As I’ve mentioned a couple of times on my personal blog, I’ve been writing an article for TAC on American secessionist movements. One of the organizations I discuss is Thomas Naylor’s Second Vermont Republic, which as it happens is the subject of a terrific essay by Matthew Cropp in this morning’s edition of Culture11. Here’s a snippet:
Should the secessionist movement in Vermont continue to grow and push the state towards successful locally based solutions to the issues facing our society, it would have the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the Democratic and Republican parties. Why should billions of dollars pour through the Department of Education if tiny towns can quite competently manage making sure their children get good educations without worrying about No Child Left Behind? And surely the average Vermonter would be far safer should the legislature withdraw the state from the National Guard system, and instead fund and equip the Vermont State Guard, which would not be required to participate in overseas wars without the express mandate of the legislature.
In researching my TAC article I spoke with Naylor about these sorts of issues, and the one thing he pointed me to as perhaps the biggest source of resistance to the SVR’s goals was what he called “Bernie Sanders Syndrome,” or the willingness of Vermonters to trust the federal government so long as they’re able to send the “right” people to it. (During the months before Vermont’s presidential primary, he told me, support for the SVR cause actually went down from the 13% that Cropp cites to something more like 11.5%: “All those left-wing liberals know,” he observed, “that Obama is the second coming of Jesus Christ, that he walks on water and can solve everything” – but as the campaign has gone on and Obama has capitulated on one issue after another “a bit of reality is beginning to set in now.”) Here’s what Naylor writes about this attitude in Secession, a new book just out from Feral House:
The real Pollyannas are liberal Democrats who believe that all we need do is elect the right Democrat president and all of our problems will be solved. They see political reform (such as campaign finance reform) as a panacea, failing to realize that, so long as the Congress is controlled by corporate America, there will never be any meaningful campaign finance reform. Since we have a single political party disguised as two, it matters not whether the president calls himself a Democrat or a Republican. The results will be the same. So, again, we reject this option.
Can they pull it off? There’s certainly a lot of work to do: the SVR has set a goal of 67% in-state support for their cause before they make the breakaway official, and even if they’re currently back up around 13% that still leaves a long way to go. And Jason Sorens, a political scientist at SUNY-Buffalo who researches separatist movements, told me that according to his models Vermont is actually a place where a push for secession is rather unlikely to succeed: such causes tend to flourish in regions that are populous and relatively affluent, though he does acknowledge that an especially dramatic ideological distinctness can help to make up for that. But keep a close eye on Texas, he told me: “If they stopped electing presidents and started feeling that they were more discriminated against or felt that the balance of power had shifted, you might start to see something different there.” The Obama effect, in other words, could very well cut both ways.
A hot topic, then, and one that’s not likely to go away any time soon: both Bill Kauffman and Christopher Ketcham have forthcoming books on the topic, and Sarah Palin’s tenuous ties to the Alaskan Independence Party certainly helped to get the issue in the news. Do give Cropp’s piece a read – it’s a perfect opportunity to distract your attention away from our increasingly silly election season, and to look instead at some possibilities that are considerably more exciting.