Friday, July 17, 2009

Every State a Free State

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/17/09

Nothing can separate us for we are all that is left. – Smashing Pumpkins

I’m almost a little glad that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has broken up with his attractive girl friend. Too bad for Tony but maybe he will be a little more focused this year. And I wonder about New England’s Tom Brady as well as Tom is married now to the most beautiful woman on the face of the earth. Which is a good thing for him and the missus but how could you work?

We live in an age which has come to see beauty as ugly, strength as weakness and character as creepy conspiracy. It is the viral deconstructivist curse which has brought the third-generation people to the end of things and here at the end has brought Obama to a farm without roosters. It is a celebration of weakness, a striving to the middling and an affirmation of banality. We reached apogee about 1994 when they started passing out soccer trophies and advanced karate belts to every single kid. Success in previous experience and innate ability is no longer required for the most critical positions; see Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Joe Biden as VP, both back benched only months after their appointments. Innate ability is even considered innately unjust in the Cloud Cuckoo Land where everyone gets a trophy.

30 years ago I recall talking to a Yale undergraduate student about a dream she had of flying into a city with a set of architectural drawings. But the plans were to remove all the buildings in the city rather than build them. That was the agenda; a kind of suburban form of political nihilism that had morphed from Malraux, Koestler, Trotsky; the fierce women and men who shook the world, to the timid and the tepid three generations later. As one commentator said, “They didn’t want to take over the world, they wanted to take over the English Department.”

Yale then was many second and third generation Americans who had first got to Ivy League but were locked in paralysis and neurosis by the task of unbuilding the building they had gone to build. A group like New York Times columnist David Brooks has been concerned about throughout his career and ruminates again with a colleague this week if they are now in the ruling class. I got the highest marks in the class. Am I in the ruling class yet? I got the highest grade in the test, can I be President now, can I be in the Supreme Court? Probably.

Most my age have gone off to play by now and Brooks will soon because his generation (which Michael Jackson marked as Monkey God) has found its work ended about this week. But it should be asked if the republic was better served in the old day of the fierce women and men when everyday journalists like Ida Tarbell, Jack Reed, Lincoln Steffens, S.S. McClure found their world work completed and retired not to the think tank but to the drunk tank.

The second and third generation dilemma today is well seen perhaps in this observation by the second-generation New Jersey Italian Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony Soprano’s Beatrice and psychiatrist. She is having dinner with her son, sent to the upscale Bard as Brooks and company were sent to elite, WASPy New England prep schools and colleges so as to join the ruling class. She asks what he is studying. The deconstructionist poets, he says.

“My son a Deconstructionist,” she said with barely concealed scorn. “And your grandfather a general contractor.”

Will come as no surprise that when she needed survival help, when she was forced to turn to the life force itself, when she truly needed a real man to wreak savage vengeance to establish equilibrium in the world again after she had been raped, she would turn instead to Tony.

The m’am sahibs in New York’s upscale press today are in systemic disarray. Like New York’s own Scarlett O'Hara they see it all beginning to slip away and ask, why Dovey, what is that frightful Sarah Palin doing and what does she want? Why is she here? Where is she going? I know where she is going. She is going to Texas – the only state besides Alaska today left with a sense of place, belonging and bound by the heart to the earth - to be with Governor Rick Perry so as to advance his reelection prospects the 10th amendment movement, which she mentioned once specifically and twice more elliptically in her going-away-from-Alaska speech. Red state/blue state contention – a division of head and heart - began here in 1794 when Washington joined the New Yorkers at Jay’s Treaty, alienating his fellow Virginians Madison and Jefferson and fatefully entitling New York to Alexander Hamilton’s corporate vision of continental and world dominance which carried from Ulysses S. Grant to Michael Jackson. Nothing in 150 years, not Mao, not Uncle Ho, not Osama bin Laden, not George W. Bush, not nothing, has shaken New York’s inherent conquistador sensibility like Sarah Palin in a bright red dress.

Attacks on Governor Palin, in this week when the Democrats have sent a stand up comic to the Senate, have gotten laughable. That conservative Gate Keeper, Peggy Noonan, of The Wall Street Journal – the first to cry Eeek! - has declared Palin to be an actual threat to the republic like a post-1984 Emmanuel Goldstein, the state’s declared Enemy of the People in George Orwell’s classic. Most tragi-comic is perhaps the MSM’s engaging of a teen-age boy who managed to get her daughter pregnant. It is getting like the early days when Senators Jesse Helms, Claiborne Pell and Daniel Moynihan helped bring the Dali Lama and the Tibetan people’s plight to the attention of Congress. The Chinese government responded in a panic, saying that Tibetans used the skulls and bones of babies for kitchen utensils. I expect Alaskans do the same. Nevertheless, her stock rose again this week when her recent op-ed in The Washington Post in opposition to President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan was challenged by Senator John Kerry in The Huffington Post. I propose a series of public televised debates on energy and economy between Kerry and Palin; Nantucket Democrats vs. Alaska Republicans.

The 10th amendment movement started here in New Hampshire. On first reports that a group of Libertarians was looking for a place to make a fresh start and this was one of the locations they were looking at, nor'easterners responded with a Yankee sense of concerned indifference and phlegmatic detachment. Come on up, the governor responded. It was a good place to come - cheap living shrouded in beautiful mountains with six months of snow and silence, and in the spring, bear and moose wandering into your back yard. There is nothing quite like a clear, cold night sky full of stars with coyotes crying on the edge of the forest to bring you back to first principles. And nothing clarifies the mind and brings it out of slumber like stoking a good New England wood stove on a crisp, cold morning - one in the kitchen, preferably, where family will share the warmth. Especially if you have split your own wood and harvested your own trees.

That these young people would seek secession if they didn't get what they wanted didn't cause much of a stir. Daniel Shays down in northern Massachusetts had done the same after western Massachusetts farmers quickly discerned that Sam Adams was just pulling their leg about taxes and all before the Revolution. Adams' slogan, "No taxation without representation," worked better among the Clipper ship captains, China merchants and newly rich real estate agents in Boston which was in direct economic competition with London, than it did in the north country, where most of the farmers were indifferent to governance by either London or Washington - both seemed far beyond their reach and their imagination. Then after the Revolution, taxes didn't go down as Adams said they would. They went up. Most everyone in the United States has forgotten Daniel Shays and his Rebellion which brought about the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia but up here we haven't as it is our native history. Maybe there is still something antiquated in our mind that doesn't quite gel with the big world of the federalists and the globalists that followed this tax rebellion.

I was born and reared about three hours away from where I sit now and like others, I guess there is a sense that something has passed us by. In Rhode Island we even had our own accents and used funny words like "parlor" and "piazza" when referring to the screened wooden porch out back. And if we left town people had a hard time understanding what we were saying. In those days, the country roads among the swamp Yankees who lived in places like Little Compton and Nanaquarket - places that still had beautiful Indian names - were lined with huge elegant elm trees. Every quiet country road in New England was lined with elm trees that rose like cathedrals. Then something happened and they all died. Every one of them. And all at once they died all over New England. And something else happened. They put a bridge in between Newport and Jamestown and our quaint little towns were no longer eight or ten hours away from New York City on secondary roads, but two hours on good roads. And that was the end of that.

So a few Libertarians with new ideas didn't seem like much of a threat and if anything, they appeared to our eyes to resemble our own Daniel Shays more than they did the New Yorkers, one of whom bought an entire street of old colonial houses in Little Compton all in one afternoon.

In New England, we understood about federalism. We understood what it meant and what it would bring. And we understood its symbolism and how it changed us. When the New England town common that I live on here in New Hampshire was built in the mid-1700s, in the center was a stone well, the most ancient symbol of any people, the symbol of soul, tradition, earth and animals as they all meet together in secular and divine community. We meet at a stone circle and carrying water from the well brings nourishment, spiritual as well as physical. When people meet at the well they meet the elements of earth and water of which they are a part and there they find their union with the world and with the Universe. Most stone wells are round in New England and in the English tradition - the circle representing the collective psyche and Mother Earth. Yank farmers of English stock also had a particularly special tree if front of their house that they built their farm around and honored in the same agrarian tradition and one New Hampshire man even penned a song you still hear today at winter solstice combining traditions called, "Jesus, the Apple Tree."

The town common today is nicely restored but they took the well away. You can still see it - they put it down the road, off to the side and out and away from the common. What they put in its place was a flag pole and an American flag - not even a state flag until I called to whine, just an American flag. Federalists have no use for stone circles.

New England understands federalism because we lost our original spirit to federalism in the build-up to the Civil War. Just as the South would yield to the New Yorkers - they of the "Empire State" - so too would New England submit. Our great poets and speakers - Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott who brought us natural religion were our best. But in my opinion, they were also our last. Now, like Andrew Wyeth's great but haunted paintings of Maine's manor houses and farmsteads, New England's spiritual house is empty.

This is a consequence of federalism. New England went willfully under the banner of federalism to great effect, but there are consequences as well. Until now, northern people have never challenged the principles of federalism. Generally speaking they were satisfied with their lot and had won the day. From the early part of our passing century we had conquered the world. From 1865 onward, complaint of the nature of the federal compact had come only from the South. But now, for the first time since the Civil War, the federalist principle was being challenged by northern people and that was a consequence of the war on Iraq.

When the Libertarians moved to Littleton bringing with them the idea of states rights and an independent spirit, the only other coherent voices on the continent making a credible claim for the same rights were The League of the South and the Parti Quebecois in Quebec Province, both of which sought independence through non-violent and democratic means. Now there are perhaps more than a dozen such groups, like the Free California movement and the Republic of Cascadia. And some have fancy web sites and fancy lawyers. Most of these new groups are in the so-called blue states. But 36 red states following New Hampshire’s cue have initiated state sovereignty legislation in the past three months.

The war on Iraq began to explain federalism up here to people who hadn't thought about it or who took it for granted for 140 years. Federalism means that if Washington, D.C. declares war on some other country for whatever purpose, the states have no say in the matter. Nor do the states have a say in any other matter. For practical purposes one can dissent only as an individual. And as that erstwhile KGB agent Earnest Hemingway once wrote, a man by himself doesn’t have a chance.

At the beginning of the war on Iraq I proposed that we in the northernmost states of New England did not have to participate and under Thomas Jefferson's view of the Constitution we had the right not to participate as states. And anyway, if we felt it was wrong to do so AS A STATE we had the moral obligation not to participate. This was loosely based on Jefferson's having written a secession clause to the Virginia constitution and the Kentucky Resolutions which he wrote in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts, stating clearly his purpose that the states were the final arbiters of the Constitution.

The Constitution, like marriage, should open you up and awaken you, not shut you down and cripple you. My proposal received surprising support from the most liberal quarters in the North as it did from conservative Southerners. But most northern people I spoke to then had never before considered themselves to be citizens of a particular state and region and having particular rights as a citizen of that state. My explanation was that which the stone circle signifies - you are a citizen of a real place (you are the place) - a state with formidable mountains and great beauty and character and with its own way of earth, water, wind and bears in the woods and clear nights in winter and its own soul and traditions and its own personality - in federalism you are the agent of a concept; a buyer within an economic policy, within an abstraction. You are a figment of a globalist illusion. You are the faceless, uniform and undifferentiated expression of a horde holding a little candle in a Pepsi commercial. In federalism you do not live in a place. You live in an economic zone.

Until the war on Iraq and the reelection of George W. Bush northern people didn't care about this as they felt they held the balance of power in the federation. But now no. Now they look at states rights again and now it is time to look at Jefferson again.

Having lived in two states in my life with strong and unique identities, Rhode Island and North Carolina, I cannot understand why any state would not want to be a free state as Jefferson proposed it. Every state should have the same default clause that Jefferson wrote into Virginia's contract when he tentatively entered Virginia into federation. I cannot conceive of a state today with its own personality and life force not desiring and demanding to have such a clause. Every state should be a free state and every state should have a state constitution declaring itself to be a free state and allowing it to gather with its own neighboring states and regions in any way it so desires.

As Jefferson said, this is natural law. What needs to happen is that every state should look to take back its own inalienable rights as the Free Staters in New Hampshire look to be free. Every state should call on its state government to renew itself and review its contract with the federal government. Each state should insure that their federal compact affirms Jefferson's view of the states as safest guardian of the liberties and the domestic interests of the people and the surest bulwark against imperial and anti-republican tendencies as he clearly stated his position in his inaugural address.

Prior to the Civil War, New England was closer to Jefferson's view than to Hamilton's view. It is our natural birthright and we should reclaim it and call for the reapportioning of states rights and federal rights. Perhaps developing regional circles of care and responsibility in opposition to “one size fits all” government, a phrase that Mitt Romney used first, Rick Perry second and Governor Palin used again in her recent comments. We were a fledgling continent when we were first declared a federation. 230 years later we require a new culture of government including state and county circles, regional circles and more free and independent continental relationships.