...what we're seeing in a way recalls what people call Calhoun Conservatism for the South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun who really in the 1830s had his own vision of the way in which American democracy was going to look.
And his vision of American democracy was less expansive than Andrew Jackson. It was less expansive than the more progressive elements in the country. It was a vision that didn't include freedom for African-Americans. It didn't include robust and expansive rights. And when we think about the way in which these modern Calhoun conservatives are using the notion of American democracy, it's really a government that has very, very little control and responsibility over most American citizens.
They're using things like they're talking about the 10th Amendment and nullification. And nullification was used during the period of antebellum slavery, the notion that states have the right to prevent the federal government from impinging on their own autonomy and rights to own slaves. So what's interesting here is that their vision of American society, American democracy actually harkens back to the antebellum period in American history [Dr. Peniel Joseph, interviewed by Guy Raz, "In Health Care Debate, Echoes of History," NPR: All Things Considered, 2009.09.12].
Mike Lux identifies threads of this Calhoun conservatism afoot throughout GOP/right-wing politics in their flirtations with secessionist and nullificationist language (Governor Pawlenty? Are you serious? Fortunately for us, "Minnesota Nice" convinced Pawlenty to back off that one... sort of.)
If Calhoun conservatism is resurgent, perhaps we can blame... Wal-Mart? Harold Meyerson recounts Sam Walton's crass effort to evade federal minimum wage laws, even after a federal court ruling and penalty against his company, by cutting the checks as ordered by the courts, but then telling employees, "I'll fire anyone who cashes the check." Meyerson sees Walton's business "ethics" tying old Dixie with the modern psyche:
As the unionized General Motors was big enough to set the pattern for the employment of nonprofessional Americans in the three decades following World War II, Wal-Mart is now so big it is setting the pattern today. Each created a distinct national buying public for its goods that was far larger than its immediate work force: in GM's case, workers who could afford to buy new cars; in Wal-Mart's, workers who could afford to shop nowhere except Wal-Mart. With Wal-Mart's rise, the same traditional values that underpinned Sam Walton's cheating and threatening of his workers -- contempt for Yankee laws and regulations, and a preference for the authoritarian, low-wage labor system of the South -- have become more the norm than the exception in America's economic life [Harold Meyerson, "In Wal-Mart's Image," The American Prospect, 2009.09.11].
Calhoun conservatism: an old Southern worldview, reinforced by a dominant corporation? The possible connection is intriguing.