The Audience Laughs with Colbert, But the Joke Is On Them

colbert-nullificationDo you remember when you were in school and all of the “cool” popular kids made fun of the nerdy smart kid? Everybody pointed and laughed. Even the “non-cool” kids would pile on, in the hope that making fun of the hapless geek would elevate their own social status a notch.

Of course, today that nerdy kid runs a multimillion dollar software company, and the “cool-kid” who led the bullying lives in a single-wide and cooks meth.

A recent segment on the Colbert Report reminded me of those school days. Colbert and his sidekick, Cliff Sloan, made fun of state efforts to nullify unconstitutional acts. The crowd hemmed and hawed, and laughed hysterically as the oh-so-cool Colbert and his “legal expert” ridiculed Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, along with their silly little principles of nullification.

Of course, the snickering audience likely had no idea that they were poking fun at the “Father of the Constitution” and the author of the Declaration of Independence, harkening back to that basic truth from our high school days – the joke’s on them.

In fact, the contributions Colbert and his lying buddy bring to the political landscape sits at about the same level as our meth-cooking former high school bully.

The entire segment lacked a certain level of truthiness, starting from the very beginning. I figure Colbert probably just doesn’t know any better. As for Sloan, with his Harvard law credentials, I have to assume he either needs to demand a refund from that storied Ivy League institution, or he is just lying.

Colbert starts things off by asking Sloan about nullification. Clifford doesn’t bother to explain the roots of the principles; he just dusts them away with one stroke of his ivy covered brush.

“It’s happened and it’s always failed,” Sloan quipped.

Really, Cliff? Always?

I guess 18 states don’t really have medical marijuana programs despite a federal law claiming they cannot. Or maybe Sloan realizes that these states stand in defiance of the federal government, and he is working hard to insure these sick cancer patient criminals end up in the slammer where they belong!

Silly nullifiers.

At any rate, Colbert can’t wait to find out about the awful applications of nullification in the past, and Sloan obediently complies. At this point, I have to praise Clifford for his ability to pack so many historical falsehoods into a single sentence.

The Southern States said, ‘We don’t have to follow what the federal government – what Lincoln – is going to say in terms of abolishing slavery, and it’s null and void,’ and they took it one step further and seceded.

The audience laughs.

Here are a few fast facts for our dynamic duo and their mesmerized audience.

  • Lincoln wasn’t advocating the abolition of slavery when he was elected. He supported the Republican platform, which simply sought to stop its expansion into new territories. During the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, he said that he had no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it existed.
  • Nullification was never used to advance the cause of slavery. Slavery was the law of the land. There was nothing to nullify.
  • It was northern states advancing nullification to block implementation of the fugitive slave acts.
  • Southern states condemned nullification and South Carolina specifically denounced northern nullification of the fugitive slave laws in its Declaration of Causes.

Sloan also dredges up the fact that some southerners advanced nullification as a way to protect segregation. But the improper use of a tool does not negate the value of that tool. Just because a murderer uses a hammer to bludgeon his victim to death does not diminish the hammer’s utility for driving nails. As I’ve already mentioned, northern abolitionists appealed to the principles of nullification to support their position and resist the draconian Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This act denied due process to any black person accused of escaping slavery. Northern states passed personal liberty laws in defiance of this “court-approved” federal act, and granted due process rights to black people accused of escaping slavery. These states also refused to cooperate with federal officials facilitating slave roundups.

I can only conclude that Sloan and Colbert must not support northern efforts to nullify perhaps the grossest law ever passed by a U.S. Congress. I assume that they would have ridiculed the state legislature in Michigan that granted all black people accused of escaping slavery habeas corpus rights and a jury trial. The horror! Defying the federal government like that! Those accused blacks should have been hauled off in chains on the mere word of a white man. After all, the Supreme Court said it was legit. And we all know nobody can challenge federal employees wearing black robes.

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Funny, huh?

Sloan supports his opposition to nullification with the typical lie about the Supremacy Clause. In his world, any old act Congress passes stands as the supreme law of the land. Like so many so-called experts, he ignores the most important words in the clause.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; …shall be the supreme Law of the Land. Only laws made in pursuance of the Constitution – that is, in keeping with the powers enumerated to the federal government – stand as legitimate laws. All other acts are usurpation, and by definition null, void and of no force.

When Colbert and Sloan discuss the Supreme Court, the comedian swerves into a real funny and doesn’t even realize it. He points out that the Supreme Court gets to make the final decision on the extent of federal power because the Supreme Court says so. I think at some level, Colbert recognizes the lunacy of that position. And the audience snickers nervously like they see the humor in it too, but know they can’t laugh because it wouldn’t fit into the context of the big joke. But if Sloan sees the ridiculous nature of his assertion, he doesn’t show it. He plunges ahead pretending a system with one party making all of the decisions makes perfect sense. I guess he would be fine with my mother standing as the final authority in a dispute between us.

Jefferson’s position makes a lot more sense.

The government created by this compact (the Constitution) was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party (the people of each state) has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

But of course, that’s not funny. Most people would rather just laugh with the cool kids.

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