Thursday, February 12, 2009

GOPers against Lincoln: who are these people?

Missouri State Rep. Bryan Stevenson screwed up big time on Tuesday, calling the hideous "Freedom of Choice Act" the "greatest power grab by the federal government since the War of Northern Aggression." My friend Rep. Don Calloway and Rep. Martin Rucker prevailed upon him to apologize, which he did.

With his remarks, Stevenson joined a long line of Republicans who've landed in hot water for praising the nobility of the Confederacy. Worse, his remarks came during the week of the anniversary of Lincoln's 200th birthday, and a week before the Missouri Republican Party's annual Lincoln Days. Nice.

I'll avoid the history debate for now and focus on why this was such a politically obtuse move.

1. Americans have long viewed Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents. (according to Gallup, he ranks third behind Reagan and Kennedy in popularity) If you're going to attack him, go ahead and diss Mom and apple pie.

2. It demonstrates a shocking ignorance or apathy about black people ("I had no IDEA they felt that way!!") and makes it harder for Republicans to credibly appeal to them.

3. Like a violation of Godwin's Law, it diminishes your credibility in future debates. (Of course he's against our 12-cent bond issue. He probably thinks it's worse than slavery!!)

Many of those who praise the Confederacy offer the same rationale as Stevenson: Lincoln greatly expanded the powers of the federal government, helping lead to the growing Leviathan we see today. That's a legitimate academic argument, but trying to re-fight the Civil War makes it much harder for conservatives to win today's battle against not-so-creeping socialism. Enough already.


Jay Smith said...

Is there a question that this _isn't_ the biggest federal power grab since the Civil War? Or is it semantics? If he would have called it the War of the Rebellion, the War for Southern Independence, or the War between the States, would he have been okay? Or is this an issue of him calling it a "power grab" by the feds?

David Barnes said...

The objection is to the assumption that it was a "power grab" for the North to forcibly keep the union together. Lincoln acted prudently and properly.

David Wagner said...

I've been thinking for a while (and here is where I'll say it first) that conservatism's southern flirtation is not only electorally damaging but also flat-out wrong.

Hamilton was a conservative, as well as a man of commercial north. Jefferson was a self-described radical, as well as an agrarian and a man of the south.

The line of ideological inheritance runs from Hamilton to the Whigs to Lincoln, to the Free Labor Justices of the Lochner Court, and ultimately to Reagan. The opposite line runs from Jefferson to the agrarian-secessionists to the trade-union Democrats.

In a commercial society, agrarianism (incl. "small is beautiful") isn't conservative: it's a colossal social experiment.

"Jeffersonian conservatives": the man was a leftist. Get some clues, and get over it.

James W. Knowles III said...

Why is it when, in debates, someone refers to the Civil War as a war against Slavery, Dems and liberals jump up to scream "It wasn't about Slavery" and yet at the same time, when someone refers to the cause of the South, Dems and liberals immediately cry "you're a racist"

I guess because the North won and the South lost, everything the North said and did was right, and everything about the South was wrong.

You know what, I've heard that again recently..."We won, so we're right". Yeah, that was the idiot triumvirate of Reed/Pelosi/Obama.

You all should try reading some of the first hand accounts of people like General's Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet, Pickett, etc. It would give you some perspective.

David Wagner said...

Lee was a gentleman all through, and Longstreet eventually became a Catholic (and also a Republican). Love 'em.

Look, I used to be a Southern Partisan subscriber (it was a good magazine, btw -- takes undeserved hits). I'm coming out of more than twenty years' worth of getting "some perspective." You might say I'm getting some MORE perspective....

Anonymous said...

The time has long since passed when "Dems and liberals jump up to scream "It wasn't about Slavery'." To the contrary, I only hear defenders of the Confederacy claim the war wasn't about slavery -- I only hear them claim that it was about constitutional principle, or tariffs, or what have you. Everyone else seems content to say that slavery was the issue looming behind it all.

And for what it's worth, no, this isn't the biggest federal power grab since the Civil War, even if you have that view of the Civil War. As bad as this bill is, it isn't as big a deal as the New Deal because the changes to constitutional law and the majority's view of the permissible scope of government has alredy changed. No intellectual spade work had to be done for this boondoggle; Congress just had to appropriate money. It's a hideous bill, but it's not as big an event in national history.

Finally, as to Mr. Wagner's points about Hamilton and Jefferson, I think there's great merit to his view. Jefferson was in many ways a radical (Wow, was he wrong on the French Revolution!), and as a practical matter, I think that agrarianism in the U.S. does end up in Socialism. However, Jefferson didn't know the latter, and he did want a smaller state. (Also Hamilton really was quite ahead of his time as far as economics, so it's a little hard on Jefferson to fault him for lacking Hamilton's genius in that area.) Jefferson's views on civil liberties and free speech are a great deal more mixed than some believe, but he is the first major champion among the presidents of some important small government ideas. So I'd like to float an idea: modern American conservatism is a synthesis of Hamilton and Jefferson's thought.

In fact, I've been trying to come up with a toast that would capture this idea by quoting both men. The Hamilton quote is probably apocryphal, but:

"That government is best which governs least"/
"You're people, Sir, your people is a great beast."

-Llegar Tarde