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Virginia GOP Blogger: "Do we want Virginia sovereignty or not?"

by: Lowell

Sat Jun 13, 2009 at 22:11:10 PM EDT

(This posting came about in part as a result of an email exchange I had with Lowell.  It was first posted at his Bue Virginia blog.  We agreed in the exchange to have it appear here as well.  I have taken the liberty of splitting it so that it does not consume the entire front page. - promoted by teacherken)

Cross posted from Blue Virginia

Over at leading pro-Bob McDonnell/Virginia Republican blog Bearing Drift, Steven Osborne has posted a diary with the seemingly innocuous title, "McDonnell vs. Deeds in Perspective". I started reading it expecting an analysis of the two candidates' relative strengths and weaknesses, their positions on the issues, their respective paths to victory in November, standard political analysis like that. I also was ready for usual Virginia Republican talking points about how Creigh Deeds (or any Democrat, for that matter) is a liberalliberalsocialistliberalsocialist who wants to raise your taxes, turn everyone into a sensitive tree hugger, allow women to keep deciding whether or not to have their babies, take away workers' god-given "right to work," etc. In other words, I expected the same old same old rhetoric about the same old same old issues. What I did not expect was this.

...The issue that really gets to the heart of this election is simple. Will our Commonwealth be sovereign?

The underlying issue is whether or not Virginia will continue to lose sovereignty to the federal government. The recent controversy over accepting certain stimulus funds, is a perfect example. Governor Kaine has, in many ways, sacrificed Virginia's sovereignty.

The key question for our next governor is simple. Will you protect Virginia's sovereignty. Virginia has an inherent and Constitutional right to access its own resources, yet certain Democrats in the state have tried to restrict Virginia's accessing these resources. We also have an issue with the federal government continuing its power grab over the states.

Lowell :: Virginia GOP Blogger: "Do we want Virginia sovereignty or not?"
That's right, everybody, the key question for all of us in 2009 is not the economy or jobs, transportation, education or energy. Nope, at least over at Bearing Drift, it's whether Virginia is "sovereign" or not. What is sovereignty?  How about this definition?
Sovereignty is the exclusive right to exercise, within a specific territory, the functions of a Nation-state and be answerable to no higher authority.
That's right, apparently at least some Virginia Republicans believe that states like ours should be "answerable to no higher authority," including the government of the United States of America (you know, the one represented by a flag to which we pledge allegiance?).  Hmmmm...didn't we fight a war over this very subject, and wasn't it settled once and for all back in 1865? I was a bit puzzled, so I emailed Ken "teacherken" Bernstein to ask him what he thought, and he responded as follows:

Mr. Osborne is rather weak on his constitutional reasoning, as is Mr. McDonnell. In any area where there is joint authority/sovereignty, that of the Federal government is superior, as defined in the Supremacy clause of Article VI.  And given how conservative legal types belong to the Federalist Society, where they get John Marshall pins, I might point out that it was Federalist Chief Justice John Marshall who first established the broad reach of the Supremacy clause, in conjunction with the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8, Clause 18, in McCulloch v Maryland.

This is probably political, hoping to position Virginia versus the Federal government to appeal to independents, many of whom have a libertarian streak.  On the other hand, since Osborne is not being specific, I may be misreading. I think the two issues are:

1. The unemployment funds extension - conservatives were arguing not just in Virginia but elsewhere that this represented forcing the state to commit to funding the higher level out of its own funds in the future. In fact, the legislation required no such commitment;

2. Offshore drilling -  Deeds has remained open, with two caveats, one that the science supports it, two that issues with the Federal government get resolved so that Virginia receives royalties from any recovered hydrocarbons.  In fact, McDonnell and crew acquiescing to drill baby drill without getting the Federal commitment on royalties might be the ones surrendering Virginia sovereignty.

By the way, lest you think that Mr. Osborne's article was an isolated case, you might want to go back and look at video from the RPV convention a few weeks ago. One thing you'll notice is the widespread display of something called the Gadsden Flag:

The Gadsden Flag has been used throughout modern politics as a symbol of disagreement with the current governmment. This flag was most notably used during the Tea Party protests of 2009. The flag is often associated with the Right of revolution.

This current use of the flag has caught the government's attention. Some authorities now label the Gadsden flag as "Extremist". Reports from Louisiana say that a man was detained by police for driving with a "Don't Tread on Me" bumper sticker on his vehicle.

Fortunately, we all know that Virginia Republicans like Jeff Frederick, Ken Cuccinelli, Bob Marshall and Bob McDonnell are as far from "extremist" as can be.  Don't we?

UPDATE: Aznew has some thoughts on the Bearing Drift article at his blog, Virginia Democrat.

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Sounds like Sarah Palin's rhetoric!

Or Rick Perry, but with a Tidewater accent
instead of a Texas twang.

Maybe Gov. Perry will do McDonnell the "favor" of a campaign swing through Virginia.

[ Parent ]
I have some issues with the consistency of the sovereignty argument. If sovereignty were so important, shouldn't we turn down school money, and military spending, for that matter?

need to parse carefully
school spending of any kind is a valid point - the Federal government offers aid conditioned upon certain responses.  There is no requirement of a state to accept.  That also applies to highway funds -  how national government imposed speed limits and drinking age

military spending does not belong in same way.  State has no choicew about direct federal military spending such as occurs at the many military bases within Virginia.  Your point perhaps begins to be relevant with respect to the Guard, which is the functional equivalent of the militias described in the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment.  But since the Constitution provides for the placing of militia/guard under federal authority, it is a reasonable extension of that authority to prepare those forces for such contingencies by providing equipment and training under federal standards.  The only point that could be made in that regard is that there is no explicit requirement in the US Constitution for a state to have a militia/Guard, although one might argue that it is presumed/assumed, since all states did at the time of ratification of the Constitution.

I would note that I am not a lawyer.  I do teach government, and regularly check with people who are constitutional lawyers when certain issues come up in my classes.  And i have taken classes in law and constitution, including in one case taught by a professor at Harvard Law who served as a SCOTUS clerk.  Thus while not a lawyer I am more knowledgeable than the average non-lawyer.

This is my world and welcome to it

[ Parent ]
The Gadsden Flag
with its "Join or Die" snake ready to strike a bully with careless feet is a potent symbol of the importance of Unity among the states in the face of common challenges and threats. Sportsmen for Webb used it throughout the campaign as a symbol of independence.

I say buy one and let it fly in support of progressive causes: we cannot let the Tea Partiers of the right gain a monopoly on this fabulous revolutionary standard (or any other part of our revolutionary heritage).

Very true
We ought not let these right-wingers appropriate the Gadsden flag, but they already have done so.

That whole crowd is well on its way to creating a poisonous cult, as they gather the essential building blocks for such a cult: philosophical foundations (Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich), economic theory (free market), historical justification and narrative linking them to a patriotic past (we're the real heirs to the American Revolution), heroes (Palin), symbols (TEA Party, Gadsden flag)... now they need a martyr or two, and a specific cause which gives them the rationale and excuse to engage in some real bullying, i.e.,go on a Krystal Nacht riot or some such.

[ Parent ]
If you guys are concerned about Republicans "gaining a monopoly" on the Gadsden flag...
Perhaps you had better not engage in silly and ignorant rhetoric such as calling it "extremist" or a desire to overthrow the government.

[ Parent ]
you seem to read quite selectively
and act as if your only purpose being here is to start an argument.  You are likely not find either a productive form of behavior.

This is my world and welcome to it

[ Parent ]
"Sovereignty" is intended to resonate
with other unconscious signifieds here, too, of course: a (shudder!) more activist government, the size of projected national deficits, the fear (widespread in rural areas) of government intervention in businesses and  assaults on "sacred private property" (GM, bank bailouts, all that), "inevitable" incursions into the right to bear arms.

"Sovereignty" is perhaps not a bad starting point for them if they can skillfully tap into these fears pre-consciously without sounding crazy or too extreme.

Again, Creigh is by geography and temperament less vulnerable to this type of fearmongering than either Terry or Brian would have been.

Question is, how vulnerable is Obama to these arguments (assuming that they're carefully modulated without going off the deep end; being nonrational is one thing, extremely irrational another) in Virginia today with independents centrist conservatives of both major parties who found Warner and Obama an appealing team in a change election year.

Again, too, it's obvious that the GOP's going to try to make Obama an issue, and it's likely, too, that even if that fails to gain much traction, the MSM is going make that a major narrative of their coverage no matter if it's working or not.  

Instead of "sovereignty"...
...they should use the more historically common term, "states' rights".  That links the current Republicans to their ideological heritage, which traces back to

-  19th Century SC Senator John C. Calhoun's theory that states could "nullify" Federal laws they didn't like -- i.e., any attempt to limit slavery;
-  Confederate states' use of this theory to justify secession, thereby triggering the Civil War;
-  Massive resistance to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Ed;
-  AL Governor George Wallace's leadership of this resistance, his 1968 run for president as an independent, and Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" designed to attract Wallace's racist supporters to the Republican party;
-  Subsequent Republican efforts to maintain Southern support by appealing to the worst in their followers, under Reagan, Bush and Bush, and their consiglieres like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove.  

If the VA GOP wants to re-ignite this fire, then we need to throw the whole history book at them, and ask the simple question -- do we want to move forward with Obama's progressive policies or move backwards in history with the Republican's regressive ones?

So your solution
To Republicans who, agree or disagree with them, have valid concerns about the ability for Virginians to decide what's best for Virginians is to call them all racists?

What progressive, forward-thinking ideals we Republicans are missing out on.

[ Parent ]
No, I didn't call all Repubs racists
What I did was trace the history of the GOP focus on state's rights, which is clearly rooted in the politics of race-baiting.  If you have an alternative history that you would like to postulate, please let us know.  

My main message above is that "state's rights" is a more historically grounded term to use than "sovereignty" in this context.  But either way, if you introduce an idea, you need to put some meat on those bones and explain what you mean and imply by it.  Otherwise, it's just empty rhetoric.

[ Parent ]
No, your main message
No, your main message was: if Republicans want to talk about this, let's make it as difficult as possible by linking them to racists instead of responding with what we believe in.

Which is why you said:

"If the VA GOP wants to re-ignite this fire, then we need to throw the whole history book at them."

You have it backwards: state's rights isn't rooted in race-baiting; rather, racists found any and all avenues to continue institutionalized discrimination, including state's rights but many other theories as well. State's rights is about keeping representation as close to the people as possible. If you disagree with that ideal, fine. But at least let's dicuss is in a civil manner.

[ Parent ]
We are discussing it in a civil manner
But history matters and teaches us a few things that need to be taken into account.  

When you introduce a concept like "state sovereignty", you need to think about where it can and will lead, and our history does have some examples of how these concepts have been used and abused, sometimes with very hazardous consequences.  That history ought to inform the discussion.

[ Parent ]
Well, first,
I'm not introducing it. The concept has been at the fore-front of political theory since before the signing of the Constitution, and contrary to what you may believe, it hasn't just been for white people to be empowered over black people.

Second, both sides have consquences, "where it can and will lead", and history is rife with examples of the follies and hazards of an over-reaching centralized government. That history also ought to inform the discussion.

But instead of you accusing me of being racist and me accusing you of being facist, why don't we leave out the extreme examples and just talk about the rights of states vis-a-vis the federal government, as it applies to modern scenarios.

[ Parent ]
Yes, Federal government over-reach is a fair topic to discuss
But a strong term like "sovereignty" automatically propels the discussion into another realm.  I mean, we discuss sovereignty in terms of Tibetans in China or Palestinians in Israel, or various revolutionary situations.  Injecting that kind of language into the conversation automatically takes it somewhere beyond the usual polite discourse.  

[ Parent ]
No, it doesn't.
There are many different kinds of sovereignty, including the plight of nation-states and oppressed people struggling for self-determination. There's also sovereignty for states within a federal system, which has a similar concept but completely different application.

It's not a "strong" term; it's a term that aptly describes the topic at hand.

[ Parent ]
There is also the sovereignty
of states over the people, as so-called conservative judges have repeatedly expanded under 11th Amendment jurisprudence. That is one of the reasons people injured by states civil rights violations are unable to get any civil remedy.

[ Parent ]
nullification orginated with Jefferson
and to a lesser extend Madison, in Kentucky and Virginia resolutions.  Calhoun revived and popularized the idea during the battle over tariffs

interesting that two key figures nullification, Jefferson and Calhoun, were at the time they propounded it sitting VPs.

This is my world and welcome to it

[ Parent ]
Definitions of sovereignty show it ain't made for states in a Federal system
Lowell quotes from Wikipedia above: "Sovereignty is the exclusive right to exercise, within a specific territory, the functions of a Nation-state and be answerable to no higher authority."

Or try Merriam-Webster: "a: supreme power especially over a body politic b: freedom from external control: autonomy c: controlling influence"

Or Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "supreme authority within a territory"

Or Wordnet: "(n) sovereignty (government free from external control),(n) sovereignty (the authority of a state to govern another state)"

"State" in the definitions above typically refers to a nation-state or country.  Because states within a national system like ours simply do not have "autonomy", "supreme power", "controlling influence" of "free(dom) from external control."   They are legally subordinate to the Federal government.  

That is not to say that they do not have considerable authority of their own -- but that is not sovereignty.

This is incredibly stupid.
You don't take an oversimplified definition and make a political theory out of it. Have you really never heard of the term "sovereign" applied to a U.S. state before? If not, have you been to college or a high school civics class?

Sinec you guys here are fond of Wikipedia, let's see what they have to say about the states:

A U.S. state is any one of the 50 subnational entities of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government (four states use the official title of commonwealth rather than state). Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile.

The United States Constitution allocates power between the two levels of government. By ratifying the Constitution, each state transferred certain, but limited, sovereign powers to the federal government. Under the Tenth Amendment, all powers not explicitly mentioned are retained by the states, or the people.

Over time, the Constitution has been amended, and the interpretation and application of its provisions have changed. The general tendency has been toward centralization and incorporation, with the federal government playing a much larger role than it once did. There is a continuing debate over "states' rights", which concerns the extent and nature of the states' powers and sovereignty in relation to that of the federal government and their power over individuals.

[ Parent ]
Obviously you all chose that word for a reason
Sorry, but words have specific meanings, and they can only be bent so far to serve political purposes.  

"Sovereignty" is a strong word meant to excite the black-helicopter, get off my back, from my cold dead hands ultraconservative Republican base.  Think about all the words you could use if you didn't want to get that crowd riled up -- you could talk about state's:

- authority
- power
- influence
- rights
- control


So don't blame me for calling a spade a spade.

[ Parent ]
Let's clear a few things up,
First, there is no "you all". The only person who brought up sovereignty was Steven Osborne at Bearing Drift. As I noted on Too Conservative, he's made a total of 10 posts at Bearing Drift, and he's even stated he's only met Bob McDonnell once.

The reason why I'm defending it is because the original post written by Lowell is moronic on several levels, and unfortunately in his absence you've picked up the ball and ran with it.

Citing a definition to explain a complicated concept is completely asinine. You would never do that in any academic setting (nor would you cite Wikipedia), and if you had bothered to look at anything but Webster's you would see a long history and much-debated use of the word "sovereignty" to describe the relationship between states and the federal government.

Just because you are ignorant and unaware doesn't mean the word is "code" for nutjob conservatism. Rather than "calling a spade a spade" based on nothing but your own lack of understanding, perhaps you should inform yourself before getting into a debate about political theory.

[ Parent ]
You demonstrate the mark of serious scholarly argument...
...namely calling people with whom you disagree "asinine", "moronic", "ignorant" and "unaware".  

Since you raised it, I have a Master's in Political Science, with an emphasis on Political Philosophy.  And also since you raised it, there is absolutely no question that every logical argument begins by defining the terms in question.  And using the right terms is essential to having a sound argument.  

But there's really no need to take all this personally.  I've explained my position, you've explained yours, we failed to persuade one another, end of story.

[ Parent ]
I reserve stronger words for people with whom I have more than just a disagreement with.
If I just disagreed with you, that'd be one thing. But the arguments your putting forward lack any knowledge of the discussion at hand.

Yes, every argument begins with defining the terms at hand. But when concerning yourself with a topic as complex as "sovereignty", I would hope you wouldn't limit yourself to a one sentence entry in Webster's. To do so would be to enter into a fight with one armed tied behind your back.

You haven't explained any position at all, other than to take an oversimplified, incomplete, and thoroughly lacking third-grade treatment of a word, and pitifully hope it would fly in a serious discussion. It doesn't. Don't blame me for being woefully unprepared.

Let me ask you, since you brought it up: how many papers did you write to earn your Master's where you based an entire political theory argument on a one sentence entry in a dictionary? If your answer is more than "zero", I question the standards of your university.

[ Parent ]
The word sovereignty as applied to a state is a very basic term. What is complicated and therefore the source of much debate is the degree of shared sovereignty with the Federal Government.

To put it in other terms, calling them states is hardly a big deal but the difference between THESE United States and THE United States is huge.

Now, plenty of issues daily bring up questions of state sovereignty. The debate of accepting stimulus money was a great example of this. When we talk about sovereignty, on one end we have succession and on the other dissolution. Neither is preferable. Should Virginians get royalties off of resources taken from Virginia? I believe we should. Should Virginians have exclusive right to determine what to do with their resources? I do not believe so.

Either way, sovereignty is something debated on a case-by-case basis and yet has an extremely simple definition. It does have a connection to some of the best and worst parts of American history as well as broad usage world-wide.

No matter what is being discussed, it is inappropriate to make the basis of one's argument a statement of the presumed lack of knowledge of one's opponent. Further questioning is always better than accusing one of lacking substantive evidence.

[ Parent ]
Words matter
Since my argument in this thread is primarily about language -- i.e., why use the most polarizing term to convey your point when it actually distracts from your message -- it is wholly appropriate to focus on definitions, which form the basis of language, as part of that argument.  

As I said above, Federal government overreach is a personally reasonable topic to discuss, but you take it to another realm by railing about state sovereignty.  

But hey, if Repubs want to continue to marginalize themselves with these types of approaches, I can only say: More power to ya!

[ Parent ]
Could not agree more, kindler... n/t

"One person, one vote" died at the hands of SCOTUS, January 21, 2010

[ Parent ]
How else is there to discuss government overreach
Than to discuss state sovereignty?

I suppose we have to go through extra effort to make sure some of the more clueless out there don't take it to mean that we think states should have absolute control, but I think for most people this won't be an issue.

You admit that the topic is one that should be discussed, which makes the original post, and your defense of it, even more puzzling.

It really all boils down to your continued yet dramatically flawed objection over the use of a word that nearly all political thinkers and theorists, throughout history up to and including the present, have used repeatedly regarding this topic. And your only objection to the word is based on a surface-level understanding of it and an abject determination to refuse to go deeper than that.

But I suppose if you just absolutely cannot hear the word "sovereignty" without immediately and exclusively thinking about secession, we can try and find a different term that, while less apt, doesn't offend your delicate sensabilities.

[ Parent ]
If McDonnell
intends for VA to secede, I'm telling you straight off that I'm outa here the day he's inaugurated and am taking my tax money with me. I'd rather be "sovereign" in Northern California, where my son is.

Just curious
On what basis would you think McDonnell intends to secede?

Or are you just joking?

[ Parent ]
If secede is now the topic
why not a North Virginia (to complement West Virginia)? Yay! that would make more sense. Keep our healthier economy and its prodigious tax money to fix our own transportation and schools. Hmmm, now there would be a few sovereign individuals for you.

[ Parent ]
Is this the best issue the Repubs can come up with?
If it is, I don't think this dog is gonna hunt.
State sovreignty sounds like a code for states rights, and we all have been been there done that several cenuries ago.
It all sounds like comic book stuff to me,
Or maybe a new screen movie, "Rebel Virginia!" starring Rush Limbaugh as Virginia's secesh governor, and Michael Steele as another inept (repub) U.S President.
Under the Rush's meglomaniacal leadership, Virgnia secedes from the Union, and Rush takes control of Norfolk, the largest nuclear fleet in the world. Steele freaks out and orders the destruction of the Norfolk fleet, which is nuked in port by a few nearby loyal Union carriers.(greatest special effects ever!) The strikes and counterstikes result in the total destruction of the US fleet, as well as major liberal population centers, NY, Boston, WDC, Chicago and California.
Three wees later, the Russian Army lands at Norfolk, and Vladimir Putin appoints his brother the new Governor of the Russian colony of Virginia.

Whata scenario!
The paranoid fringe among themselves continually discuss the certainty of coming civil unrest, advise each other to "protect their families" by stocking up on ammo and canned good (heading for the mountains), remind each other that Bush II ordered the US Army to create concentration/resettlement camps (really, this part is true) to handle anticipated flows of refugees and possible illegal alien throngs crossing our borders while the federal government disintegrates, and so on and on and on....

I love your blockbuster movie script, Shenandoah Democrat. Only thing missing is the Chinese buying up a port or two and a few mines, plus the collapse of the US dollar, which will of course be replaced by the new Red Yankee rouble.

[ Parent ]
Just thinking
Perhaps, particularly if this comes up in a debate, Deeds might point out that another Republican governor has already been talking this way -- the governor of Texas.  He might then ask McDonnell if he, like Perry, wants to secede from the United States?

That might be nice to know before the election.

Seriously, what on earth are you talking about?
Please point out for me any instance of McDonnell even remotely referring to succession.

[ Parent ]
Tactics. Always tactics
Perhaps he isn't at all.  Perhaps the idea never occurred to him that "sovereignty" could possibly be interpreted in any way to "secession."  But there are at least some people (including me) who believe that it could -- not that he plans to secede, but that he'd like to be able to enjoy such language without any political cost.  And there is at least one Republican governor who has already used such language -- Rick Perry of Texas.  If McDonnell didn't mean it, what's the harm in asking him about it?

[ Parent ]
Where has McDonnell talked about sovereignty?
Last time I checked, he's touring the state promoting his jobs agenda.

[ Parent ]
Sometimes humor is the best approach
Thanks Teddy. In responding to these crazy wingnuts, humor has always been my favorite. It's going to be a very funny election season. I mean, seriously, can anyone really think the state sovereignty issue is really critical when we have Iran, Afghanistan, climate change, financial reform, health care, immigration, etc. etc. The mere fact that the repubs think this is an issue is their admission of having nothing to do about the real issues. Total smokescreen and black out.
Btw Teddy, I just heard the Chinese were getting ready to buy all the coal in West Virginia. How will all those coal companies who like to say "coal means jobs", respond when Chinese immigrants take the locals' jobs for half the pay? (hehe)

Never mind the coal
in WVA. I wonder when they're gonna demand that we give them Grand Canyon and a couple of Great Lakes in lieu of debt interest, so that they can build a few Maoland amusemment parks...

[ Parent ]
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