Nullification was debated (and discredited) before the Civil War. And, as the (apparently sane) GOP attorney general's office in Idaho, one of the states now weighing a nullification bill, wrote last month, "the theory runs contrary to the very purpose of the federal constitution," adding that, "taking the logic of the nullification theory to its natural extension, federal law would become a patchwork of regulation depending upon which States chose to comply." The letter concluded: "There is no right to pick and choose which federal laws a State will follow."
The extent to which the far right, often self-described as "constitutional conservatives," settles on pre- and anti-constitutional policies is striking. But perhaps severe political derangement also blurs one's sense of history. [See a slide show of 10 GOP frontrunners for 2012.]
Take House Tea Party doyenne Michele Bachmann, who is toying with a presidential run. Bachmann last month waxed reverent for "the very founders . . . [who] worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." She added that it's "high time that we recognize the contribution of our forebears who worked tirelessly—men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished." Adams, while a tireless opponent of slavery, was less a Founding Father than a founding son, and one who died 17 years before the Civil War ended the despicable institution. And not only did the founders in many cases own slaves, they enshrined slavery in the Constitution.
My late father, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., was fond of saying that "history is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As persons deprived of memory become disoriented and lost . . . so a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future." If political derangement is even infecting our national memory, we really may be in trouble.