Texas Rep. Ron Paul is deeply wrong when he says that secession is a "deeply American principle."
During the freak-show circus that was the 2012 Republican primary process, Paul attained a kooky uncle sort of charm—he was an oddball among an underwhelming collection of loons and shysters, but he did it all with a bemused grin. That distinguished him from the rest who were busy competing to see who could generate the most foam at the mouth over their apoplectic disdain for President Obama. So Paul's comments yesterday about secession-chic are a useful reminder that he leaves politics the same way he practiced it—not as a charming gadfly but a crank.
Secession is a deeply American principle. This country was born through secession. Some felt it was treasonous to secede from England, but those "traitors" became our country's greatest patriots.
There is nothing treasonous or unpatriotic about wanting a federal government that is more responsive to the people it represents. That is what our Revolutionary War was all about and today our own federal government is vastly overstepping its constitutional bounds with no signs of reform. In fact, the recent election only further entrenched the status quo. If the possibility of secession is completely off the table there is nothing to stop the federal government from continuing to encroach on our liberties and no recourse for those who are sick and tired of it.
He is right that there is nothing treasonous or patriotic about wanting a responsive federal government, but that is why we have elections. Just because an election doesn't go the way you would like, you don't get to take your state and go stomping home, even if you try to cloak your dislike for current policy in principled talk about "vast" impingements on "constitutional bounds." But there's a distinct difference between wanting to elect a new government and trying to dissolve the country—the latter is, in fact, both treasonous and unpatriotic (although there is admittedly some humor in this variation of the hoary "love it or leave it" uberpatriotism which often animates the right—now it's "love it the way I say or I'll leave it").
Secession is a deeply un-American principle. It is a principle that posed the greatest existential threat to the United States of America and was vanquished by our greatest president. I refer of course to the Civil War (which was not, as some would have it, the "War Between the States" or, ha ha, the "War of Northern Aggression"). The bloodiest war in the nation's history was fought over the question of secession and the side which tried to destroy the United States lost. That settles it.
In his post, Paul anticipates this line of argument: "Many think the question of secession was settled by our Civil War. On the contrary; the principles of self-governance and voluntary association are at the core of our founding." This is a mind-numbing non sequitur—the second statement does not contradict the first. What he is doing is dishonoring the hundreds of thousands who died that the nation may live. Just because their fight took place a century-and-a-half ago it should not diminish their sacrifice. This is why we still revere, for example, the Gettysburg Address (delivered 149 years ago yesterday), which gave such eloquent voice to those who gave the "last full measure of devotion." It's why we still make movies about Lincoln.
Ron Paul is departing the political stage. The political world has widely noted his retirement, but happily he will not be long remembered.