Hell Yes, Ron Paul is Fergettin’

Even as his son the junior senator from Kentucky signals a possible 2016 presidential run, retiring congressman Ron Paul is demonstrating that even he has some opinions that political exigencies apparently inhibited him from expressing earlier. Here’s this via Politico:

“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,” the former presidential candidate wrote in a post on his House website. “There is nothing treasonous or unpatriotic about wanting a federal government that is more responsive to the people it represents.”

He continued: “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.”

In his essay, Paul acknowledges but then dismisses the rather obvious objection to this line of thinking:

Is it treasonous to want to secede from the United States? 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. Clearly Thomas Jefferson believed secession was proper, albeit as a last resort. Writing to William Giles in 1825, he concluded that states:

“should separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left, are the dissolution of our Union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers.”

Keep in mind that the first and third paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence expressly contemplate the dissolution of a political union when the underlying government becomes tyrannical.

Ah, yes, the Declaration Mysticism that is at the heart of so-called “constitutional conservatism” and that has crept its way into standard Republican rhetoric. And Paul conveniently shows why this is a dangerous habit of mind, because as a matter of fact, this was the subject “settled by our Civil War,” a conclusion that can only be challenged by those who proclaim an eternal right of revolution or secession that no Constitution can abridge. During the debate over the purpose of the Civil War in the non-seceding states, the forces of conciliation that favored peace without the abolition of slavery argued for “the Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.” There was zero disagreement over the “right” to secession itself. Paul and others like him are straight-out neo-Confederates.

But unlike other neo-Confederates, Paul isn’t being totally honest about his position. When I was a child growing up in the Jim Crow South, a popular bumper sticker and auto-tag showed a Confederate soldier flourishing the Battle Flag with the legend: “Hell no, I ain’t Fergettin’.” Ron Paul most definitely is, and that could be a problem for Rand Paul, whose proto-candidacy for president leans heavily on “state’s rights” answers to many controversial questions.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.