America just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great “I Have a Dream” speech. Everyone says that they “love” Dr. King (now), but the media did notice that no top Republican Party leaders attended any of the main anniversary events.
Maybe it was this line of Dr. King ’s that they don’t like: “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification…”
What is nullification? It’s one of the last-ditch philosophical stands of the slaveholders, the historically disreputable — and thoroughly discredited — concept that a state could “nullify” a federal law by declaring it null and void. The idea of the Slave Power was that the Southern states would “interpose” themselves between the national government and the slaveholders, and prevent our laws from being enforced.
The concept was most famously expounded by South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun almost two centuries ago. It has been struck down repeatedly by the courts and was never accepted outside the Confederacy. Since it was used mainly to protect slavery in the South, it eventually helped lead to a horrible Civil War, and eventually the idea was totally discredited.
But we forgot to drive a stake through its heart. The idea has never completely died away and keeps creeping into our politics in dangerous forms.
Now we see it raising its ugly head in the battle to block Obamacare, risking the economy of the whole country, as Republicans in Washington act at the beck and call of the one-quarter of America that calls itself the Tea Party.
We’re not talking the Boston Tea Party here. We’re talking the Fort Sumter Tea Party. We’re talking about a modern, right-wing movement built on a new Republican South in reaction to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A “Southern Strategy” led by Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms led directly to the elections of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and eventually to Speaker Newt Gingrich and President George W. Bush.
The Fort Sumter Tea Party has never accepted the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. A huge chunk of the right wing has subjected the first African-American president to massive abuse, name-calling, vicious threats. Unfortunately, due to John Boehner’s lack of leadership in the House, the tea party minority faction now dictates policy and rhetoric to the entire GOP.
This means that the GOP continues to try to delegitimize, defund and delay Obamacare. They have spent the last 5 years trying to keep poor and working Americans from getting health care. This is wrong, it’s immoral, and it’s very undemocratic, since Barack Obama was re-elected by a large margin.
But as I write this, the GOP has taken our nation to the brink of disaster, holding our economy hostage to extort the Senate and the president to defund or delay Obamacare.
The GOP is holding our hospitals hostage. They’re holding our universities hostage. They’re holding the Smithsonian Museum, Grand Canyon National Park, the baby panda cam at the National Zoo hostage — along with our slowly recovering economy, the same one they drove into the ditch with their deregulated free market fantasies five years ago.
Don’t let them get away with it, President Obama, Senator Reid. Don’t let them nullify Obamacare. Don’t let them shut down our fragile economy.
I can’t end this column without making one more point. During his filibuster, Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) read from the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Now, I know a bit about “Green Eggs and Ham.” Some readers are no doubt old enough to remember the night I read this great story on the air, during a “Saturday Night Live” skit. (Look it up; it’s a funny bit.)
I know the story of “Green Eggs and Ham.” But Sen. Cruz must not. Apparently, he doesn’t understand that the story is about a loud, stubborn character who rejects something based entirely on looks, without even trying it. When he’s finally convinced to taste it, he discovers, much to his surprise, that he likes it.
In the book, the dish on the table is “Green Eggs and Ham.” In America today, the issue on the table is Obamacare. Maybe the Republicans should let people try the new health care law before they hold the economy hostage in an attempt to nullify it.
Jesse L. Jackson is founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.