Rick Santorum on Nullification and the Civil War

No, I won’t be voting for Rick Santorum in any upcoming primary, but compared to some of his nutty friends on the right [and here] this seems to me to be a pretty reasonable response to what was probably a question about whether a state has the right to nullify or secede from the Union.

Santorum latches on to the popular Shelby Foote quote from Ken Burns’s PBS documentary about how Americans supposedly referred to the nation as “these” United States before the war as opposed to the postwar reference of “the” United States.  Yes, Americans were more likely to define their allegiance primarily through their states, but such an identification did not exclude strong feelings of nationalism and patriotism.  Just ask George Washington.  Americans north and south identified themselves simultaneously as members of multiple communities beginning with their families and extending outward.  These strong feelings were informed by an understanding of their history going back to the founding of the nation as well as a firm belief in American Exceptionalism.  The process that led to secession beginning in December 1860 was not inevitable nor did it extinguish those strong national bonds in many of those southerners who came to believe that the Union was no longer tenable.

I can’t imagine that this response won Santorum many new friends in New Hampshire last night.

14 comments… add one

  • Margaret D. Blough Jan 6, 2012

    Santorum has always had his good moments (he was VERY good to and very supportive of Gettysburg National Military Park and successfully fought off efforts by a few Congressmen to derail the development of the current General Management Plan at GNMP). They just keep getting a whole lot fewer and further between and the bad moments keep getting more and more frequent and extreme.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 6, 2012

      I was surprised by his response given the setting and his recent surge, which I suspect will peter out some point soon.

  • Jim Dick Jan 6, 2012

    It’s the typical move to the right to attempt to garner support from the more radical elements of the right. We’ve seen this with every single presidential candidate in this cycle in what I call the Anybody But Romney category. Politically this has been a very interesting political cycle. There’s a substantial shift in politics occurring which seems to be making the more conservative elements in the Republican Party lose their relevancy.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 6, 2012

      OK, but that is clearly not what we have here and Santorum is in the perfect place to make that radical pitch.

      • Rob Baker Jan 6, 2012

        Santorum already has the radical pitch. The radical pitch won him Iowa with his stance against homosexuality, abortion and Islam. The large base of Evangelical voters combined with the caucus format allowed him to lap over the edge. This won’t work for him in N.H. because they do not have a large evangelical base of support. His view on nullification and secession are just like you said above. A Ken Burns ripoff. He is probably clinging to that because he has no knowledge of the Constitution or history for that matter, (http://www.salon.com/2012/01/06/from_texas_to_israel_santorums_twisted_history/). There is already examples of Nullification spreading throughout the United States from Marijuana in California to health care to interstate commerce. Some of which have passed state governments. In the case of Medicinal Marijuana, the state has passed the law and the President has suggested not taking action against those specific states yet the DEA and DOJ continue to prosecute users and even downplay media attention.

        In short, I’m not breathing anything into this answer. I don’t think he knows what he talking about and is instead throwing out whatever answer he has grabbed from someone else.

        • Kevin Levin Jan 6, 2012

          I don’t know much about what Santorum has said on the issue of nullification in the past, but as far as I can tell this is his position.

          • Ray O'Hara Jan 6, 2012

            Santorum is a big government conservative. He is all for the Government getting involved in individuals private lives with regards to Gay Marriage and abortion and contraception.
            He is against States Rights as is shown by his desire to prevent States determining who can get married which has always been a State issue.
            He also favors power projection and foreign adventurism and he openly favors an attack on Iran.

            Santorum got his uptick from the anti-Romney crowd just in time for the Iowa Caucus and before the media and superpacs had the chance to work on him. They will expose him now . His current popularity is a function of his previous obscurity and as the veil of obscurity lifts his stock will plunge.

            the “these-the” thing has nothing to do with the CW but was merely a shift in grammar , nothing else.

            • Rob Baker Jan 6, 2012

              You’re absolutely right. It fits his ideology to be against Nullification. Constitutionality doesn’t matter to him, only that he can further the Social Conservative agenda.

  • Andy Hall Jan 6, 2012

    Santorum latches on to the popular Shelby Foote quote from Ken Burns’s PBS documentary about how Americans supposedly referred to the nation as “these” United States before the war as opposed to the postwar reference of “the” United States.

    Foote was a fantastic storyteller, and there’s much value in his trilogy, but his oft-quoted anecdote about “the United States are” before the war, and “the United States is” after the war, just doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. The latter phrase was already the more commonly-used variant even before the war, and didn’t really become much more popular over the other for decades after. It’s a great story, but it’s more parable than history.

    • Al Mackey Jan 6, 2012

      Shelby told a number of whoppers during the Ken Burns documentary, but with that voice people thought he had lived through the war and knew what he was talking about. The change from “United States are” to “United States is” was part of the normal evolution of American English away from British English. Collective nouns in British English are referred to in the plural, whereas American English has gotten away from that, referring to collective nouns in the singular. Even today in Britain, they will say, “the team are going to play” whereas we in the US say, “the team is going to play.”

  • Scott A. MacKenzie Jan 6, 2012

    To me, their views on the Civil War represent the effects of a century of bad history.

  • Dudley Bokoski Jan 6, 2012

    What is underestimated in modern telling of how we came to war is the accumulation of hostility, mistrust, and fear over a period of years which turned into a collective rage which divided the nation against itself. Put another way, if the South had understood the Constitution to forbid secession would it have stayed the seceding states leaving? And if the administration had received a legal opinion which asserted the states were legally reassuming the rights they held before the Constitution was adopted, would the North have not still gone to war?

    It was convenient for both sides to believe themselves to be acting legally and morally, but sometimes we dress the conflict up in Sunday finery after the fact (as Santorum does here) and try to give it a nobility which belies its birth in an explosion of collective anger and resentment. This ignores the baser reasons for going to war, slavery chief among them, and assumes there were no alternatives to settling the great questions at hand but war.

    The lesson to be learned is not to be found in the Constitution or arcane questions of nulification, but in a clear eyed look at what happens when the country stops debating ideas and instead spends its intellectual capital in ceaseless impugning of the motivations of individuals and groups. It is hard to see, 150 years down the road, that we have learned that lesson.

  • Pat Young Jan 8, 2012

    I saw Santorum yesterday. He seems intelligent, engaging, gutsy, full of himself, and unaware of how hurtful he has been. I don’t think he tailors his answers to his audiences.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 8, 2012

      That’s the impression I get as well.

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