THE RETURN OF THE GOP’S SECESSION TALK…. The Republican Party’s flirtation with political radicalism has been one of the more disturbing developments of the last 18 months. Rhetoric and arguments that were once considered extreme — if not entirely beyond the norms of American mainstream discourse — have become almost routine, not just with the Republican base, but with Republican lawmakers and officials.

But perhaps nothing — not even frequent Republican efforts to compare the president to Hitler — reflects GOP radicalism more than talk of secession.

This first popped up in earnest in April 2009, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) complained that the United States government has “become oppressive in … its interference with the affairs of our state.” He added, “We think it’s time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas.” Soon after, Perry said he wasn’t advocating secession, “but if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

A year later, we’re hearing similar talk in Tennessee.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-03) suggested TN and other states may have to consider seceding from the union if the federal government does not change its ways regarding mandates.

“I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government,” said Wamp during an interview with Hotline OnCall. […]

“Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level,” said Wamp, who is competing with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam (R) and LG Ron Ramsey (R) for the GOP nod in the race to replace TN Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

Wamp isn’t just some crazy person on talk radio — he’s an eight-term member of Congress who hopes to be the chief executive of a state next year.

To be sure, the right-wing congressman has a history of saying bizarre things. A month ago, Wamp suggested publicly that improvements to Chattanooga’s economy were a divine reward from God for the city’s lack of abortion clinics. The man has even said he sleeps with a gun, just in case.

But dabbling in Civil War talk is irresponsible, and frankly, dangerous. Those who love the United States should not go around carelessly threatening to secede from it. Even by modern GOP standards, this is just crazy.

If our modern politics were more grounded, we’d hear widespread denunciations of Wamp’s talk, and he’d be forced to apologize for such extremism. In 2010, however, Wamp will face no punishment at all, and his gubernatorial campaign will probably not be affected, since he’s appealing to the extremist elements of his party base anyway.

Be afraid.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.