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Who Set the Prairie Fire?

May 11, 2009

It was surprising how quickly Texas Governor Rick Perry's rather innocuous response to hecklers shouting in favor of secession at a tea party rally in April blew into a full fledged debate on an otherwise archaic subject. After all, it was clear the governor was not openly advocating secession. The most controversial thing he said was, "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people... who knows what might come of that?" followed by a statement about Texans being an "independent lot." In a state that prides itself on its cowboy image, who could argue with that?

But liberal talking heads, who quickly cut the Canadian patches from their backpacks when Obama was elected, went berserk. It seemed like the vast right-wing conspiracy had returned-never mind all that hyperbole from the left about moving to Canada or detaching New England from the "red states" during the Bush administration. Lincoln Mitchell at the Huffington Post, for example, called Governor Perry's comment "extreme partisan rancor," and "a child's threat to take his marbles and go home." Of course, Mitchell conveniently omitted the governor's actual words from his column.

But what if Washington DC does continue to thumb its nose at the American people? According to a Rasmussen poll on April 20, 22 percent of adults believe their state has a right to secede and 18 percent are not sure. Eleven percent would vote for their state to secede right now. Eleven percent might not seem like that much, but keep in mind that African Americans as a demographic make up 12 to 13 percent of the US population. That is a lot of people in favor of immediate secession, 29.9 million to be exact, with another 16.3 million (6 percent) sitting on the fence.

What is most surprising about Rasmussen's numbers is that the highest percentage of those in favor of, or who would at least consider, secession are not Republicans, but respondents who say they are unaffiliated with either major party (17 percent and 28 percent, respectively). That means the largest group in favor of secession are not Republicans bitter at having lost the 2008 presidential election, but angry Independents. And with a larger stake in the status quo, why wouldn't more Republicans than Independents be against the idea of their state leaving the Union?

It is the people who have been forgotten by either party that have the most reason to divorce themselves from Washington DC, the people who cannot be easily categorized and represented by powerful lobbyists. They are the men and women who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them," to quote our current president. They are bitter and resentful, and justifiably so. Who paved a golden road for their jobs to be shipped overseas? Who deploys their sons and daughters to bases in hundreds of foreign countries? Who dismisses their values and mocks them when they dare protest their deteriorating state of affairs?

If the bureaucrats in Washington DC continue to disenfranchise the inhabitants of Middle America, the percentage of people unaffiliated with either major party, as well as those favoring secession, will continue to climb. The fact that secession is being talked about not as a joke but as a serious issue speaks volumes about how far down that road we've come in the past eight years. The national unity so praised after the September 11 terror attacks has all but completely vanished.

In fact, as the Pew Research Center reported in early April, the partisan gap in the president's job approval is the widest in four decades. In this, both major political parties are divergent from the mainstream. At 88 percent approval, Democrats are having a love-in while the president enjoys a marginal 27 percent approval among Republicans. The rest of the country is cautiously optimistic, giving Obama an approval rating of 57 percent among Independents.

Governor Perry's remarks on secession should be seen as a warning, but not of the kind imagined by the likes of Lincoln Mitchell. What Governor Perry really meant is that you shouldn't flick burning matches into dry prairie grass. There are over 42 million Independents in this country, and 28 percent of them would vote immediately for their state to secede from the United States. If the remaining core of America loses faith in the political process, secession will be the least of our worries. Republicans and Democrats will be stuck with two empty water hoses, arguing over who started the fire

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Copyright ©2009 Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is the publisher of Black Oak Presents, a quarterly digital magazine of Middle American art and culture. His columns have appeared in the Rock River Times, World Net Daily, Strike the Root, Lost Liberty Cafe, and the Daily Eastern News. He is also the author of One Voice, a pamphlet of columns regarding issues in contemporary America.