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09 October 2013


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"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." My friend Richard seems to believe that government of a vast and diverse state like the US is comparable to school yard politics or athletic contests. In order to accept his view I would have to ignore the existence of the US Constitution, a document negotiated into existence for the express purpose of limiting the absolute power of majorities however large and specifically for the purpose of limiting the power of the Executive Branch of the federal government. I would also have to believe that the interests of the "sections" as Sale clearly thinks of the states are uniform and that the citizenry should accept the principle of "winner take all" in government. As Sale writes, the political situation in the US from the 1830s to the outbreak of the Civil War is a close analog of the present situation. Today, there are quite a few commentators who, like Richard Sale, raise the issue of the "duty" of dissenting political forces to submit to the will of the majority. Some do not hesitate to call the dissenters neo-Confederates. I would say to them that if they want their opponents to think of themselves that way, all that is necessary is to keep calling them that. I would not have shut down the government over this set of issues, but the Tea Party types have done nothing illegal or unconstitutional. In 1860 Southerners finally decided that the choices left to them were submission or secession. pl

Walter Moore

I agree - not for nothing I have been sending friends articles about the Nullification Crisis since the current fiasco began.


Neither Hitler nor the NSDAP ever won a popular majority in any national election. The closest they came was 43 percent in 1933.

Conservatives aren't doing anything illegal. But they have broken with the precedents and norms, and are unwilling to contemplate the consequences of those breaks. Conservatives in the Senate have staged a preposterously large number of filibusters, to the point where it is hardly capable of conducting any regular business. Their insistence on dictating all policy in every matter, in a government where they don't hold the Senate or the White House, is at odds with how matters have been conducted stretching back many decades. And their intransigence in negotiations, where they insist on always getting everything they want and more, has led to failures to pass a farm bill, a transportation bill, or even a budget. Every move they make engenders more ill-will, every step moves them closer to Masada, every day they surround themselves with only the doctrinaire true believers.

It's not illegal, but neither is mistaking conviction for reality. It's not illegal to yell at your wife all day, every day, because she won't agree with you that the moon is made of green cheese. It's not illegal to think it terribly unfair when she kicks your ass to the curb, divorces you, and takes the house and the kids. You could say that you did nothing wrong, and stood on your principles: That the moon is made of green cheese. Or that a default on U.S. debt would have a stabilizing effect on the world markets, and is really "no big deal." If and when the SHTF, the same people who thought invading Iraq was a good idea have to finally, actually swallow their pride, and deal with the consequences, or be ready to be replaced with people who will deal with the consequences.

It's really no better than a commissar rationalizing the impracticalities and contradictions of Communism.

Conservatism can't fail! Only YOU can fail Conservatism.

John Minnerath

Well put sir.

Edward Amame

The actions of the minority (of the minority) would be perfectly appropriate in a parliamentary system of gov't. Our presidential system will break down without compromise, just as it did in 1860.

Regarding submitting to the will of the majority. That apparently extends to presidential elections, too. Since the "Republican Revolution" of the 1990s, the GOP has refused to accept the legitimacy of both Clinton and Obama.

Mr Sale's presentation is admirable but incomplete without acknowledging the efforts of disgraced former AG Edwin Meese III, certain right wing think tanks, groups like Americans for Prosperity, and American billionaires who meticulously planned the shut down/defund ACA, are funding it, and are keeping the congressional troops in line by threatening to primary those moderates in the party who don't support the shutdown/defunding ACA effort. That gruesome story is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?_r=0

nick b

Can you imagine the citizens of the United States in 1860 going to war with each other over access to universal healthcare? Of all the problems we face, why would healthcare be the issue that could literally bring down a nation?

As a humorous aside (a little levity always helps) I read an letter yesterday from a constituent to his tea party Congressman that fits very neatly into Mr. Sales' sport analogy. Offered for your amusement: http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/10/08/applying-government-shutdown-logic-to-the-baseball-playoffs/


"Before we go further let me say stoutly that I have no interest in politics"

Everything up to this was a political statement.


Where in the Constitution is it written that The House of Representatives must "submit" all rights and privileges granted to that body, because another party won an election?

I can't stand the Tea Party for other reasons, but if you think the movement only represents the white minority you are serious wrong and believing the media "koolaid". -


Respectfully, disagree with your comparison, because IMHO the Tea Party represent the original "Radical Republicans" roots of the Grand Old Party.


I forgot to add this:



Leaving aside the many issues raised in this insightful essay....I want to focus on just one of them: paraphrasing Richard, 'Iron entered Clinton' alright, and went right to head. It was arrogance and a provocation of the highest order, to extend NATO to borders of the former Soviet Union.


This has little to with minority vs. majority rule and its racial permutation. What is at stake here is the community interest (in this case health insurance) vs. the self interest of a few filthy rich. In other words, people vs. capital.

A democratic system allows people to numerically elect their representatives. The system as implemented allows the wealthy few to influence the choices given to the people. Allowed to function, it is an ingenious mechanism that forces a balance between plutocrats and the mob. In essence it pits those with the majority of money against the numerical majority.

The last 30 years have seen as concerted effort by the wealthy few to permanently tilt the balance in their favor. It is as if they want the First Amendment to read: "Congress shall make no law ...abridging the freedom of action of the wealthy few."

The Tea Party's underwriters seem equate their parochial interests with the national interest. If the vast majority of Americans disagree, "Tant pis, let them eat cake."


A better strategy might be to send the Braves back to Beantown. This solution provides:

a] a fifth column in the heart of liberalism where RomneyCare (ooops I meant ObamaCare) started.

b] reinforcement for the theme that baseball has not been the national sport since Branch Rickey caved in and hired a certain minority second baseman back 66 years ago.

c] a reason perhaps for Teddy T and the hated CNN to leave also after the Braves go.

d] an excuse to bring in a sport with more American looking players. After all if Dallas, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Miami can have Hockey teams, why not Atlanta. (The public will soon forget that those American-looking boys swinging the hockey sticks are really Canucks and Russkies.)

Besides we miss them up here in Beantown, at least us septuagenarians. They were never appreciated in Atlanta or Milwaukee. Bring em home.


this topic is as old as SPQR. Bicameralism is a form of concurrent majority.

where is the President Jackson that would threaten too metaphorically hang Boehner as Jackson threatened to do to Calhoun for his nullification?


Sale does not noticed perhaps that the "Western Democracies" have become dictatorial. They are run on the basis of the notion of STATE of EXCEPTION, a state that voids all garanties because NATIONAL SECURITY is invoked constantly in order to rule by decree.
That is one point. The other is that there is a hierarchy of skills. The more skilled will always float above the others whatever the other's complaints. Perhaps the Tea Party may feel in its bowels the fact that we are ruled by decree and bereft of rights.And it does what the weak always do, be a stumbling block.


Richard has written, and I believe there is much agreement within the intellectual beliefs amonst many currently in media, academia and amongst the ‘political science’ politicians (to include staff, acolytes and funders), that this is an issue of ‘white (males) versus’ the interests of ‘everyone else, i.e. the ‘real Americans’: “the growing number of Asians, Hispanics, gays, etc.” and of course, - women. Words have Power as the author well knows. “TeaParty, Extremist, Redneck, fundamentalists” Why were these words chosen? The implication is that those who disagree with the current national policy are just that – extremist redneck fundamentalists. Well, obviously if you aren’t one of ‘those people’ you must agree with President Obama’s position?

I disagree with Mr. Sale’s characterization that this ‘secularization’ is racially based. The ‘sections’ to which Calhoun referred were geographic. The power within the federal government to protect minority interests to which he referred was the compromise which gave each state two senators – not by equal proportion of population – which is how representation is determined within the US House. There is plenty of disagreement amongst the public today with the growing power of the unitary executive theory and application of government.

“Tea Party people and … are not simply ... They are people of ideals. I regard those ideals as perverse… that I disagree with them. But they are intellectually clever all the same.” Yes, thus those who have the superior ‘ideal’ do not need to persuade, to lead others to the conclusion that an idea is better and so is a proposed public policy; no, they need only to hold in contempt their lesser brethren? How did those in the majority gain those superior ideals? Was it some manifest destiny made self-evident by the simple geography of one’s birth? I think not. Those in leaderhsip, those with the right grades, right test scores, right school (Harvard, Yale, Stanord – the Ivy’s), did geography to that to them? God? Surely He died at the birth of the age of Reason.

While the Univerisy of Alabama now has an exclusive sorority that has recently offered a black girl admittence the hiring officials of the various branches of government, of academia, of media, of think tanks and political campaigns – they are not opening the employment doors for hiring leaders applicants from some state school or ‘second tier’ university. They are becoming more intellectually self-segragationist by the year, creating an intellectual apparthied in the national power circles whithin which those with the right ideas will continue to lead, while the rest of the citizens of the Republic are to follow. The implication, if not yet the fact, is that those without the ‘right’ eduction, thus become the nation’s “intellectual N*…” well you sure get the drift without that word. After all, aren’t they just a bunch of extremist redneck fundamentalists? What true American gives a damn about them?



"In 1860 Southerners finally decided that the choices left to them were submission or secession. pl"

from what i read slavery was never threatened in the Slave states. it was protected by national law, i.e. the fugitive slave act. But the secessionists thought that slavery would die if it couldn't expand to new territories. Either the American West or the Caribbean. Lincoln and his party were determined that there be no expansion. And he put off the emancipation declaration as long as he could for fear of losing the border states.

i could be wrong and often have been.




These are thought to have been written by the "traitors" Jefferson and Madison. pl

Henry Foresman

Eugene Genovese http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Genovese wrote "The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism" which I think is the best short one volume treatment of Calhoun's Concurrent Majority. Genovese once commented that Calhoun was the most originial political theorists America has produced.

The discussion by Mr. Sale has been a great read and I would recommend that in addition to Genovese work that Madison's Federalists 10 which discuss the relationship between majorities and minorities in the draft of the Constitution and a representative republic.

Alba Etie

Col Lang
it is an historical fact that there has always been a tension between federal powers & state's rights . Depending on which issue we are discussing -- is which side of the argument I might take - Clearly I believe that in the instance of gun regulation that must be a state matter. Do not want the DC elites or bi-coastal Congresscritters deciding on my gun ownership rights . But perhaps if we were arguing about whether a state law should take precedent over a federal labor law that prohibits children working on say a factory floor I might wish to side with the children being kept safely away from an assembly line. Wonder how Founding Fathers Jefferson or Madison would have felt about keeping kids out of unsafe work environments ?



"A Reply to My Friend Pat Lang,

By Richard Sale

I think Pat did me a bit of injustice when he said, “I would not have shut down the government over this set of issues, but the Tea Party types have done nothing illegal or unconstitional.” At no time did I believe that they had. So far.
I am not one of those who believe that majorities are most certain to be right. Most modern media assumes that democracy and liberty are identical, but the Founding Fathers said they were most concerned about the menace posed by democracy and majority rule. In their minds, liberty was linked, not to democracy, but to property.
Regarding Obamacare, to my understanding, (which I know has its own limitations,) the chief defect of the Articles of Confederation was that the federated congress represented states and their rights, and because of the rule of the unanimity of states, even a small one could frustrate the rule of all the others.
It was that institutional defect that the Founding Fathers set out to correct when they created the Constitution.
I see the same problem in today’s Tea Party. They laud the Constitution but their aim is to subvert it. Their business is to cleanse the American soul, to see any compromise as evil and reject federal law. This attitude poses real hazards.
Why? Because the Articles of Confederation had declared explicitly that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence.” The Constitution did not say a single world about respecting the sovereignty, freedom and independence of the states. Instead, it put bold restrictions on state powers. The Constitution said explicitly that the constitution and federal laws were supreme over all state actions conflicting with them. (See Charles Beard ) The Constitution was not a mere agreement between the thirteen states. The powers of the new government were authorized to deal directly with individuals not states. The Constitution was authorized to go over the heads of state officials and legislatures and compel obedience to federal laws by the use of its own agencies of coercion. The Tea Party seems to think this void.
Just before I wrote this, I saw that some House Republicans didn’t mention defunding Obamacare. This is wise. Had the House Republican succeeded in defunding a federal law, they would have been violating The Constitution.
And my thanks to Jay, whose observations were put so tellingly and well." pl



I did not say that you had claimed that the the opposition had broken the law. Neither did I imply that.

"it put bold restrictions on state powers." In fact the constitution limits Congress to legislation authorized in its enumerated powers and reserves all others to the states and the people under the Tenth Amendment. A federal government yearning for greater power has progressively sought to evade that limitation through such devices as a very loose interpretation of the commerce clause and the 14th Amendment. Now the tide is flowing in the other direction. This is reflected in the overturn of portions of the of the Voting Rights Act. Yes, the federal government could deal with individuals, but this is true only with regard to the the allowed limits of its constitutional functions. Even then there were many limitations on the extent of that direct coercion. One example would be the ban on direct taxation of individuals for other than allowed functions like customs duties. This difficulty for the growth of federal government was only removed by specific constitutional amendment in the 20th Century. pl

Omo Naija

The question is will Obama cave? I suspect he will somewhat because he seems intent on believing the other side comes to the table with good intentions to negotiation not annihilate.

The rabble rousing is fascinating. The errant extremism signals an erosion of real power within the current polity; that changing demographics assures its irrecoverable.

This is one of many last stands they will stage - but the outcome will be the same - an ever narrower support base than when they started.



Your statement about the viability of slavery simply repeats the treasured Northern canard that propagates the idea that secession was simply the work of the slaveholding class seeking to protect its property rights. What this belief ignores is the sense that existed in the South that the North was an alien cultural region, based ideologically in the political ideas of 17th Century British Calvinist Puritanism. These ideas had been defeated in Britain but thrived in the Yankee North. The sense was strong that this alien culture sought to dominate and rule. Richard's piece and some of the comments here indicate to me that this desire is alive and well. For the slaveholder conspiracy of secession theory to work it is necessary to believe that the hundreds of thousands of men who fought desperately for Southern independence were mere dupes of the slaveholders. Most of those soldiers owned no slaves. pl



So you think Obama does not wish to annhihilate the GOP? As for the declining GOP base, IMO you are kidding yourself if you think that your Latino people and other like Indian Americans will not become more conservative as they become more prosperous. The present governors of south Carolina and Louisiana are cases in point. This has been the historic pattern in American political evolution. In any event, a GOP that exists as a parliamentary force would be enough to tie the left in knots. pl

Will Reks

I do find Southerners resisting a culture that threatened their concept of society to be a compelling cause for fighting for independence. However, I can't separate that from thinking many felt compelled to resist simply because they could not adjust to the idea of living in equality with blacks who outnumbered them in many areas in the South. They were not dupes but they were also proud white men with a fixed sense of where they stood in society. I don't think the slave-owning aristocracy failed to exploit this.

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