POSTED ON FEBRUARY 17, 2010:
My Country 'Tis of We
They, the "Tenthers", know it all. The Constitution, and God, are on their side.
Shhhhhh! Listen closely. Can you hear it?
It's the sound of black helicopters hovering nearby, Big Brother's preferred method of monitoring our every thought and movement, don't you know?
If we're not careful, "they"--the universe's omnipotent, invisible master puppeteers--won't just be planting microchips in our driver's licenses in the near future. They'll also be inserting them against our will--maybe even without our knowledge--into derrieres or other body parts, the better to track and control us.
As far as a growing number of Oklahoma lawmakers are concerned, this isn't the stuff of George Orwell or the Tin Foil Hat lunatic fringe--it is reality.
These elected officials might represent districts in Oklahoma, but they live in the Great State of Paranoia, a murky world where the feds--conspiring with wealthy industrialists, the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission and other evildoers--work around-the-clock to destroy liberty.
Known as "Tenthers" because of their devotion to the U.S. Constitution's Tenth Amendment, these lawmakers are busy churning out resolutions and bills designed to send a defiant message to the federal government: You've overstepped your bounds and you no longer have authority over Oklahoma and its people.
You think I'm kidding, right? This must be fantasy or satire? Au contraire.
These self-styled super patriots are very real, proud members of a loosely knit coalition known as the Liberty Caucus. It's unclear how many lawmakers would identify or sympathize with Liberty Caucus ideals themselves as members, but from voting patterns, it appears as many as two-dozen often join forces on what could be considered Tenther issues.
In Tentherland, anything not contained in the Constitution's specific list of federal powers--regulating interstate commerce, for example--is beyond Congress' authority.
They adhere strictly to the Tenth Amendment provision that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
I concur that we Americans must be ever vigilant in defense of our liberties and stand firm against abuses of government power. And I'm a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union for that very reason. But there's a difference between fighting real battles and imaginary ones.
Republican Rep. Charles Key's HJR 1063 is Exhibit A. He wants a statewide vote on his self-styled Oklahoma Sovereignty Protection Act that would give the Legislature the authority to determine whether "certain acts of the federal government violate the United States Constitution."
Earth to Key: Neither state voters nor state lawmakers have the authority to make those decisions. That power belongs to a nine-member, black-robed crew in Washington known as the United States Supreme Court. Perhaps you've heard of them?
This isn't Key's only revolutionary screed this session. Nor is he the only state lawmaker engaging in a sophomoric game that might be more aptly called Stickin' It To Uncle Sam.
Key, who didn't believe the official explanation of the Oklahoma City bombing and carried out his own investigation, also has introduced HJR 1064 calling for a repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that took the power to appoint U.S. senators away from state legislatures and gave it to the voters.
"... The Congress of the United States has, since the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, steadily encroached upon the sovereignty of this and the other states ...," his resolution declares.
I haven't seen any polls lately on the Oklahoma Legislature's overall popularity, but I suspect it's not dissimilar to Congress' 70-plus-percent disapproval rating. And I bet few Oklahomans would be willing to cede their power to directly elect who represents them in the U.S. Senate--much less turn it over to the state Legislature.
Another Tenther doozey in the legislative mill is state Rep. Leslie Osborn's HB 3157 that asserts Oklahomans cannot be forced to participate in any international, state or federal firearms registration programs--nor can their lawfully owned firearms be confiscated.
Osborn, a first-term Republican from Tuttle, told the House Public Safety Committee last week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signed precursors to international peace treaties that would ban firearms.
"I want to make sure," she said, "Hillary Clinton does not go to Copenhagen and sign an accord allowing this."
At least some of Osborn's claims were included in a chain e-mail making the rounds last year. According to FactCheck.org, a project of the non-partisan Annenberg Public Policy Center, much of what the e-mail claimed was "simply false."
The (Obama) administration's agreement to talk about writing a United Nations treaty to regulate arms (conventional weapons) exports and imports is a far cry from banning possession of firearms, which Obama said he doesn't want to do and the Supreme Court has said can't be done anyway.
(Visit http://m.factcheck.org/2009/12/international-gun-ban-treaty/ to read the factual analysis.)
Of course, provable facts aren't likely to give pause to zealots like the Tenthers.
They believe America's problems can be traced to the Great Depression when New Deal reformers "illegally" expanded the federal government's powers. They contend Congress is forbidden constitutionally from enacting such programs as Medicare and Social Security or even today's proposed health care reforms (another target of the Tenthers in the state Legislature).
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common refrain during times, historically, of upheaval. As Ian Millhiser noted last year in The American Prospect online, the "right-wing South justified both secession and the Civil War on the theory that the Constitution is nothing more than a pact between sovereigns that each state is free to leave at will."
Millhiser, a legal research analyst at the Center for American Progress, also recalled that in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, 19 senators and 77 representatives endorsed a "Southern Manifesto" that used Tenther-like language to assert the Supreme Court decision banning separate-but-equal schools had encroached "on the rights reserved to the States" because the Constitution did not mention education.
The Tenthers' efforts in the Oklahoma Legislature this year would be laughable if the times were not so serious.
Is it too much to ask that state lawmakers focus on the truly weighty matters of state--like a $1.6 billion budget hole in fiscal year 2011 that threatens to cripple essential state services, including education and child welfare, highways and bridges, corrections and law enforcement?
Further, the Tenther muck sloshing out of the Oklahoma Legislature these days is giving our state a black eye--not only nationally, but also internationally. Can't you just imagine cutting-edge businesses and researchers stampeding to expand into a state where the patients are too often in charge of the asylum?
The sliver of good news is that these grand anti-government declarations might win approval from pandering legislators, but they are routinely laughed out of court-- the equivalent of scofflaws declaring they can't be made to pay income taxes.
But it's no laughing matter the way these zealots play on the fear, anger and emotions of the politically naïve, helping turn them against their government and often erasing hope for peaceful redress of their grievances.
That's how we end up with the Timothy McVeighs of the world--those already so wounded emotionally and psychologically that they become persuaded they have no choice but to refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.
The Tenthers are playing a dangerous game that long ago ceased being comedic.
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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