“The Congress shall have Power … To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin.”
That would seem clear enough to most people, but not to South Carolina State Rep. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, who according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal “has introduced legislation that backs the creation of a new state currency that could protect the financial stability of the Palmetto State in the event of a breakdown of the Federal Reserve System.”
“If there is an attempt to monetize the Fed we ought to at least have a study on record that could protect South Carolinians,” Bright said in an interview Friday. “If folks lose faith in the dollar, we need to have some kind of backup.”
Let us, for the moment, put aside the question of the (at best) dubious constitutionality of what Bright is proposing. What is the mindset behind it?
For starters, it would seem that Bright has been spending too much time listening to Ron Paul and Glenn Beck. This idea is the political equivalent of Beck’s shameless shilling for gold on his TV and radio programs. “Be afraid! The end is nigh! Protect yourself! Buy gold!”
But even more interesting to me is what this idea reveals about the default setting for Bright: that if his paranoid fears come to pass, South Carolina can go it alone and save itself while the rest of the country falls.
Does he really believe that if U.S. currency were to lose its value, that South Carolina, all by itself, would be able to reconstitute a meaningful currency that would shelter it from the resulting economic storm? The idea is self-evidently absurd.
As the Herald-Journal article rightly notes, this is part and parcel of Bright’s political playbook. Last year he proposed what amounts to a nullification bill targeted at the Affordable Care Act. “If at first you don’t secede, try again,” Bright said at the time.
Now, I know he was joking. But that joke is telling. Secession is no laughing matter, but seeming to take the idea of secession seriously is enough to make Bright (and by extension, South Carolina) a laughingstock. (Though a quick Google search shows his state currency idea is playing well on secessionist websites all over the country.)
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bright’s proposal is yet another example, like the “ban foreign law” idea, of a disheartening lack of seriousness among South Carolina’s elected officials. It panders to the people’s fears and their desire to feel in control of events in trying times. Rather than confront actual problems facing the state, problems which good and effective government might actually be able to address, they propose these silly, time-wasting distractions from the real business of the people.
Lastly, it is sad that so many alleged “constitutional” conservatives in fact advocate such unconstitutional ideas. There was a time in American history when states had extensive control over the value of currency, under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution (which they purport to venerate) explicitly took that power from the states. As James Madison says in Federalist 42, by doing so, “the Constitution has supplied a material omission in the articles of confederation.”
Like it or not (and Bright clearly does not), one of the most important of “original intents” of the Constitution was to shift power from the states to the federal government to make for more efficient and practical governing of the United States.
Bright will no doubt argue that what he proposes is within what is allowed by the Constitution. If that is true, then what he is proposing could not possibly be capable of addressing the false specter of disaster he raises. Either way, his proposal is nonsense.
In assessing Bright’s real motive then, I can do no better than quote David Ramsay, doctor and member of the Continental Congress from South Carolina and later a member of the South Carolina state senate. Writing under the name “Civis” in the February 4, 1788 edition of the Columbian Herald in Charleston, Ramsay exhorted South Carolinians to ratify the Constitution. Don’t listen to what opponents say their reasons are for opposing the ideas of the Constitution, Ramsay warned. “Examine well the characters & circumstances of men” to find “the real ground” of their positions, he said, since “they may artfully cover it with a splendid profession of zeal for state privileges and general liberty.”
Mark Byrnes is an associate professor of history at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. He blogs at The Past Isn’t Past. Mark’s obsessive interest in politics goes back to watching the Watergate hearings as a child (seriously). You can follow him on Twitter at @byrnesms.