, then, that the current Tea Party movement has revived the mantle of states’ rights as its latest rallying cry.

The Cincinnati Tea Party organization joined similar groups from across Ohio in Columbus Aug. 1 for the first-ever statewide Tea Party event.

Dubbed the “Ohio Liber-TEA Party” (TEA apparently meaning “Taxed Enough Already”), the rally was in support of a state senate resolution that calls on Ohio lawmakers to “claim sovereignty over certain powers pursuant to the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, to notify Congress to limit and end certain mandates, and to insist that federal legislation contravening the Tenth Amendment be prohibited or repealed.”

The various Tea Party sleeper cells were joined by such patriotic-sounding groups like the Ohio Liberty Council and the Ohio Freedom Alliance. (I think these might be the same groups that helped Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen free America from Soviet occupation in the 1980s cheese classic Red Dawn. But I could be mistaken.)

“The Ohio Liber-TEA Party is not about partisan politics,” said the Freedom Alliance’s Jason Rink in a press release. “It’s not an anti-Obama rally. It’s not an anti-tax rally. It’s a pro-freedom rally. Our goal is to gather together like-minded citizens from around Ohio to promote three ideas: Liberty, Unity, and Sovereignty. We want to empower citizens to enact changes in government through education and political action.”

Remember: You’re either for freedom or against it. Forget nuance.

Tea Baggers initially organized because they disliked President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package and the mounting federal deficit, as well as the bailouts given to the major banks in the waning days of Dubya’s administration. Later, they added other reasons to their list of complaints like government involvement in the auto industry to keep it from tanking and proposals to expand health care coverage to more Americans.

Logic has never been the Tea Baggers’ strong suit. Their supposed outrage over the deficit is merely a smokescreen and largely misplaced. Let’s be clear: President Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit from Dubya.

President Bush’s own 10-year budget forecast predicted a $9.3 trillion deficit over the next decade. Because of the changes Obama has made, it’s going to be $7.1 trillion — or $2.2 trillion less than it would have been. Yet Republicans and Tea Baggers never once complained about Bush’s budget policies during his long reign of disaster.

It seems tea isn’t so good at enhancing memory.

Hoping to make themselves seem bipartisan, some Tea Baggers are now even saying that the federal Patriot Act — pushed by Bush and approved under heavy Republican pressure in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — is too intrusive and tramples on civil liberties. These Johnny-come-latelies were nowhere in sight during 2003-04, when it wasn’t so popular to speak out against the badly written law.

To get a better sense of what’s really fueling this political movement, one needs to look no further than the list of speakers at the Columbus rally.

One of the keynote speakers was Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones (pictured). CityBeat profiled Jones in a July 2008 cover story that outlined how the sheriff raised his public profile through a crackdown on undocumented immigrants in places like Fairfield and West Chester Township, where the poorly paid workers were employed building homes, landscaping golf courses and plucking chickens in factories.

One particularly noteworthy passage in the article involved Jones comparing Hispanic people to mail parcels.

“A wise man once said to me that UPS can track 15 million packages a day, where they are by the hour, but the federal government cannot track 15 to 20 million illegals,” Jones told CityBeat. “His suggestion was that we give everybody UPS packages so maybe we can track these people and know where they’re at. We may have to enlist the help of UPS to do that.”

Last week’s Columbus rally also featured other such forward-thinking policy analysts like Jones.

Among the speakers were Jack Boyle of Americans for Prosperity (a group that dislikes any regulations that imperil business profits), talking about an effort to repeal the Ohio estate tax; Linda Walker of Buckeye Firearms, giving a speech entitled, “Keep Your Hands Off My Guns and My Constitution”; and Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News commentator.

A few thousand people attended the statehouse rally, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Many attendees were like Amy Chauvette, a 45-year-old Toledo resident quoted by the newspaper. “I want the right to drive a gas-guzzler and choose my own health care,” Chauvette told The Dispatch.

The newspaper didn’t mention whether Chauvette held her breath or stomped her feet after making the statement.

No matter: All of the grandiose reasons given by organizers for holding the rally are a way to gussy it up and make it seem more respectable and larger than it truly is.

In an e-mail urging attendees to RSVP a week before the event, a Tea Party spokeswoman wrote, “Remember, if we don’t know you’re coming, it makes it harder for us to get the media coverage we want and deserve.”

Sadly, we’re once again seeing fear and hatred being masked by polite code words.

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