Think again, writes Frank Rich.
At the heart of the current rebels’ ideology is the anti-Washington credo of nullification, codified by the South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun in the 1830s and rarely lacking for avid followers ever since. Our inability to accept the anti-government right’s persistence is in part an astonishing case of denial. The Gingrich revolution, the Ur-text for this fall’s events, took place less than twenty years ago and yet was at best foggily remembered as the current calamity unfolded. There’s also a certain liberal snobbery at play: We don’t know any of these radicals, do we?
... The rebels’ core strongholds are the 80 Republican districts whose House members signed an August letter effectively calling on John Boehner to threaten a government shutdown if Obamacare was not aborted. Analysts have been poring over these districts’ metrics for weeks looking for evidence of how alien they are to the American mainstream. The evidence is there, up to a point. The 80 enclaves predictably have a higher percentage of non-Hispanic whites than the nation (75 percent vs. 63 percent) and a lower percentage of Hispanics (10.8 vs. 16.7 nationwide). But even those contrasts aren’t quite as stark as one might have imagined, especially given that most of these districts have been gerrymandered by state legislatures to be as safely Republican as possible.
The unifying bogeyman for this camp is the federal government, not blacks or Hispanics, and that animus will remain undiminished after Obama’s departure from the White House. Though Andrew Jackson—under whom Calhoun served as vice-president—dismissed the ideology of nullification as “subversive” of the Constitution, it has always been wrapped in patriotic rationalizations, as it is now. In Ecstatic Nation, a new book about the decades bracketing the Civil War, Brenda Wineapple writes that even the South’s secessionists “saw themselves as protecting the Constitution, not tearing it apart.” Or as Jefferson Davis, speaking like a born tea-partyer, claimed: “We are upholding the true doctrines of the Federal Constitution.” Whatever the bottom line of Washington’s current battle, the nullification of federal laws is growing as a cause at the grass roots. Of the 26 states that are refusing the federal Medicaid expansion—at the price of denying their poorest citizens health care—23 of them have GOP governors. That’s a bigger slice of America than can be found in the map of the 80 districts of the defund-Obamacare brigade.