“The Lineage Of Today’s Republican’s”: What Rand Paul Doesn’t Get About Abe Lincoln, Abe Vigoda, And Black Voters
Here’s something that someone might want to share with Rand Paul. Abraham Lincoln was a president. Abe Vigoda was an actor. The fact that they both have the same first name, does not make them the same person.
That may seem obvious to you, but it’s something that I feel compelled to share. Because after listening to his Howard University speech, I’m not sure it’s a concept that Senator Paul fully understands.
Here’s why: On some basic level, Paul’s speech was an inquiry into the alienation that exists between the GOP and African-Americans. His conclusion: It’s all just a big misunderstanding.
You see, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was Democrats who led the South’s retrenchment after Reconstruction, established segregation and fought tooth and nail to protect Jim Crow. So it’s Republicans, not Democrats, according to Paul, who have always been the party of civil rights.
So why aren’t more African-Americans Republicans? Paul has an explanation: Having achieved electoral and civil rights African-Americans wanted economic equality, too. Republicans offered one way to get it, according to Paul, the free market, while Democrats offered another, government largesse. Thus far, Paul says, African-Americans have preferred the latter path to the former and what Republicans need to do is better explain why African-Americans should instead embrace the free market model. That’s his theory anyway.
Here Paul’s trying to pull off an interesting trick: using Republican performance from the pretty distant past to try and credential current policies. But in his historical retelling, Paul essentially collapses the timeline and says: look, we’ve always been for civil rights, and our free market prescriptions are just the latest iteration of that.
Now, it may be that this is the argument the GOP’s been looking for. Perhaps, having heard it, African-Americans will vote Republican in droves in 2014. But I’m not convinced.
First, despite Paul’s convictions, there’s a pretty obvious reason why African Americans vote for more Democratic candidates than Republicans: They prefer Democratic policies. That’s how most voters decide who to vote for – they review the candidate’s positions on issues important to them, and then vote for the one whose views are more in sync with their own.
Paul probably wouldn’t contest that – but he’d place the blame for Republican losses on someone who you might not expect: the voter. Instead of concluding that to compete for African-American votes Republicans have to change their policies, he suggests that the problem is the failure of African-Americans to fully comprehend the policies Republicans propose. That’s what he means when he says that Republicans have to find a different way to talk about them, right? The policy isn’t the problem, it’s your ability, (or lack thereof) to grasp it.
And here, Paul finds himself on something of a slippery slope. I mean, politics isn’t rocket science. And somehow every couple of years voters across the country manage to sift through the various policy papers and pronouncements of politicians up and down the ballot to make decisions about who to support. It’s peculiar (at the very least) to suggest that African-Americans are somehow incapable of engaging in the required analysis to do it when it comes to Republicans.
There’s something else about Paul’s thesis that just doesn’t add up. Yes, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and Democrats dominated southern politics during segregation. But really, which of these parties of the past has more in common with the iterations that exist today?
If the answers not obvious to you, there’s another bit of history that can help clear it up. Starting in the 1940s and accelerating in the 1960s national Democratic attitudes about segregation moved to the left, while the attitudes of the southern conservatives who had long affiliated with the Democratic Party pushed further to the right. This created an untenable intraparty tension that couldn’t last forever. And it didn’t, because southern conservatives found a new, more comfortable party to call home, one that expressed values in sync with their own. It was the Republican Party. They switched to it in droves.
All of which means, you guessed it, the lineage of today’s Republican party traces much more directly to those pro-segregation Democrats than it does to any southern Republicans who may have been around in that day.
So let’s be clear: Yes, Rand Paul is a Republican but when it comes to civil rights, his version of the GOP has about as much in common with the one that helped free the slaves as Abe Lincoln has with Abe Vigoda.
Which is to say: once you get past the name, not very much at all.
By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, April 12, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a memo to all House Republicans today, telling them what a great job they’re doing. Of particular interest, though, was the Speaker arguing how “noble” he and his party are for trying to balance the budget. From the memo:
The book Congressman Lincoln by Chris DeRose, which I recently read, includes a chapter focused on Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to help craft a new national agenda. At one point in the book, young Lincoln warns that government debt is “growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate.”
“[Government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute,” Lincoln warns his countrymen in Congressman Lincoln. “An individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from – so must it be with a government.”
Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before.
Lincoln, however, while warning of debt, also said that the debt had been created by the unwillingness to consider new revenue.
“By this means a new national debt has been created, and is still growing on us with a rapidity fearful to contemplate — a rapidity only reasonably to be expected in time of war. This state of things has been produced by a prevailing unwillingness either to increase the tariff or resort to direct taxation. But the one or the other must come,” Lincoln wrote in the Whig Circular in 1843.
Oh how I love this story.
Lincoln, who saw great value in a strong federal government, supported public investments in infrastructure, and increased taxes to pay for the Civil War, was concerned about government debt. The historical context matters — Lincoln warned of lost creditors, while in contemporary times, investors are eager to loan the United States money — but it would appear the legendary leader believed in fiscal responsibility.
But Boehner has no use for what Lincoln actually said and did. While today’s House Speaker refuses to consider asking any American to pay so much as a penny in additional taxes, Lincoln saw increases in taxes or tariffs as an undeniable way of responsibly paying our debts. Indeed, he blamed federal debts on “a prevailing unwillingness [to] resort to direct taxation.”
And to borrow a phrase, Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before.
I’d just add, by the way, that the Speaker’s credibility on the issue is genuinely laughable. Boehner today writes, “There should be no doubt that our purpose in calling for a balanced budget is a noble one, and the right one.” This is the same Boehner who approved George W. Bush’s tax cuts without paying for them, put the price of two wars on the national charge card for future generations to worry about, supported Medicare expansion through deficit financing, and added the costs of a Wall Street bailout to the national debt.
Now this same guy wants to talk about the nobility of his fiscal agenda? While taking Lincoln out of context? And while pretending his preferred budget plan isn’t filled with magic asterisks?
C’mon, Mr. Speaker. You can do better than this.
Update: Jay Bookman emails to let me know the story gets even better. In that same piece, Lincoln goes on to endorse a tariff rather than a direct or property tax to raise revenue, because — get this — through a tariff, “the burthen of revenue falls almost entirely on the wealthy and luxurious few, while the substantial and laboring many … go entirely free.”
So, by 2013 standards, Lincoln is a success-hating RINO, right?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2013
The Republican Party is a presidential election away from extinction. If it can’t win the 2016 contest, and unless it has bolstered its congressional presence beyond the benefits of gerrymandered redistricting—which is to say not only retaking the Senate but polling more votes than the opposition nationally—the party will die. It will die not for reasons of “branding” or marketing or electoral cosmetics but because the party is at odds with the inevitable American trajectory in the direction of liberty, and with its own nature; paradoxically the party of Abraham Lincoln, which once saved the Union and which gives such passionate lip service to constitutionality, has come to embody the values of the Confederacy in its hostility to constitutional federalism and the civil bonds that the founding document codifies. The Republican Party will vanish not because of what its says but because of what it believes, not because of how it presents itself but because of who it is when it thinks no one is looking.
The contention by some that the GOP has an identity crisis is nonsense. It’s hard to remember any political organization in the last half century that had a clearer idea of itself. The party’s problem isn’t what it doesn’t know but what everyone else does know, which is that—as displayed in Congress on Tuesday night at the president’s State of the Union address, when Republicans could barely muster perfunctory support for the most benign positions favoring fair pay and opposing domestic violence—the party apparently despises women, gays, Latinos, African Americans, the poor, and the old. The more indelible this impression becomes, the more impossible it will be for even an estimable candidate, be it Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or the now famously desiccated Marco Rubio, to transcend the party that nominates him. This isn’t to say that the argument for limited government will die with the party. It has been part of the American conversation since James Madison and Alexander Hamilton squared off over the Constitution in 1789, with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams each in their corners holding the coats of their respective protégés. The intent of the argument, however, has changed from an essential advocacy of freedom to retribution against the weak.
The Republican Party was born of the most righteous of purposes, which was the containment and eventual elimination of slavery. Trumping the party’s love of the free market was the insistence that a human being should not be one of that market’s commodities: FREE LABOR, FREE LAND, FREE MEN was the party’s manifesto in the 1850s. Four decades after Lincoln, the party under Theodore Roosevelt believed that the captains, colonels, and generals of industry who most profited from the market had become the market’s biggest threat and needed to be constrained for the market’s sake. In the 1960s the candidacy of Barry Goldwater represented not the birth of modern corporate conservatism as later embodied by President Ronald Reagan and then Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and Eric Cantor, but a libertarianism more practical and less unhinged than the present-day version. Sometime in the last 30 years, however, the party became a flack to corporate culture at the expense of either freedom or individualism, and as the country grows more economically oligarchic, the Republican Party that best reflects that oligarchy loses political credibility with the public.
What the current party shares in its collective psychosis with the party of the ’60s is its yearning for martyrdom. If it’s true that what hold on power the GOP still has lies in congressional districts more and more resembling outliers—a power that will die off as figuratively as the constituents of those districts die off literally—it’s also true that many in the party are gripped by the death wish that thrills all martyrs and leaves them moist for self-annihilation. These Republicans have a different notion from other modern political parties of what a party is supposed to be. They don’t see a party as a coalition of disparate interests having just enough in common that together everyone gets what they need, if not what they want. Republicans believe that, definitionally, a party signifies principles so unyielding that any compromise of anything at all renders the party meaningless. Nothing better indicates the theocratic personality of the party than that the very notion of coalition is corrupt, even debased, like a congregation that allows infidels in its ranks. In the last couple of weeks a national poll reported that by three to two, Democrats are willing to compromise on certain things in order to achieve other, larger things. Among Republicans, the numbers are exactly the reverse. It’s not unreasonable that true believers conclude Karl Rove—as responsible as any single person for what the party has become—is now a hack, given that he is one and always has been, and given what for true believers is the rather belated revelation that Rove loves power for its own sake which, whatever else may be so, can’t be said of the party’s zealots.
Self cannibalization is the instinct of such movements. The more desperate the Republican Party becomes, the more voraciously it devours its Robespierres, Dantons, Héberts, if such comparisons don’t unduly flatter the romantic delusions of self-styled Republican Jacobins. Thus Senator Rubio’s superstardom is already on the descent, so blemished by his flirtations with reality not to mention with compassion on the matter of immigration reform that not only did he back away from the issue in his response to the president on Tuesday but it was necessary for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to offer another, purer response to Rubio’s tainted one. Thus the face of Hispanic Republicanism, however far beyond the oxymoronic such a concept lurches, isn’t Rubio on Tuesday night but Tuesday afternoon’s new hotshot Ted Cruz, senator from Texas for 43 days and attacking the character of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel so ruthlessly and without any facts that even fellow Hagel opponent John McCain objected. Thus the scowling response of congressional Republicans Tuesday night to the president’s clarion call on behalf of voting rights, which was last regarded as controversial 50 years ago by Southern segregationists and might have been considered in 2013 something of a gimme as far as applause lines go. Thus on further review the videotape reveals Speaker John Boehner—who initially stood with the rest of the country to applaud the victims of gun violence during the State of the Union’s concluding litany—looking out nervously at his seething and largely unmoved caucus (which leads him far more than he leads them) and, realizing the error of his heart, taking his seat again halfway through the honor roll of the dead, by the time the president got to Tucson.
By: Steve Erickson, The American Prospect, February 14, 2013
Watching Wayne LaPierre’s press conference today (transcript here) I found myself searching for various synonyms of “insane” to describe it. Unglued, unhinged, taken leave of his senses, etc. It reads like the nutty handwritten letters to the editor magazines get, complete with lots of italicizations and exclamation points.
But the truth is this is not true madness. It’s something as old as the country, which bears some eerie similarity to the extremism of the slavery movement, as a lovely piece Ta-Nehisi Coates put up today argued. Here’s a taste:
In the 1850s, slaveholders got their way in Congress (including a hardened Fugitive Slave Act), in the Supreme Court (the Dred Scott decision), and in the White House (occupied by a succession of doughfaces). But proslavery hardliners weren’t satisfied. They sought the resumption of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which the Constitution had banned as of 1808. They branded moderates like Abraham Lincoln–who pledged to leave slavery alone in the South–as members of a “Black Republican” conspiracy to overthrow slavery. And they banished former allies such as Stephen Douglas, who lost his A-Rating for straying from the ultra-orthodox line that there must not be any restriction on slavery.
Rather than accede to Douglas’s nomination as Democratic candidate in the 1860 presidential election, which he might well have won, Southerners split the party and nominated one of their own, dividing the Democratic vote and paving Lincoln’s path to the White House. At which point, the Fire-Eaters led Southern states out of the Union rather than accept a democratically-elected president they opposed.
The NRA shows signs of similar derangement and over-reach. During the election, it demonized a president who had done nothing on gun control, claiming a “massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.” It has alienated staunch allies like Democrat John Dingell who resisted the NRA’s mad-dog campaign to hold Eric Holder in contempt over “Fast and Furious.” Other supporters who have deviated an inch from the NRA line have been targeted for electoral defeat.
This could be a positive development in the medium term, I suspect. The NRA still has a lot of clout, and they’re not clinically insane, but they’ve clearly lost the ability to know what they sound like to non-gun nuts, or a view of sensible tactics. That kind of overreach is the mark of a weak organization—one particularly vulnerable to being baited by the other side into overreach. I predict much trolling of the NRA in the coming weeks.
By: Ryan Cooper, The American Prospect, December 21, 2012