• Marc Johnson

Effective and Not


man with flag

They celebrated Jefferson Davis’s inauguration yesterday in Montgomery, Alabama. Actually, it was a day late. One hundred fifty years ago Friday, Davis became the President of the Confederacy.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, it was a much bigger celebration in 1961 on the centennial of the event that presaged the Civil War. Several southern governors showed up then, none did this weekend. The crowds were smaller and more people were in the ceremony than in the audience.

As LA Times blogger Andy Malcolm points out, Davis – this is history, not state’s rights mythology – is a curious hero for modern day southerners. He actually opposed succession, but not the “right” of a state to do so, and his wife openly opposed the war. The prickly former Mississippi Senator had a stormy tenure. He tried to micromanage the operations of southern armies in the field, advanced his favorite generals over more accomplished men and developed an uncanny ability to feud with southern governors. Still, he was the only president the south had. You go to celebration with the president you have.

Apropos of the political moment in several states – Montana now seeks to nullify health care and the Endangerd Species Act – even Davis opposed nullification, arguing that just leaving the Union was a more practical and effective approach. That didn’t work all that well, either. As the Idaho State Senate prepares to ignore the sound and fury of “nullification” of federal health care legislation that came over recently from the state’s righters in the Idaho House, it may be worth a moment to consider how a state that depends so heavily on federal largess – INL, Mountain Home AFB, the Forest Service, irrigation projects – can wage an effective battle against the big, bad federal government.

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus has a piece in the Twin Falls Times-News that makes the case for the quiet, but effective approach of applying common sense to our not infrequent battles with Washington, D.C. In short, fix problems by using the courts and the legislative arena, not by passing time wasting bills that garner big headlines, but don’t fix problems.

That approach is more difficult, to be sure, but it can work and have lasting results. All that lasts from the nullifiers of 150 years ago is the memory of a lost cause, the consequences of which we still struggle to put in context and understand. The real question may be, have we learned anything from that disasterous piece of American history?

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