Tuesday, February 5, 2013

United States’ new separatists

     "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of — ah, the hell with it."

     "My country tis of thee; sweet land of — Obamacare? I'm walking."

      It's been nearly a century and a half since, in a courthouse beside a bloody battlefield, a severed union was stitched whole. If I read things correctly, in 2013 part of that whole has grown tired of cohabitation. It wants its own generals again.      

     A few weeks on the heels of petitions to secede from the union after Barack Obama's re-election, we are awash in warlike threats. Has someone secured Fort Sumter? 

    It didn't seem like a wartime speech the other day when our president, at his second inauguration, talked about the promise of the 21st century, calling for the nation to bridge the meaning of the founders' words about equality "with the realities of our time."   

    Unacknowledged by President Obama, however, was a threat to the space-time continuum: an opposition bitterly pining for a return to the '50s — the 1850s.

    Those were the good old days before Lincoln and the Union Army stepped in to enforce the founders' intentions for one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice even for slaves.

     And here we are in 2013, and in various points around the country, including statehouses, with rumblings that the union has grown untenable.

     Indeed, some state lawmakers have issued calls to turn the time machine back to 1832. That's when South Carolina announced it would obey federal law no more. The Ordinance of Nullification it was called. Before cannon balls flew, it was the Civil War's first shot.

    We know who won.

    The latest separatist retort is proposed legislation in states from Texas to Wyoming to Montana to Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina and Indiana, initiating efforts to "nullify" any attempts by federal authorities to enforce new gun restrictions.

     Before that: nullification-style efforts aimed at ignoring federal health care reforms such as health insurance exchanges to lower the cost health coverage, and federal assistance to expand Medicaid.

    In the meantime, we have a disconcerting split forming between two separate brands of law enforcement. On one hand, we have largely urban police organizations supporting steps to tamp down the proliferation of military-style guns and massive clips. On the other hand, we have mostly rural sheriffs saying they will refuse to enforce new gun-control laws.

     Epitomizing that brand of petulance in Texas is McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara. The Waco Republican said he would enforce no law "I feel to be unconstitutional."

    Newly elected, McNamara apparently doesn't understand that courts decide those matters. His job is to follow what they dictate. But you know what a shiny badge and a horse not made of two-by-fours will do to one's sense of stature.

     One sheriff who isn't marching to that tune is Grayson Robinson. His jurisdiction is Colorado's Arapahoe County. In a recent letter, he compared statements like McNamara's to the actions of long-ago lawmen who served as judge and jury, with ropes and nooses.

     Robinson could also have mentioned the individual who, in his jurisdiction, took the law into his own hands in an Aurora theater last year and, after firing a spray of bullets, left 12 people dead and 58 wounded. Judge. Jury. Executioner.

    You tell me the difference ultimately between that one man, and another, albeit an elected sheriff, announcing, "I am the law."

   Once again, we reflect in wonder at the contrast: such a hopeful, uplifting presidential inauguration, and such militant resistance to what, based on the voters' wishes, shall emanate for four more years from the nation's capital.

   You're right, Sheriff. Maybe one country isn't big enough for the both of us.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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