Several thousand South Carolinians would like to secede from the union.
As Gov. Nikki Haley remarked Wednesday: “Didn’t we try that before?”
Yes, we did. And it didn’t turn out well at all.
This time around, South Carolina is trying a different approach. Instead of bombarding Fort Sumter, breakaway South Carolinians are petitioning the White House to “peacefully grant” them the chance to form their own sovereign government.
The petitions, oddly enough, are created through the Obama administration’s “We The People” initiative, which launched in 2011 to give Americans an opportunity to be heard by the administration. To appear on the website, a petition must have more than 150 signatures, and to get a response from the White House it must receive at least 25,000 signatures.
South Carolina is not alone. In fact, the White House has received secession petitions from all 50 states, seven of which had reached the 25,000-signature threshold as of this writing.
The first to get there was Texas, which has more than 105,000 signatures on its petition. No surprise there; Texas Gov. Rick Perry actually suggested in 2009 that the state might secede after President Barack Obama managed to push his stimulus package through Congress.
This might be the only way that Perry would ever become the leader of a country. But the move seems somewhat unnecessary since Texas already considers itself something of a separate sovereign nation.
Perhaps we should view this uprising not as a threat but as an opportunity. Why not, for example, let Florida secede? To quote the philosopher Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
America would lose Disney World, but there’s another one in California (a state we should keep, by the way, if only for its movies and its wine). And think of the money we would save on hurricane relief without the Sunshine State.
We probably could do without one of the Dakotas – whichever is the one without all the recently discovered gas and oil reserves. We might also dispense with one of the Carolinas and one of the Virginias.
Choosing between the two Carolinas would be difficult, but it’s noteworthy that a number of those signing South Carolina’s secession petition were from other states.
There is irony to be found in this grass-roots rebellion. ABC News reports that six of the seven states that tallied more than 25,000 signatures took more than $10 million apiece in federal revenue in 2010. Altogether, the seven states took nearly a fourth of all federal revenue allotted to the states that year.
While Obama’s re-election clearly was the catalyst for the burgeoning secession movement, it’s not just the right-wingers and libertarians who threaten to split. In 2011, for example, left-leaning residents of Arizona managed to put a measure on the ballot that would have allowed them to break off part of Pima County to create a separate state as a haven for liberals.
They didn’t, however, seek to secede from the union. That might have jeopardized their access to NPR.
We probably can write off this secessionary surge as a harmless protest, just another form of political expression. At some level, it’s no different from all the liberals who threatened to move to Canada after George W. Bush was re-elected.
But there’s also a disturbing undercurrent to the threat to leave the union, even if it isn’t entirely serious. It reflects the unremitting belief among many voters that Obama’s presidency is somehow illegitimate, that he is not entitled to hold the office, that he is not even an American citizen.
Maybe it lends too much weight to this petition drive to say that it also fails to acknowledge the nightmare that occurred when Southern states actually did secede from the union 147 years ago. But that fact wasn’t lost on Haley and other governors who commented on the petitions.
“I love this country,” Haley said. “I’m going to fight for this country. I’m going to do everything I can for this country, and this country is going to be great.”
“America, love it or leave it” used to be a conservative rallying cry. Now, apparently, after we’ve re-elected our first black president, some are ready to leave it.
“America, love it or change it” has always been a better slogan. But let’s leave it intact.
James Werrell is the Opinion Page Editor for The Herald of Rock Hill