Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Cooper Union Speech Shows Us the War Is Not Really Over

(NOTE: Had to edit for an accidental grammar error)
As the Shutdown Showdown of 2013 continues unabated - and in fact may get worse - more and more critics of the modern GOP's hardline stance find themselves referring to Abraham Lincoln and the Cooper Union speech he gave before the November 1860 elections (before he even won the nomination for the Republican Party of that age).

Here's a link to the Cooper Union speech as provided by the National Parks Service:


Here's another link that might still be up.  Most of the first half of the speech is Lincoln setting up his lawyer's argument about how the Constitution came to be, how the Founders themselves spelled out their opposition to slavery's extension, and how the Republicans of 1860 were adhering to that argument - stopping slavery's spread not slavery itself - against the wild accusations and demands of the Southern Democrats.  The Southern states even by that date were threatening open secession unless they got their way.  Lincoln eventually gets to the meat of the speech to argue against that, the part of the speech everyone's quoting:

But you will break up the Union rather than submit to a denial of your Constitutional rights.
That has a somewhat reckless sound; but it would be palliated, if not fully justified, were we proposing, by the mere force of numbers, to deprive you of some right, plainly written down in the Constitution. But we are proposing no such thing.
When you make these declarations, you have a specific and well-understood allusion to an assumed Constitutional right of yours, to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. But no such right is specifically written in the Constitution. That instrument is literally silent about any such right. We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any existence in the Constitution, even by implication.
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

If the arguments, nay demands, of the 1860 Southern Democrats sound a lot like the rhetoric of the 2013 House Republicans and their Far Right spokespeople in the media, don't be surprised.  A lot of this has to do with the Southern Strategy of the Republican Party under Nixon back in the 1970s.

The South as a voting bloc had been virulently pro-slavery since the 1820s (perhaps even earlier), and when slavery bit the dust post-Civil War and post-13th Amendment the South went virulently anti-Black.  That region of the nation was basically allowed to act that way for roughly 100 years because the North got tired of trying to fix that shit and collectively gave up.  The only reason the United States took the Civil Rights efforts of Black Americans seriously by the 1960s was because of public relations: as a global power pushing for liberty against the wave of Soviet oppression, it was hypocritical of us to deny our own citizens their own freedom and rights under the law.

As the Democratic coalition fractured by 1968 with the Dixiecrats falling in power within their own ranks, the Republicans behind Goldwater and Nixon took notice and realized the South as a voting bloc was surprisingly tight (and growing as business markets shifted southward into Texas and Florida) and could be merged to the economic and religious conservatism of the GOP.  By the time of Reagan in 1980, he was able to put together a cultural/economic/religious voting bloc that led to a dynamic pro-Republican shift in the electoral system.

But now we're seeing the problem of going with the Southern Strategy.  By allowing a platform for the basically racist elements of the southern conservatives, the Republicans unwittingly (or even worse, willingly) allowed that strain of hate to spread to the other conservative elements of the party.  Why we're seeing Republicans from non-Southern places like Iowa and Ohio and California railing against social welfare services like food stamps is from the underlying belief that the primary recipients of social aid are Blacks and other minorities.

Joan Walsh in her Salon article:

Today, the entire government has been taken hostage by leaders elected by this crazed minority, who see in the face of Barack Obama everything they've been taught to fear for 50 years. Start with miscegenation: He’s not just black, he’s the product of a black father and a white mother. (That helps explain an unconscious motive for Birtherism: They can’t get their minds off the circumstances of his conception and birth.) With his Ivy League degrees, they are sure he must be the elitist beneficiary of affirmative action. Steeped in Chicago politics, he’s the representative of corrupt urban machines controlled by Democrats – machines that ironically originated with the Irish and once kept African-Americans down, but which are now synonymous with corrupt black power...

Obama's brought all this hatred out in a big way.  Part of the open hatred the GOP and the Far Right have towards Obama is that he's a Democrat interrupting the Glorious Pax Reaganicus Era of tax cuts, deregulation, and Commie-bashing (even though tax cuts didn't work, deregulation is why we're in our current mess, and Commie-bashing went out when Communism did).  But a lot of that hate is because of who Obama is as a person: they flat out can't accept him as an American at all, which is where the Birther obsession and the Kenyan Socialist obsession and Secret Muslim bomb-thrower obsession all come from.  That's not because he's a Democrat: Clinton never got this level of outrage, at worst he was a philandering pot-smoking hippie to them.

But racism is only part of the problem here.  The Southern Conservative mindset is obsessed with "their" rights above the rights of everyone else.  To them, they've got a right to abide their own laws, they've got a right to ignore laws they don't like.  The old strain of Nullification, the belief in State Rights that under the 10th Amendment they can do anything at the state level and to hell with anything federal law or Supreme Court interpretations of federalism - say, the court's approval of the Health Care Reform law (aka Obamacare) - have to say about it.

The Southern Conservative - the template of the modern Far Right wingnut - has no true love for the Federal Government, especially not a Federal government that insists on civil rights or regulatory practices.  The Republican outrage towards a 14th Amendment that both applies due process to all states and recognizes equal citizenship to all Americans is as much a target of their anger as Obama himself.

And all that anger, all that frustration has led them to this shore.  To a point where they don't mind - hell, they WANT to do this - shutting down the federal government the Far Right wingnuts view as The Enemy.

The Civil War is not over.  Not as long as there are wingnuts out there convinced of their radicalism - as Sully notes, this hasn't been true conservatism in ages - against the very concept of a United States of America.  No matter how much they try to wrap themselves up in the Stars And Stripes, they've made it abundantly clear they are the banner carriers of the Stars And Bars.  The Far Right Wingnuts want to Nullify laws they don't like.  They want to punish - if not banish - political leaders they don't like.

The Far Right Wingnuts want to rule or ruin.  We've seen them rule and it wasn't pretty.  Now they want to ruin.  At all costs.  And the way the situation is now, they're ruining us no matter what the rest of the nation wants.

For the LOVE OF GOD, stop voting Republican.


KS in MA said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Second the Thank You -- adding a hearty very much! Cheers

Paul Wartenberg said...

I do thank you for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up in southern Appalachia, I can confirm, sadly, the racism, but that is part of a larger issue of xenophobia. If you ain't from hereabouts you'd best be on your guard, especially iff'n you look different or talk different. Racism is merely one extreme on the spectrum of tolerance for others, at least in the county I lived in.