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Tom Baxter

Ted Cruz, Ralph Hudgens and the Copperheads

By Tom Baxter

Last week, Politico reports, longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie gave a rave notice to a movie about a Democratic, anti-war civil liberties advocate.
Copperhead,” a film about northern opponents of the Civil War and the abuse they suffered, “will hit close to home for every conservative fighting to preserve our Constitution and our American way of life,” Viguerie emailed his followers. “Copperhead is about standing up for faith, for America, and for what’s right, just like you and I are doing today.”

The connection may seem a little odd, but it comes at a time when Copperheadism is very much alive in the Party of Lincoln. The Obama presidency, and in particular, the long battle against the Affordable Health Care Act, has quickened the already thumping pulse of anti-government dissent on the right. Moreover, the Copperheads’ mistrust of Yankee meddlers could well strike a sympathetic chord among today’s Tea Party activists.

The war against ObamaCare, which began in early 2009, has gone on now longer than the Civil War the Copperheads opposed, and there’s no guarantee it’s near an end. But the core parts of the law that the war has been fought over are about to go into effect, and its opponents are busy staking out their own, separate roads to Appomattox.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas may have divided his caucus and won no friends in the U.S. Senate locker room with his call to shut down the government, if necessary, to stop implementation of the law, but he has won the affection of the diehards, and at a cheap price. There’s no chance, with the economy on spindly legs, that a majority of his Republican colleagues are going to go along with him, so Cruz has a clear shot at the role of last warrior on the field as the next battle — for the Republican presidential nomination — begins to take shape.

There was no chance either that Health and Human Services director Jean Sebelius was going to grant Georgia a delay on one day’s notice of the deadline for Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens to pass on the insurance rates proposed by the companies participating in the insurance exchange coming with the new law. But again, this was a very inexpensive investment in the next election.

Based on what can be gleaned so far, there seem to be two safe predictions about what’s going to happen next year when ObamaCare goes into effect. It isn’t going to be as successful as its supporters hoped it would be, or as disastrous as its opponents expected. Hudgens cited an example in which a young person would pay nearly twice the going rate under the new system, but other states across the country have reported generally lower than expected rates for their exchanges. Aetna  has been a notable holdout — or pullout, withdrawing from several of the exchanges, but its rate proposals have been based on different assumptions than most of the insurance companies that will compete for the business of the uninsured, according to experts.

Next year, when it comes down to whether small-town hospitals close or states accept the Medicaid extension, there will still be opportunities to war against ObamaCare, but the price won’t be nearly as cheap or the reward as predictable. If the new law is perceived to be working fairly well in other states, the ideological fervor of the opposition may cool. Or it may stay just as hot and move on to another subject. The Copperheads were a lot more issue-specific than today’s dissidents.

“I’ve never thought of dissent as a political act belonging to the right or left. It’s an act of liberty, an expression of the rights of a free person — free not just in law but free from the confines and pressures of the tyranny of the majority,” Peter Maxwell, the director of the movie, told Politico. (A piece by the film’s screenwriter, Bill Kauffman, offers another interesting take.)

Maxwell called the film “a cinematic meditation on the the price of dissent.” In today’s battle, that price is about to go up.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.



  1. Seth Foldy August 6, 2013 12:34 pm

    Personally, I more admire the anti-secessionist anti-war Southern unionists (remember who fired first!) who were horribly persecuted in the Confederacy.   Who’s making a movie about them?  And does Vigurie include a pro-slavery stance as “conservative fighting to preserve our Constitution and our American way of life”?  Wouldn’t surprise me if the answer were yes. Fits right in with “conservative’s”  rear-guard actions to spend more tax dollars to deny healthcare access to poor citizens by opposing Medicaid expansion.   A sad commentary on the conservative movement today.Report

  2. civisisus September 3, 2013 7:59 am

    GA insurance commissioner Hudgens, a bigger nincompoop even than Cruz, trotted out a working version of another of the “conservatives” (reactionaries) pet health insurance theories a year or so ago – enabling out-of-state insurers to sell policies across state lines & into Georgia. Surely the insurers will flock to do business in a place that provides them such freedom & opportunity to compete, right?
    Well, “working” is a bad description for this initiative, since NOT ONE INSURER opted to participate:  http://www.ajc.com/news/no-out-of-state-1428329.html
    Describing these buffoons’ leadership qualities as “pitiful” would be charitableReport


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