Gail Collins: Time to Party Like It’s 1854





[Gail Collins is a columnist for the New York Times.]

The Conservative Political Action Conference begins Thursday in Washington....

The workshops and panels range from “Is It Time for a Catholic Tea Party?” to “Getting Started in Hollywood.” But the one that caught my eye was “When All Else Fails: Nullification and State Resistance to Federal Tyranny.”

How many of you out there thought we had settled the question of whether states have the right to nullify federal laws during the Lincoln administration? Can I see a show of hands?

It’s civil war déjà vu. The trick in conservative circles today is to see how furious you can get about Washington’s encroachment onto states rights without quite falling over the edge into Fort Sumter.

The 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which gives the states all powers not delegated to the federal government, is all the rage. (The Second Amendment is so 2008.) Its passionate fans, who are inevitably starting to be referred to as “tenthers,” interpret the amendment as pretty much restricting the federal government to military matters. They feel the health care reform bill is unconstitutional. Perhaps also Social Security....

I digress. About the Conservative Political Action Conference. Some of the tenthers’ favorite stars were too busy to show up. Sarah Palin — whose husband once flirted with the Alaska secessionists — declined. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas — who cuddled up to the Texas secession movement in 2008 — is home running for re-election and wowing the crowd at a Tenth Amendment Town Hall. His strongest challenger for the Republican nomination appears to be a woman who told Glenn Beck that she had an open mind about whether there was any American government involvement in the 9/11 attack.

The news media, as Beck said to Katie Couric, is “a sound-bite world — a really nasty place to live.” I would like to think that this is just because we happen to be at a moment in history when the country has a huge number of TV, radio and Internet outlets fighting to be loud enough and shrill enough to get noticed.

That’s what things were like with newspapers at the end of the 19th century, and I cannot tell you what Grover Cleveland went through. But if that’s the explanation, this, too, shall pass. Like the Articles of Confederation.


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