State of the Dis-Union

What's fueling the call for secession?

CINCINNATI - Even as Americans flock to theaters to see a film about a revered historical figure that reunified the nation after a bloody Civil War, there's a fresh movement among some political factions to have their states secede from the United States.

In the wake of President Obama's re-election earlier this month, a flood of petitions has filled the White House's "We The People" website, seeking federal permission for states to "peacefully" withdraw from the nation and "create [their] own new government."

Although the petitions are largely a symbolic gesture meant to express some people's dislike of election results, residents of all 50 states have now filed them. More than 675,000 digital signatures have been collected so far.

Of course, anyone can create a petition on the White House site; under the site's guidelines, White House staff only will review a petition and issue a response if one garners at least 25,000 signatures.

(For context, other recent petitions have called for nationalizing the production of Twinkies, to ensure their continued existence; and pardoning the Ohio State Buckeyes from "unjust NCAA sanctions" that prevents the team's "rightful access to a BCS bowl game.")

Thus far, only secession petitions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have reached the 25,000-signature threshold. Not surprisingly, all of those states – except Florida – went for Republican Mitt Romney in the election.

There are always sour grapes by the losing side in any presidential election. In the 1950s, some people alleged Dwight Eisenhower was secretly a Communist; in the ‘60s, critics placed newspaper ads accusing John Kennedy of ‘treason."

But some observers allege the depth and passion of the current backlash is unique, and has more to do with feelings toward Barack Obama specifically.

"It's both," said Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University. "It's what happens after every election but it's also unique this time.

"There's always some resentment and frustration after any election," Beaupre said. "But it's also due to some structural changes that have occurred over some period of time, particularly the last two presidential elections."

In Beaupre's view, the nation has been done a great disservice by the tendency to view itself as a collection of red states and blue states.

"It was fun at first and somewhat useful," he said. "In reality, there are blue people in red states and red people in blue states… it's convenient for the media to paint everything in simple terms."

That viewpoint, he said, tends to oversimplify political debate and analysis.

Much of the push for secession comes from the tea party movement. Just like its counterpart on the liberal side, Occupy Wall Street, the ultra-conservative tea party is a leaderless crusade made up of many different groups and individuals.

But the primary backer of secession mania is the California-based TeaParty.org, also known as the 1776 Tea Party.

One article posted on the group's website states: "When the Federal Government sets out to ruin the lives of law abiding citizens by making laws that are against God's law, then it is fit and proper to make a concerted attempt by any state to secede from the union to become a new government should the majority of the citizens agree."

TeaParty.org's other current mission is urging its members to "fax blast" every member of Congress and tell them to overturn Obamacare – another goal that seems unlikely to happen, given Democratic control of the Senate and White House.

The group's leaders, Stephen Eichler and Tim Bueler, didn't respond to repeated requests for comment. But a passage on its website seems to indicate they realize secession is a far-fetched objective.

It reads: "In general, it's an overreaction on the part of those who are frustrated with the Government of the United States, of which there are millions upon millions… The petitions are in large part the result of an over zealous [sic] Federal Government that is taking away states rights on many issues."

Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County Republican Party chairman, believes such talk is counter-productive to regaining the GOP's edge in future elections.

"I think it's preposterous and it doesn't serve the cause of Republicans," Triantafilou said. "They should knock it off."

The GOP chairman agrees with Beaupre that some post-election trash talking is common, but the current vitriol takes it to a new level.

"In every election cycle, you see the bumper stickers that read like that one that says, ‘Don't blame me, I voted for Romney' or vice-versa," he said.

"I must admit, this is the first time I can recall that there's been a call for secession" -- Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County Republican Party chairman.

Actually, the first time in modern history where there was a similar effort was in 2004, shortly after the re-election of George W. Bush.

Back then, Lawrence O'Donnell -- a former aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and now an MSNBC talk show host – wrote an article for Salon.com stating that upset liberals shouldn't actually push for their states to secede, as some were doing, but rather use it as a call to action.

"For now, of course, secession remains an escapist fantasy," O'Donnell wrote. "(T)here are interim measures between splitting the nation and submitting to a culture pushed by a hostile federal government. Having lost any say in how the nation is run, liberals may be about to discover states' rights — for better or worse."

O'Donnell added that secession is also unrealistic because "the divide in this country isn't so much between states as it is between urban and rural areas."

The difference between 2004 and 2012, however, is the people grumbling about secession eight years ago weren't taken seriously by their political party and didn't wield much influence over its party's leaders. Not so with the tea party.

Another difference that can't be denied, said Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, is the role that race plays in the current debate.

"I continue to believe that a lot of people out there, unfortunately, have difficulty believing America could elect an African-American president," Burke said.

Referring to comments that Romney made to donors after the election alleging Obama won, in part, because he promised "gifts" to black and Hispanic voters, Burke added, "You just can't continue to alienate the non-white people of the United States."

Most historians conclude the conservative wing of the Republican Party first came to prominence in the late 1960s, as part of what's been dubbed "the Southern strategy."

That's when the GOP began appealing to conservative, white Democrats from the Deep South who were upset by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the desegregation of public schools.

Columnist Andrew Sullivan, who calls himself a moderate conservative, has said the results of the 2012 presidential election look "like the pro-slavery United States Confederacy during the Civil War."

Burke believes the Republican Party should disavow its fringe elements.

"Part of it is some people haven't gotten used to the notion that white males aren't running the country anymore," Burke said. "I am honestly concerned that the Far Right – not all Republicans – are only going to get nastier and worse. The real leaders of the Republican Party have to stand up against it and speak out."

The 24/7 news cycle of cable TV networks and the advent of the Internet also is a factor.

"The communications system is so pervasive and unfiltered now. It's not very thoughtful," Beaupre said. "It's emotional, and people don't feel they need to make rational arguments anymore."

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