New Nullifiers?


E.J. Dionne condemns the “new nullifiers,” such as Ken Cuccinelli, who as Virginia’s Attorney General has filed suit challenging the applicability of the new Health-care bill in Virginia. In anticipation of the Health Care bill’s passage, Virginia passed state legislation that would exempt its citizens from being required by federal law to purchase insurance. Along with Cuccinelli’s suit, there has been a suit filed by a dozen other States’ AGs to challenge the constitutionality of the bill.

Two quick points:

1. Dionne condemns the efforts of these “new nullifiers” by comparing them to South Carolina Governor Robert Y. Hayne, whose arguments anticipated by only two decades similar arguments by S.C. Senator John C. Calhoun. What would be changed, if anything, in Dionne’s argument if instead he were to have referred back to the original justifications for a kind of nullification – or at least protest by the states – namely the “interposition” justified by none other than James Madison (“Father of the Constitution”) and Thomas Jefferson, in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts? It has long been the tactic of anyone disagreeing with efforts by the States to resist encroachments of the Federal Government to invoke the specter of racism and segregation. What is elided is that original arguments for “interposition” were advanced in defense of liberty.

2. All that said, the “debate” we are seeing is a canard, a debate over means, not ends. “Conservatives” object to government imposition of insurance mandates, the creation of national health-care system administered by the Government. Their answer? Opening competition by private actors over state lines, thus creating a national health-care system effectively administered by large-scale insurance companies which will be advantaged by economies of scale. In either case, individuals will be statistics, and faceless bureaucrats of one sort or another will decide their fates.

This “debate” takes place in the backdrop of a set of deeper beliefs that pre-determine its outcome. First, we know that we are not likely to live in places for any appreciable length of time, so we require fungibility of care. This means that we come to expect impersonal care, and know that we will necessarily be treated as data. The question is, which data-keeper will treat us? We are treated as parts, not wholes, and so our illnesses are treated as discrete occurrences, not as part of a treatment that cares for the human creature in all of our personal wholeness, from diet to exercise to the essential belief that we belong somewhere among particular people. One argument never advanced in the health-care “debate” was that it would be invaluable to strengthen communities. The best health-care provider is the local family doctor who knows the general health – and beyond that, has a broader personal knowledge – of each person, from cradle to grave. The backdrop of the health-care debate was that we have rejected that option because of our addiction to mobility and its attendant “restlessness,” so that the debate all along was over means, not ends.

It follows that we need some kind of provider because generations no longer care for each other. Above all, children no longer care for their parents as they age and die, so we need to farm out that activity to another caretaker. That costs a lot of money. Further, we know deep in our bones that we live in a society in which upon our deaths we will be almost instantly forgotten. Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, in previous times, an afterlife was at least assured through the memory of successive generations who would remember and tend the legacy of departed ancestors. Today, all we have is the life we now live – and our dignity demands, if nothing else, that it be extended as long as possible, by whatever means. Lastly, we have come to define liberty as “the endless power after power that ceaseth only in death.” By that definition, death is the worst thing imaginable. We all live in the shadow of Hobbes, and have accepted that the basic motivation that animates us is fear of death. The character Nathan Coulter in Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter – who, learning of his terminal illness, refuses an intensive treatment of radiation therapy in order to die at home – is incomprehensible to us. In the light of these facts about ourselves, there is no fundamental disagreement that health and longevity are inalienable rights. The only question worthy of debate is who shall provide it – State-supported corporatism or corporate-supported Statism.


  1. State-supported corporatism or corporate-supported Statism.

    Well, there is, of course, also “state-supported communitarianism,” cutting the corporations out of the picture, but Americans do seem to love their corporations, so single-payer wasn’t ever taken seriously (unfortunately).

  2. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
    Arben, you and Patrick don’t get it….or you live in Ivory Tower LaLa Land and think Dear Leader will embrace you in love…”all we are saying, is give peace a chance!”
    When Chariman Obama is done we’re going to be Romania West with a landscape similar to Gettysburg on July 4, 1863, I’ll have had the big one or be rotting near the barricades, and you boys will be interred for being “intellectuals,” which is of course a little revenge for those of us who’ve been trying to warn youns of the dangers associated with this cabal of Alinsky commie-rats!

    DW, you better listen to Carl. There’s a heck of a lotta difference between the RINO’s/Neocons and the commie-dems!

    If the commie-dems continue to be successful in their legislative agenda there will never be a new Port William (Homer), communitarian or otherwise. The regime will never allow you to be free.

  3. Really, I think that this is the kicker of Dionne’s piece:

    Call it Nullification Light. It’s no way to run a serious country, and it’s a reckless approach to politics.

    This is a serious country? I hadn’t realize that it’s a country — A nation? Sure. — or serious.

  4. Origer hits the nail on the head.

    But, Cheeks, you are right that there is a lot of difference between the so-called “Commie Dems” and the Neo-Cons. One likes to embark upon the Democracy at Gunpoint crusade and frame it all in the rhetoric of unfortunate necessity against a backdrop of crying victims ( after gliding into office on a campaign skeptical of the War Train) while the other employs the effort with an air of entitled superiority against a backdrop of Flags Flying to obscure the crying victims. I think you interpreted Deneen’s comments as an endorsement of the new “Health Care” farrago when in reality, he nails the point that the GOP consistently occupies the ground vacated by the Democrats while both have fully signed on to the Nanny State.

    Both parties are Bait and Switchers of accommodation with the totalitarian forces of seduction, the succubus fed by our many unceasing wants. Institutional Pimps as it were.

    As to Nullification. Sure, like States Rights, it has been a pejorative since the Civil War but it might focus the mind a bit in the way Ed Abbey suggested that re-instituting dueling might “improve manners”.

    We have not had a real Conservative vs. Liberal Debate on governance since the 50’s. Instead, we get the socio-cultural runaround. It puts on a good show and insures that the Federal Government continues to cover all baksheesh bases.

  5. Nathan, just out of curiosity, how do you use the terms “nation” and “country”? Maybe you didn’t mean your comment to be a serious one, but since you’ve opened the door…

  6. I should have said ‘nation-state‘, rather than just ‘nation’. I’m using ‘country’ more or less synonymously with patria, or at least (particularly w/r/t the American situation) a geographic area with some degree of identifiably shared culture and mores, rather than the (quasi-)abstraction that ‘nation-state’ evokes. In Porch-esque terms, I’d use ‘country’ to refer to the many Americas of which Kauffman writes in his “My America vs. the Empire” — except that I’d go so far as to suggest that, whatever common bonds exist, New England is a different country, as it were, than the Deep South, than the Great Lakes States, and so on.

  7. “It has long been the tactic of anyone disagreeing with efforts by the States to resist encroachments of the Federal Government to invoke the specter of racism and segregation.”

    These people never point out that it was state, local, and community efforts in the North that fought against the evil Fugitive Slave Act.

  8. Russell,
    I think you’re out to make Caleb pop an artery.

    And, I’m not sure these options exhaust reality. I’ll admit to becoming more persuaded that there’s a need simply to step out as much as possible.

    Though the room for the possible seems to recede daily.

  9. I also read Dionne’s article with no small amount of annoyance. I assign my students Liberty Fund’s excellent reprinting of the Hayne’s/ Webster debates, and none of them finish reading those thinking that Hayne is nothing more than a punchline. I suspect Dionne hasn’t read Hayne, however, and is quoting someone or just borrowing a wikipedia article. I suspect he’s never read the Kentucky or Virgina Resolutions, or seriously weighed the arguments therein. Alas, such is the state of the “elite” that they believe these arguments have been settled and no longer have any claim on us.

    As addicted as they are to mobility, this strikes me as a symptom to the great American addiction: choice. Neither side has been able to escape this in their deliberations, nor have they seen how the dilemma you’ve described is really not much of a choice at all. Or perhaps, as Tocqueville indicated, we’re addicted to choice in the little things but not the big things.

  10. “As to Nullification. Sure, like States Rights, it has been a pejorative since the Civil War but it might focus the mind a bit in the way Ed Abbey suggested that re-instituting dueling might “improve manners”.”

    I sure am proud of my home state of Virginia being the first to the colors on this one.

  11. The powers not *explicitly* delegated…isn’t Dr. Deneen correct? The difference between Hamilton/Jefferson and the Progs ain’t that great. Dionne may be a dilettante (hasn’t he always employed cloying rhetoric?), but hasn’t the argument for states rights been prefigured out of the equation from the outset? Still, I suppose it’s a worthwhile attempt.

  12. People have always turned to “providers” when they had major healthcare problems, though they may have referred to them as physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, midwives. But healthcare has always had its career roles, going back to the dawn of civilization.
    Also, I’m not sure people simply forget their relatives when they die. Most people I know still talk about their deceased parents– I certainly do. And those of us (a not trvial percent of the population) who do believe in the promises of the Christian faith hope that we shall be renuited with our deceased loved ones someday. Nor should we forget the popularity of genealogy as a hobby.
    In short, this post is way too pessimistic.

  13. Patrick, your arguments would have been credible if you addressed the issue of the constitutionality of Obamacare. After all, the Constitution is all that we have to protect our individual rights, and allowing the feds to trample on the Constitution is not in anyone’s interest.

    Some arguments about why you believe Obamacare will meet its stated goal of reducing the cost of health care would also have helped your credibility.

    As it is, Cucinelli and others are opposing the bill in the courts (provided by our government for that purpose) to test its constitutionality because there is growing evidence that it will not meet its intended purpose. It’s hard to criticize them for their efforts unless you have some facts to offer.

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