Picture a hand on the wheel of the great ship of state, pushing it hard in a certain direction, say, to the left. It belongs to the president. Picture 29 smaller hands on the other side of the wheel, trying as hard as they can to wrench it back in the other direction. They belong to Govs. Chris Christie, R-N.J., Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., Scott Walker, R-Wis., and 26 other Republican governors, 12 of them elected in 2009 and 2010.
Two years and four months ago, President Barack Obama was elected to enact his agenda. And four months ago, Republicans were elected to dismantle it.
In the interim, the public had a big change of mind, which created the impasse. Each side has a mandate and is hell-bent on keeping it, creating a situation unique in our history.
For the first time since the Civil War ended, the federal government and a large number of states and their governors are at open and few-holds-barred war.
But despite thinking in terms of nullification and interposition (made famous by John C. Calhoun in an earlier fracas), this new states’ rights movement has no plans whatsoever for leaving the union.
Unlike prior movements, it is based on neither region nor race — it runs from Alaska through the upper Midwest, down to the two southernmost bastions of Texas and Florida.
If its composition is different, so is its operational strategy. Instead of raising armies, it is raising objections. It fires off lawsuits, not guns.
Twenty-six states have filed 24 lawsuits aimed at declaring the health care reform bill as unconstitutional, which one court in Florida has already done. Scarcely a day goes by without one governor or another tossing sand in the gears of Obama’s agenda.
Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., is in Obama’s face constantly. Gov. Sean Parnell, R-Alaska, said he will not start enforcing Obamacare.
Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said, “No, thank you” to Obama’s plans for light rail. And Wisconsin’s Walker has started a war with Obama, confronting his unionized friends.
GOP gains in the House were as solid as those in the statehouses, but the House is one-half of one branch of the federal government, and can only stop things, not start them.
This is why the lead in confronting the Obama agenda has passed to the governors, who, on the day they take office, have the power they need to make policy. This is why the war has moved to, and outside of, the state capitals.
“States’ rights” might be saving the party of President Abraham Lincoln. And what could be stranger than that?
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”