Friday, January 28, 2011

One Nation Indivisible

If you're American and reading this, and did not attend a "black" yeshiva, you certainly know the Pledge of Allegiance. We all recited it every day in school, standing and looking at the flag. We didn't really understand it. What is "allegiance?" What's a republic? During Watergate, some kids said "and to the republic for Richard Stans," Richard Stans being one of the convicted cabinet officers, Secretary of Commerce if I remember right. Later on, we became aware that we didn't have "liberty and justice for all," if you happened to be black, or Catholic, or gay, or identifiably Jewish, etc. We worked our butts off correcting much of what was wrong about this country. And then there's "one nation, under God, indivisible. . ." What the heck was "indivisible"? For a while, I thought that it was really "invisible" and that it applied to God, not the nation. Then again, I used to think that baby girls got made when the mohel (circumciser) slipped with his knife. . . .

Much later, I learned that the original Pledge did not include "under God." It was added during the 1950s to set us apart from the Soviets, who were officially atheist. "One nation indivisible" had awesome significance no matter what your religious affiliation or lack thereof. Whatever your opinion of the insertion, it does terrible violence to the intent of the original author. The Pledge was written after the Civil War by a Union Army veteran. He wanted to stress that the war settled something about our national character that previously was open to debate. We are one country, not fifty (if I'm not mistaken, there were 35 states at the time of the Civil War). The states are subordinate to the federal government and must comply with federal law, right? Of course right.

Well, not quite. Out of frustration with President Obama's successful health care legislation, several Republican politicians in several states are trying to resurrect the concept of "nullification." This doctrine, bandied about before the Civil War, holds that the federal government is a creature of and subordinate to the states, any of which may "nullify" federal law, i.e. simply ignore it within the borders of that state. The logical outgrowth of this is secession, the right of states to quit the Union. One Supreme Court decision after another shot the doctrine down, and for good reason. It is a pernicious concept that would balkanize the country and render it unable to be a leader in the world. It is an abomination, whether any particular result is good or bad. Minnesota tried to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law, which mandated that runaway slaves be returned to their masters, even if they escaped to a free state like Minnesota. By contrast, the Jewish Fugitive Slave Law can be found in Deut. 23:16,17). The Supreme Court did not allow Minnesota to nullify that Act of Congress. We fought a bloody war, after which we amended the Constitution to do away with slavery forever.

During the Civil Rights struggle, several southern states tried to invoke nullification against federal mandates to desegregate schools, intercity buses and the like. Thank God they did not succeed. The Supreme Court, pursuant to Article Six of the Constitution, made clear that federal law supersedes states' rights, like it or not. And lest we think that fears about the Union falling apart again are far fetched, the reference I linked to above tells how a rally in Texas called for not only nullification but secession.

Were these rumblings merely the ravings of a madman they might be safely dismissed. But they are coming from elected officials who certainly should know better. There is a lot not to like about Obamacare, and Congressmen from both parties fought the good fight, but it is now the law of the land. It can only be changed by Congress or the Courts. Everybody on every side of every other issue needs to make it crystal clear that nullification is dead and buried at Appomattox. Just as a private citizen cannot pick and choose which laws to obey, no state can pick and choose which federal legislation will apply in the state. As a Constitutional scholar told the Texas legislature, "If you believe in nullification, you don't believe in the Constitution." To which I might add that you don't believe in America's mission in the world either.

2 Comments:

Blogger cipher said...

It is a pernicious concept that would balkanize the country and render it unable to be a leader in the world. It is an abomination, whether any particular result is good or bad.

I don't know. I've been thinking for a while now that Balkanization might not be such a bad idea. I'm tired of the imbeciles from the South and Midwest attempting to dictate policy. I'm tired of biology teachers in blue states (not you, but people with less of a backbone) avoiding the topic of evolution because they're frightened by what's going on in Texas (to say nothing of the effect it will have upon textbooks).

I'm tempted to say, "Let them have their theocracy, and elect Sarah Palin president. They'll be bankrupt and their electorate will be unemployable within a generation." - but then I think of the children.

Fri Feb 11, 01:02:00 PM EST  
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Mon Dec 28, 01:50:00 AM EST  

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