The Tea Party is heading a revolt against the idea of government by the majority of citizens elected by national popular vote. To the Tea Party people and the extremist Republicans, a national mandate is a fraud on its face. It signifies nothing but the victory of superior numbers is nothing but a war between the mass versus the most qualified, insightful and effective and the most visionary minority party. A victory in a U.S. national election is to them merely a crude popularity contest, and the means must be found to bypass it. Hitler, after all, was elected by a popular majority.
To the Tea Party people and the extremist Republicans, the nation’s fate does not rest on superior numbers. Its fate depends on the political devices of certain of essential, critical white minorities, and it is only those particular, self-chosen minorities that matter. Isn’t this what we are seeing in the shutdown? The Tea Party and extremist Republicans are saying that that any state has the right to declare specific federal laws void within the borders of the resisting states, and instead there should be set up a “concurrent majority” of the legislatures of each state in addition to the federal legislature to assent to a law for it to have nation-wide effect.
Before we go further let me say stoutly that I have no interest in politics. I have always had the attitude of that mythical old New England woman in her nineties in who, when asked why she had never voted replied, “I never vote. It only encourages them.” I didn’t vote until the 1992 George H. Bush Bill Clinton contest, and I voted for Bush because of his handling of Saddam. I spectacularly disliked Bill Clinton and only slowly changed my mind because in the case of Serbia and Milosevic, the iron at last entered him and he went to battle.
To me, the Tea Party people and the extremist Republicans are not simply red necks or fundamentalists. They are people of ideals. I regard those ideals as perverse, but that is only a way of saying, that I disagree with them. But they are intellectually clever all the same.
It was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who in 1833, invented the idea of the “concurrent majority,” the strategy being used by the Tea Party today. As a person, Calhoun was a dour, humorless intractable man. He was entirely addicted to complex abstractions. His thought had a white-hot and relentless intensity. He would wander about and mutter, “This indeed is a real crisis.” As he was dying, a friend asked him to sum up his life, and he replied, “I see nothing to repeat and little to correct,” practically the same words President George W. Bush used in describing his presidency. But make no mistake and don’t be distracted. Intellectually, Bush wasn't within shouting distance of Calhoun.
As a thinker, Calhoun was concerned about the power of section versus section, obsessed by the waning power of the South which he felt was being increasingly overwhelmed by the growth of the North. As a result, Calhoun pronounced the South “a fixed and hopeless minority.” In other words, the white people of the South were being denied the means to make their power nationally felt, thanks to the majorities of the North. If you think of the shrinking numbers of white people that will live in America in ten years, the growing number of Asians, Hispanics, gays, etc. the “white” Right Wing Republicans and Tea Party people would probably say the same thing about America today that whites in America “are a fixed and hopeless minority.” Think of the eve of last year’s election when Bill O’Reilly cried out in anguish that America wasn’t “white” any more. That observation encapsulates the major Tea Party fear.
The concept of the concurrent majority was a device to boost certain interests at the expense of others. We have all read items that have highlighted the role of Right Wing billionaires who are funding and supporting certain candidates who are working to restrict weaken and hamper the rights of minorities to prevent them from becoming majority voices. To the Tea Party, any minority that enjoys any degree of majority support is an enemy. We usually think of minorities as a group laboring to become part of the majority. A Virginia politician, William H. Roane, in the 1850s said that he thought that chief right of minorities was that of “freely, peaceably and legally converting themselves into a majority whenever they can.” To prevent certain rising minorities becoming part of the national majority is the aim of the Tea Party program.
The brilliant American historian, Richard Hofstadter, said that the concurrent majority was designed specifically “to protect a vested interest of considerable power.’ Calhoun, like the Tea Party people, believed that the government by numerical was inherently unstable. Vox Populi, Vox Humbug. What Calhoun wanted in its place, was “government by the whole community – that is, a government that would organically represent both the minority and majority interests.” He added that a society should not be governed “by counting heads,” but by “considering the great economic interests, the geographical and functional units” of the nation.
He then added, “In order to prevent the plundering of the minority by the majority interest, each must be given an appropriate organ in the constitutional structure to provide it with either a concurrent voice in making and executing laws or a veto on their execution.” And he concluded, “Only by such a device can the different interests, orders and classes or portions of the community be protected and all conflict and struggle between them be prevented.”
Calhoun then cried in pain, “We are here but a handful in the midst of an overwhelming majority.”
There is a note of extreme distress in this declaration. It is a tone of despair, the wail of the outflanked and defeated. It is also very melodramatic. It is also incomprehensible. Why should a stubborn and truculent minority ask to be put on the same plane of power as a majority? What sound principle demands that unequals should be equal to equals? It is like an athlete who has just lost a contest, asking to be given a winning medal all the same. The idea of the concurrent majority is a bit like the bully in the school yard who presides because others cower before him.
Calhoun however said that faced with such peril, “the South should be content with nothing less than extreme militancy:, stand firm, meet the enemy on the frontier, rather than wait. Anything less than decisive victory was unthinkable.”
Is this not what is at stake in the current shutdown? Yet I have never seen the name of Calhoun mentioned by the major media.
I would greatly appreciate any comments. I am just groping my way along here.