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July 29, 2013 7:18 AM Nullification, Secession and Now Obstructionism. Some Things Never Change.

By Jamie Malanowski

One of the pitfalls in writing about the Civil War is the tendency to see things through a Civil War lens. As a result, one sometimes sees connections between phenomena and events that have no business being tied together. And that’s what may be going on here. Still, when one reads in the Times about House Republicans pledging “to gut many of President Obama’s top priorities with the sharpest spending cuts in a generation and [to launch] a new push to hold government financing hostage unless the president’s signature health care law is stripped of money this fall,” one cannot help but hear echoes of earlier moments in our country’s history when the minority refused to behave like a minority, and attempted to exert its will over a duly-elected majority’s. John Calhoun did that in the 1830s when he offered his theory of nullification, and Andrew Jackson beat him back. The secessionists tried to do it in the 1860s, and they were defeated, with much cost and loss of life. Now the House Republicans, bolstereed by such undemocratic devices as gerrymandering and the Hastert rule, are playing the same game–not protecting their rights as minorities, but threatening to destroy the government unless they get their way.

The country has not generally liked the idea of minority factions imposing its will on the majority. During the secession crisis, nothing infuriated northerners more than the idea that the south, having so long had its way in the governance of the country, was now refusing to abide by the rules that had until recently so served them so well for so long. Much more recently, Reagan conservatives were able to achieve great success by blaming small minorities–the media, the judiciary, liberals, etc.–for imposing rules and policies on an unwilling minority.

It’s time Democrats learned this lesson. Nothing moves Americans more than an appeal to fundamental fairness. Democrats need to nationalize the election, and campaign on the idea that what the Republicans have been unable to win at the ballot box, they are securing through manipulating the rules. Not cheating, but manipulating. People hate that even worse than cheating; it seems nearly as immoral, and it comes across as clever.

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.