The Tea Party is heading a revolt against the idea
of government by the majority of citizens elected by national popular vote. To
the Tea Party people and the extremist Republicans, a national mandate is a
fraud on its face. It signifies nothing
but the victory of superior numbers is nothing but a war between the mass
versus the most qualified, insightful and effective and the most visionary
minority party. A victory in a U.S.
national election is to them merely a crude popularity contest, and the means must
be found to bypass it. Hitler, after all, was elected by a popular majority.
To the Tea Party people and the extremist
Republicans, the nation’s fate does not rest on superior numbers. Its fate
depends on the political devices of certain of essential, critical white
minorities, and it is only those particular, self-chosen minorities that
matter. Isn’t this what we are seeing in the shutdown? The Tea Party and
extremist Republicans are saying that that any state has the right to declare specific federal laws void within
the borders of the resisting states, and instead there should be set up a “concurrent
majority” of the legislatures of each state in addition to the federal
legislature to assent to a law for it to have nation-wide effect.
Before we go further
let me say stoutly that I have no interest in politics. I have always had the attitude of that
mythical old New England woman in her nineties in who, when asked why she had
never voted replied, “I never vote. It only encourages them.” I didn’t vote until
the 1992 George H. Bush Bill Clinton contest, and I voted for Bush because of
his handling of Saddam. I spectacularly disliked Bill Clinton and only slowly changed
my mind because in the case of Serbia and Milosevic, the iron at last entered
him and he went to battle.
To me, the Tea Party people and the extremist
Republicans are not simply red necks or fundamentalists. They are people of ideals. I regard those ideals as perverse, but that
is only a way of saying, that I disagree with them. But they are intellectually clever all the
It was John C. Calhoun of South
Carolina, who in 1833, invented the idea of the “concurrent majority,” the
strategy being used by the Tea Party today. As a person, Calhoun was a dour, humorless
intractable man. He was entirely
addicted to complex abstractions. His
thought had a white-hot and relentless intensity. He would wander about and
mutter, “This indeed is a real
crisis.” As he was dying, a friend asked him to sum up his life, and he
replied, “I see nothing to repeat and little to correct,” practically the same
words President George W. Bush used in describing his presidency. But make no
mistake and don’t be distracted.
Intellectually, Bush wasn't within shouting distance of Calhoun.
a thinker, Calhoun was concerned about the power of section versus section,
obsessed by the waning power of the South which he felt was being increasingly
overwhelmed by the growth of the North. As a result, Calhoun pronounced the
South “a fixed and hopeless minority.”
In other words, the white people of the South were being denied the
means to make their power nationally felt, thanks to the majorities of the
North. If you think of the shrinking numbers of white people that will live in
America in ten years, the growing number of Asians, Hispanics, gays, etc. the
“white” Right Wing Republicans and Tea Party people would probably say the same
thing about America today that whites in America “are a fixed and hopeless
minority.” Think of the eve of last year’s election when Bill O’Reilly cried
out in anguish that America wasn’t “white” any more. That observation
encapsulates the major Tea Party fear.
The concept of the concurrent majority was
a device to boost certain interests at the expense of others. We have all read
items that have highlighted the role of Right Wing billionaires who are funding
and supporting certain candidates who are working to restrict weaken and hamper
the rights of minorities to prevent them from becoming majority voices. To the
Tea Party, any minority that enjoys any
degree of majority support is an enemy. We usually think of minorities as a
group laboring to become part of the majority. A Virginia politician, William
H. Roane, in the 1850s said that he thought that chief right of minorities was
that of “freely, peaceably and legally converting themselves into a majority whenever they can.” To prevent certain
rising minorities becoming part of the national majority is the aim of the Tea
The brilliant American historian, Richard
Hofstadter, said that the concurrent majority was designed specifically “to
protect a vested interest of considerable power.’ Calhoun, like the Tea Party
people, believed that the government by numerical was inherently unstable. Vox
Populi, Vox Humbug. What Calhoun wanted in its place, was “government by the
whole community – that is, a government that would organically represent both
the minority and majority interests.” He added that a society should not be governed “by counting heads,” but
by “considering the great economic interests, the geographical and functional
units” of the nation.
He then added, “In order to prevent the
plundering of the minority by the majority interest, each must be given an
appropriate organ in the constitutional structure to provide it with either a
concurrent voice in making and executing laws or a veto on their execution.”
And he concluded, “Only by such a device can the different interests, orders
and classes or portions of the community be protected and all conflict and
struggle between them be prevented.”
Calhoun then cried in pain, “We are here
but a handful in the midst of an overwhelming majority.”
There is a note of extreme distress in
this declaration. It is a tone of
despair, the wail of the outflanked and defeated. It is also very melodramatic.
It is also incomprehensible. Why should a stubborn and truculent minority ask
to be put on the same plane of power as a majority? What sound principle demands
that unequals should be equal to equals?
It is like an athlete who has just lost a contest, asking to be given a winning
medal all the same. The idea of the
concurrent majority is a bit like the bully in the school yard who presides
because others cower before him.
Calhoun however said that faced with
such peril, “the South should be content with nothing less than extreme
militancy:, stand firm, meet the enemy
on the frontier, rather than wait. Anything less than decisive victory
Is this not what is at stake in the
current shutdown? Yet I have never seen the name of Calhoun mentioned by the major media.
I would greatly appreciate any comments.
I am just groping my way along here.