Though I have used the term “socialist” to describe President Obama and his party’s agenda many times, I recognize that most Democrats do not consider themselves socialists, only concerned Americans who have no problem embracing big government to solve problems. While there’s nothing wrong with using “socialist”—a term justified and critical enough—attempts by some on the Right to portray Democrats as communist dictators or worse is silly, bullying and only undermines conservatives’ arguments. Liberals are not necessarily monsters–just wrong.

Still, slander is often used in political debate and is often effective, and it has certainly been effective in preventing any rational discussion about nullification and secession in today’s United States.

Last weekend I attended a conference in Charleston, South Carolina dedicated to these ideas, the Eighth Annual Abbeville Institute, where about 100 people gathered in the cradle of Southern secession to discuss how this American nation born of secession might be better managed if broken up into smaller parts. Talks ranged from Emory University professor Donald Livingston’s examination of decentralist thought and its practical application, to secession activist Thomas Naylor, whose Left-leaning “Second Vermont Republic” movement has been successful in generating popular support for that state’s independence. Another man of the Left, author Kirkpatrick Sale, discussed the “human scale of secession,” and perhaps most interesting was a lecture by former aide to Mikhail Gorbachev, Yuri Maltsev, who explained how the gargantuan size of the former Soviet Union was a primary reason for its demise.

I attended virtually every lecture and only the heard the subject of race mentioned once—when professor Maltsev explained that Karl Marx believed socialism was not suitable for “lesser races,” namely Scots, Irish, Poles and other Europeans. Still, an AOL News story on the gathering noted “the presence of men like Sale and Maltsev will do little to persuade some from declaring that the conference and its attendees have merely opted for a more-erudite, better-mannered white power movement.”

Watching MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews this week, the host did a segment on the rumblings about nullification and secession currently taking place in Texas, particularly in the Republican governor’s race. Matthews reminded viewers that “secession and nullification are the words of Jim Crow.” Appearing on Hardball, Dallas Morning News columnist Wayne Slater agreed with Matthews and said of Texas governor Rick Perry “when I see Rick Perry on the stump talking about the tenth amendment and say ‘states’ rights, states’ rights, states’ rights,’ and the crowd cheers, it kind of gives you a shiver.” When Matthews asked guest and author James Moore if the secessionist language being used in Texas was code for racism, Moore replied without hesitation “I don’t think there’s any question about it.”

For the record, Perry and other gubernatorial candidates’ mentions of nullification and secession have centered almost entirely on the possibility of Texas opting out of national healthcare and federal stimulus.

Matthews devotes significant television time to mocking tea partiers, talk radio hosts and other conservatives who portray the president as Joseph Stalin and the Democrats’ agenda as Red Revolution–yet automatically assumes anyone who mentions nullification or secession must be secret Ku Klux Klansmen. Liberals like Matthews, and others, who criticize states’ rights and secession rhetoric as “racist” point to history to justify their venom—so do conservatives who condemn the president’s agenda, seeing shades of Marx in each new Democratic proposal. Both consider the other side’s allegations too outrageous to take seriously, while remaining blind to their own, particular outrageousness.

Here is what most people who talk about nullification or secession are basically saying—America is too big. Speakers at the Abbeville Institute conference wondered aloud whether a nation of 300 million people with trillions of dollars of debt, thousands of troops stationed across the globe, an increasingly weakening dollar, hopelessly bankrupt social services (Social Security and Medicare) and damn near irreconcilable differences on everything from healthcare to marijuana—is perhaps too large to be governed by one central government.

Those interested in seriously decentralizing government are not calling for the return of slavery or segregation anymore than Obama and the Democrats’ desire to grow government means they will soon begin throwing Americans in Soviet-style gulags, yet such vicious slander against the concept of nullification or secession persists in the mainstream press, virtually unchallenged.

Appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s FOX News program last week, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart scolded the Right-leaning cable news channel, saying “Here’s what Fox has done… they have taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao.”

Here’s what the mainstream media has done to those who embrace nullification and secession—taken the reasonable concerns of a small, but growing minority and tried to paint them as “racists” as a marginalization tactic. This is on par with conservatives who compare Obama to Stalin or Mao. And if opponents of nullification and secession think the idea is ridiculous, too radical or just wrong, I wish they’d man-up and say so–instead of continuing to call rational, intelligent and thoughtful people concerned about the size of government something they’re not.