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Welcome to Glenn Beck's World: What If the Tea Partiers Ruled the Country?

Imagine a land where white, patriarchal, religiously zealous, Tea Party-type patriots rule. It's called Utah, and what happens here should terrify you.

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Another bill  challenged the power of federal law enforcement on roads running through federal lands, like our newest national monument, Grand Staircase Escalante.  Local commissioners are still ticked off at President Bill Clinton for declaring a monument in southern Utah and so locking up large coal deposits owned by a foreign corporation that wanted to  dig it up and send it to Asia.

And if telling forest rangers to take a hike wasn’t enough, yet another bill aimed to  take over federal lands altogether, wielding the right of eminent domain. They know many consider that one laughable, but they’ve vowed to fight for it all the way to the Supreme Court, if they have to. Some $3 million was designated for lawyers in a year that saw education budgets slashed. You can look forward to oil derricks in national parks if they win.

Each region of Tea Party Nation has its own peculiar reasons for feeling oppressed. Westerners complain that they are bullied by big, distant bureaucracies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service that oversee most of their open lands. Law enforcement on public lands is intermittent and timid. Under Bush, the federal agencies kowtowed to local politicians. Nevertheless, rangers are right up there with the IRS on the posse’s most-wanted list. Oddly enough, Utahans  did not object when, during the Cold War era, the military bombed, poisoned, and irradiated their vast land holdings in the Great Basin Desert.

Mr. Browning’s Holiday and the Ghost of Patrick Henry

It’s only right in a culture that celebrates guns for John Browning, the inventor of the automatic rifle, to get his own holiday, especially since he was born in Utah. State lawmakers originally intended to make his holiday the same as Martin Luther King’s -- so they’d feel better about taking the day off, I suppose. Knowing that would cause controversy, though, they finally moved the date. In a more substantive show of support for gun owners, they just officially  declared that guns made in Utah were not subject to federal regulation. So there. That one is also headed for the courts. (After all the lawyers are paid, we’ll be lucky if we have funds left over to pay teachers, but at least we have our priorities straight.)

Utah’s states-rights  advocates even have their own caucus now. They call it the Patrick Henry Caucus, and they have a  website with videos extolling their own patriotism and love of liberty (unless you miscarry, are gay, or enjoy the idea of a future benign climate). Also featured is a Glenn Beck interview of Representative Wimmer, a self-described “9/12er,” who proudly declares, “no doubt we’re going to add to that terrorist watch list.” It isn’t clear if he is talking about the potential actions of the caucus’s most militant supporters or if he wants to label his opponents as terrorists. Another featured video shows Beck interviewing a Texas state legislator who describes a project to pass  “sovereignty” legislation and, like Utah, declare federal gun control null and void in the state.

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

The last time we witnessed such a hyperbolic states’ rights rebellion, it was led by strident segregationists like George Wallace and Lester Maddox. As Alabama’s governor, Wallace blocked the integration of the University of Alabama, and Maddox, who was later elected governor of Georgia, closed his restaurant rather than serve black customers. Back then, states’ rights was clearly a cover for shameful racism. Maddox was not a constitutional scholar -- he ran a fried-chicken joint.  Advocating states’ rights was the means to resist federal mandates to integrate restaurants, swimming pools, and schools. Is today’s talk of states’ rights and secession a response to the integration of the White House?