Though I have used the term “socialist” to describe President Obama and his party’s agenda many times, I recognize that most Democrats do not consider themselves socialists. They are only concerned Americans who have no qualms about embracing big government to solve our country’s problems.

While there’s nothing wrong with using the term socialist, attempts by some on the Right to portray Democrats as communist dictators or worse is silly, bullying, and only undermines the arguments of conservatives. Liberals are not monsters — just wrong. Still, slander is often used in political debate, and in the case of the issue of nullification and secession, it has certainly been effective in preventing any rational discussion.

Earlier this month I attended a conference in Charleston dedicated to these ideas, the Eighth Annual Abbeville Scholars Conference, where about 100 people gathered in the cradle of Southern secession to discuss how this American nation born out of rebellion might be better managed if broken up into smaller parts. Speakers ranged from Abbeville Institute founder Donald Livingston, who examined decentralist thought and its practical application, to Thomas Naylor, whose left-leaning Second Vermont Republic has been successful in generating popular support for that state’s independence. Another man of the left, author Kirkpatrick Sale, discussed the “human scale of secession.” And perhaps the most interesting was a lecture by former aide to Mikhail Gorbachev, Yuri Maltsev, who explained how the gargantuan size of the former Soviet Union was a primary reason for its demise.

I attended virtually every lecture, and only heard the subject of race mentioned once, when professor Maltsev explained that Karl Marx believed socialism was not suitable for “lesser races,” namely Scots, Irish, and Poles. Still, some insist that those who advocate secession are not-so-secretly racist.

On MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews last week, the host did a segment on the discussion about nullification and secession currently taking place in Texas. Matthews reminded viewers that “secession and nullification are the words of Jim Crow.” Appearing on Hardball, Dallas Morning News columnist Wayne Slater had this to say: “When I see Rick Perry on the stump talking about the 10th amendment and say ‘states’ rights, states’ rights, states’ rights,’ and the crowd cheers, it kind of gives you a shiver.” When Matthews asked author James Moore if the secessionist language being used was code for racism, Moore replied, “I don’t think there’s any question about it.”

Matthews devotes significant television time to mocking tea partiers, talk radio hosts, and other conservatives who portray the president as a new Josef Stalin and the Democrats’ agenda as a modern-day Communist Revolution, yet he automatically assumes anyone who mentions nullification or secession must be secret Klansmen. Liberals like Matthews, who criticize states’ rights and secession rhetoric as racist, point to history to justify their venom; so do conservatives who condemn Obama’s agenda, seeing shades of Marx in each new Democratic proposal. Both believe the other side’s charges are too outrageous to take seriously, while remaining blind to their own, particular outrageousness.

Here is what most people who talk about nullification or secession are basically saying: America is too big. Speakers at the Abbeville conference wondered aloud whether a nation of 300 million people with trillions of dollars of debt, troops stationed across the globe, a weakening dollar, bankrupt social services, and irreconcilable differences on everything from healthcare to marijuana is too large to be governed by one central government.

Those interested in seriously decentralizing government are not calling for the return of slavery or segregation any more than Obama and the Democrats’ desire to grow government means they will soon begin throwing Americans in Soviet-style gulags, yet such vicious slander against the concept of nullification or secession persists in the mainstream press, virtually unchallenged.

Appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart recently scolded the right-leaning cable news channel, saying “Here’s what Fox has done … They have taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao.”

Well, here’s what the mainstream media has done to those who embrace nullification and secession: they’ve taken the reasonable concerns of a small but growing minority and tried to paint them as racists as a marginalization tactic.

This is on par with conservatives who compare Obama to Stalin or Mao. And if opponents of nullification and secession think the idea is ridiculous, too radical, or just wrong, I wish they’d man-up and say so, instead of continuing to call rational, intelligent, and thoughtful people concerned about the size of government something they’re not.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.