Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tyranny

Given the fears of the Tea Party and some prominent Republicans that Obama is a tyrant in waiting, I can't help but wonder what they would think of this scenario:
The Supreme Court rules that a state law, on the books for generations and a deep-seated feature of the local culture, is unconstitutional. The governor of the state in question, responding to the vocal demands of his constituents, announces that he will refuse to abide by this "legislating from the bench" by nine unelected judges. He calls out the state militia to enforce the now technically defunct, but still overwhelmingly popular, law.

The President of the United States, unmoved by either the governor's appeals or an impassioned outcry from the citizenry, deploys an elite brigade of U.S. Army soldiers to implement the Court's decision. He also takes command authority over the state militia away from the governor. The President uses his constitutional power as Commander in Chief of the armed forces to impose his will on the state and its citizens. He wins the confrontation and abolishes, at the barrel of a gun, the state's duly-enacted law.
Of course this scenario really happened, 53 years ago. The President was the noted tyrant Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1957, the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which had been handed down three years earlier, was finally implemented, "with all deliberate speed," in Little Rock, Arkansas. The New Yorker has a stirring collection of photographs of the surviving actors in the civil rights struggle in the February 15 issue, and there is a multimedia feature on the New Yorker website. The photo below is from that collection. It depicts, some five decades later, the "Little Rock Nine," the nine Black high-school students who were escorted into Little Rock High School by U.S. Army paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division in 1957.


Image: Platon / The New Yorker.

2 comments:

Liam said...

The Tea Party people are basically the ideological descendants of the Citizens' Committees of the 1950's who fought for "states' rights" (read: segregation) so they probably do view that stirring event in American history as tyranny.

Chris Hartman said...

Thanks for your comment, Liam.

I actually wonder about your point, though. I would be surprised if your typical Tea Partier would consider himself the ideological descendant of Southern segregationists, or that they would look at the Brown v. Board of Education decision as illegitimate.

The Tea Party ideology and program is nowhere near as coherent as the Citizens' Committees', unless you want to call anger and anti-incumbency an ideology and program. True, they feel they are "Taxed Enough Already" and want government spending cut, which are both reasonable positions, but they don't back it up with anything specific. I never seem to hear exactly which programs deserve to be slashed. I do hear a lot of talk of tyranny, fascism, secret concentration camps, and so forth. By contrast, Gov. Faubus and his ilk back in the 1950s were crystal clear about what was at stake, and as obsolete as their thinking had become, it did all make some logical sense.

To paraphrase one of the great movies of our time, "Say what you will about the tenets of the Citizens' Committees, at least it was an ethos."

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