Republicans all over the country find themselves backed into an ideological and political corner: their dogma has brought the country, and their party, to ruin. The candidate they called an evil, terrorist-loving, foreign-born socialist is in office and widely popular, while they and their beliefs are reduced to irrelevant minority status.
JUMP START: Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign energized a right-wing anti-government network that’s been mostly quiet since the Clinton years.
If you thought they might try to re-assess their hard-core platform of discredited beliefs, or try to find ways to participate in, and influence, the course of governmental action, you would be wrong.
As Rush Limbaugh has made clear, their path lies in seeking the failure of President Barack Obama and the Democratically controlled Congress — in predicting, and seeking, the massive and catastrophic collapse of America. Only that result can prove them right.
The stakes, to their mind, could not be higher: the American experiment is on the verge of running off its constitutional rails. "We are at a pivotal point in our nation's history," says Paul McKinley, a Republican state senator from Iowa.
McKinley is among hundreds of Republican lawmakers, all over the country, who are backing resolutions of "state sovereignty" — essentially empty gestures toward declaring the illegitimacy of the federal government. Of the many manifestations of conservative anti-government hostility, none is more striking than this sudden, nationwide movement: barely 50 days into Obama's administration, lawmakers in more than two dozen states have introduced these sovereignty declarations. Some appear headed for passage; others have prompted raucous demonstrations and public hearings.
Based on a thoroughly rejected reading of the 10th Amendment — which states that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people" — the resolutions claim the federal government, in usurping powers and issuing mandates to the states, is in violation of the US Constitution. They call for Congress and the president to cease and desist in those (mostly unspecified) violations.
The resolutions generally avoid specifying how they would assert their claimed sovereignty — although a few threaten to defy the federal government, and to refuse to implement laws they dislike.
Some resolutions go further, claiming that the violations may constitute a "nullification of the Constitution." The most aggressive, which was recently defeated in New Hampshire, explicitly threatened to dissolve the Union.
As much as so-called Tenth Amendment Movement participants believe they are responding to a unique circumstance, they are actually treading old, and predictable ground. The exact same movement arose when the last Democratic president took office, in 1993. In fact, most of the resolutions circulating today are word-for-word copies of the ones introduced 16 years ago.
By late 1994, at least eight states had passed versions, with legislators in more than 20 states planning to introduce them in their 1995 sessions, according to a review at the time by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The state-sovereignty movement of that time was part of a fabric of anti-government sentiment that also included a rise in the "militia" movement — and the resolutions abruptly ceased in 1995, after Timothy McVeigh blew a hole in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
Today's version is moving even faster, thanks in large part to the conservative-libertarian network that was formed and energized around Ron Paul's presidential candidacy, and the large online communities of liberal-hating conservatives.
Some national conservative figures, including Fox News and syndicated radio talk-show host Glenn Beck and commentator Michelle Malkin, have applauded the idea. And a few prominent elected Republicans, including South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, have recently cited the same state-sovereignty talking points in discussing their opposition to the federal stimulus bill.
Most other prominent Republicans have remained silent on the issue, but none have denounced it. That's hardly surprising; the angry anti-government conservatives and Ron Paul libertarians are important voting blocs in GOP primaries.
Sanford, who is courting both groups for his potential 2012 presidential bid, professes that he "loves the concept" of the state-sovereignty bills, in an interview appearing this week in the conservative John Birch Society publication The New American. He recommends in that interview that Tenth Amendment Movement supporters march on Washington, DC, to "insist that the Constitution be obeyed."
And former (and perhaps future) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has not distanced himself from his campaign buddy Chuck Norris, who said and wrote this past week that Texas may soon have to secede.
Sovereignty in practice
The claims of these resolutions are indefensible on constitutional grounds, as several experts tell the Phoenix. "They rest on completely untenable interpretations of the Constitution's text, structure, and history, and they proceed as though the Civil War had been won by the Confederacy," e-mails Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School. "These resolutions — not to put too fine a point on it — are off the wall."