- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

COMMENTARY

Last week’s anti-tax “tea parties” marked a growing populist rebellion across the country - even to the point that some suggest the secession of disgruntled states from the union.

Citizens are rightly protesting President Obama’s statist policies - the bailouts, government control of the auto industry and the banks, soaring deficits, skyrocketing debt and out-of-control spending. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Obama proposes to add $9.3 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years - accumulating more debt than all of his predecessors combined. He also seeks to increase taxes by nearly $1 trillion, impose nationalized heath care and federally subsidized day care and grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. In short, Mr. Obama is a transnational socialist who seeks to erect a European-style nanny state that our Founding Fathers would find repugnant.

The protesters understand that the next generation is being buried under a mountain of debt that can never be repaid. The current spending spree is not only reckless, but endangers the country’s long-term economic health.

Mr. Obama’s leftist agenda is a dagger aimed at the heart of America’s traditional system of government. The Founding Fathers deliberately envisioned a decentralized constitutional republic based on limited and enumerated powers. Since the New Deal, Washington has become a bureaucratic behemoth in which the scope and size of the federal government is constantly expanding.

Many protesters sense they are slowly losing their country. Their grievances are valid, but they are making a seminal mistake by resorting to the political theater of tea parties. Instead of convincing the rest of the public, they are alienating other Americans, especially by subtly suggesting that Mr. Obama is a crypto-dictator.

The 1773 Boston Tea Party was fueled by a fundamental principle of modern democracy: no taxation without representation. Today we have taxation with representation - in other words, a self-governing democracy subject to the will of the electorate. If voters don’t like the administration’s policies, they can throw the bums out at the next election. Hence, Mr. Obama is not King George III; he is not an authoritarian monarch seeking to subjugate unruly Colonies. Today’s angry anti-tax activists are going too far - and are playing with fire.

For example, Gov. Rick Perry raised the specter of an independent Texas republic. During a speech at one of the tea parties, Mr. Perry - to shouts of “secede” from some in the crowd - suggested that Texans disgruntled with the massive federal government and Washington’s tax-and-spend policies might choose to break away from the union.

“Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that,” Mr. Perry said. “My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that.”

Mr. Perry is wrong about the Lone Star State’s right to secede. When Texas entered the union, it negotiated the right to split up into several other states - not the right to regain national independence. Moreover, Mr. Perry’s comments were irresponsible, bordering on treason. He clearly was issuing a veiled threat to the Obama administration: Back off or face a growing backlash that may eventually trigger dissolution of the union. The prospect of secession may thrill some conservatives frustrated at the relentless growth of the federal leviathan. Yet this is dangerous defeatism.

Instead of echoing John C. Calhoun, the brilliant antebellum South Carolina statesman and theorist of states’ supremacy, conservatives should turn to his great New England rival, Daniel Webster. Known for his brilliant oratory, the Massachusetts senator was a conservative nationalist who espoused the eternal values of God, country and family. He articulated the fundamental truth about the American founding: The War for Independence did more than liberate 13 Colonies from British imperial rule; it resulted in the creation of an organic, cohesive national state dedicated to liberty and equality under the law.

“Let it be borne on the flag under which we rally in every exigency, that we have one country, one constitution, one destiny,” Webster said.

Upon entering the union, states ceded their primary sovereignty in order to forge not only a single political entity, but a single people. The United States is not simply a geographic expression. Rather, it is bound together by shared natural rights, a common historical heritage and language, and the greatest Constitution ever devised. American national sovereignty is like political gravity: It cannot be smashed - regardless of its individual components.

Threats of secession ring hollow. If conservatives cannot defeat an effete liberal president, backed by an incompetent, corrupt Democratic Party, at the polls, they deserve the country they have.

In more heroic times, Mr. Perry would have been tarred and feathered. Today, he is praised as a leader of what passes for the conservative movement. Hence, instead of a cohesive and effective opposition, we have tea parties and teapot leaders engaging in destructive rhetoric. Surely in this great democracy we can find better ways to overcome the bankrupt leadership in Congress.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank.