Over the past couple of days, Jonathan Chait's "12 Years a Slave and the Obama Era" seems to have struck a nerve among the conservative commentariat. In it, Chait responded to the Obama caricature of the National Review's Quin HIllyer depicting the President with "chin jutting out, countenance haughty, voice dripping with disdain for conservatives... [a man with] no shame, no self-doubt, not a shred of humility, no sense that anybody else has legitimate reason to question him or hold any other point of view." Chait lamented:
You can accept the most benign account of his thought process - and I do - while still being struck by the simple fact that Hillyer finds nothing uncomfortable at all about wrapping himself in a racist trope. He is either unaware of the freighted connotation of calling a black man uppity, or he doesn't care. In the absence of a racial slur or an explicitly bigoted attack, no racial alarm bells sound in his brain...That was more than the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney could take:
Conservatives can transport themselves for two hours into the hellish antebellum world of 12 Years a Slave and experience the same horror and grief that liberals feel. What they cannot do, almost uniformly, is walk out of the theater and detect the still-extant residue of that world all around them.
If you want someone to listen to you on race, you don't start by likening him to a slaveowner.As it turns out, that is an odd--and unfortunate--argument for any Republican water carrier to make. After all, today's Party of Lincoln routinely compares the national debt, abortion, gun control, Obamacare--and most every other symbol and policy of President Obama--to slavery.
Take, for example, Sarah Palin's speech last month to the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Iowa. With federal budget deficits plummeting and the U.S. national debt stable as a percentage of the American economy stable over the rest of the decade, Palin chose an odd moment to do her Frederick Douglas impersonation:
"Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China. When that money comes due - and this isn't racist, but it'll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master."According to Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, that debt burden would rank among the three most immoral things ever perpetrated against the American people by their government:
"Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it's pretty immoral."To be sure, for Republicans the private decisions women make about their reproductive choices are no different than hundreds of thousands of Americans owning millions of other Americans. In fact, Arizona Rep. Trent Franks argued in 2010, for African-Americans it's even worse:
"In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say 'How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can't believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible.' And we're right, we're right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America's soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery."When he isn't comparing abortion (and the national debt) to the Holocaust, Baptist Minister turned Arkansas Governor turned Fox News host Mike Huckabee also reassures his audience that it is akin to slavery. In July, the Texas Tribune reported, "Huckabee compared abortion to slavery, asking if society could reject slavery and 'come to the conclusion that one person can take the life of another person." The Huffington Post recounted of Huckabee's Transitive Law of Slavery:
"It's the logic of the Civil War," Huckabee said, comparing abortion rights to slavery. "If morality is the point here, and if it's right or wrong, not just a political question, then you can't have 50 different versions of what's right and what's wrong."Of course, by now "abortion is slavery" is a staple Republican sound bite. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) declared that Planned Parenthood is "a racist organization and it continues to target minorities for abortion destruction." Pro-choice Americans, Ohio legislator Matt Huffman are no different than slave owners. And while some Southern Republicans compared health care reform to the "Great War of Yankee Aggression", former Louisiana GOP Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao ultimately opposed it over abortion coverage he wrongly claimed was provided by the Affordable Care Act:
Two years later, he told an anti-choice group that he believed the issue of abortion was resolved "150 years ago when the issue of slavery was finally settled in this country, and we decided that it no longer was a political issue, it wasn't an issue of geography, it was an issue of morality." In 2011, he again argued against abortion rights being determined at the state level, saying that "it was wrong to own a slave in Mississippi and Michigan."
"For me abortion is such a moral evil, at a par with slavery, that I cannot in good conscience support a bill that seeks to expand it."Suggesting that women's control over their own bodies is no different than master over a slave's, Personhood Mississippi compared Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. So, too, did Huckabee, who likened the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to both cases. To that list of cases, conservatives including Newt Gingrich and David Rivkin added another which was the equivalent of Chief Justice Roger Taney's 1857 ruling that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." The Supreme Court's 2008 decision protecting the habeas corpus rights of terror detainees, they agreed, was "worse than Dred Scott." As Rivkin put it, allowing Gitmo prisoners to appeal their detentions was little different than declaring human beings property and codifying racial segregation:
"But to be honest, and not to be too dramatic, it's one of the worst decisions by the Supreme Court I've ever read, on par with Dred Scott decisions and Plessy v. Ferguson.And the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow could have been avoided, conservatives insist, if it hadn't been for gun control. As Gun Appreciation Day chairman Larry Ward explained in 2012:
The reason for it is not because of its practical implications; they're quite modest. But the sheer ambition, the sheer judicial arrogance that you see here."
"I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history."Rush Limbaugh agreed, arguing:
"If a lot of African-Americans back in the '60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma? If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?"A year before he argued that America needs a white, Republican President, Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher recounted how gun control was responsible for the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. As his spokesman Phil Christofanelli insisted, "There's nothing offensive" about that claim:
"Well, blacks weren't allowed to own guns in the south, that's a historical fact as well. So, it would seem that the argument would apply there as well."In Joe the Plumber's defense, he was only parroting a line regurgitated by many of his GOP brethren. After all, GOPers from Michelle Bachmann to Maine Governor Rick LePage insist, taxes, debt and--worst of all--Obamacare are all like Hitler's Holocaust. And on those occasions when they aren't equating the Affordable Care Act to the Nazi reign of terror, the Republicans' best and brightest come back to slavery.
Just ask George Will. The Washington Post columnist and regular on Fox News and ABC News offered this helpful analogy:
"I hear Democrats say, 'The Affordable Care Act is the law,' as though we're supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon turned conservative heartthrob, couldn't agree more. As he explained last month at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit:
"You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control."It seems that everything these Republicans oppose is as bad or worse than slavery. Except, apparently, slavery itself. After all, many in today's Party of Lincoln support nullification and secession. But in May 2010, the conservatives who set the standards for Texas' schoolbooks insisted on removing the word "slave" from the term "slave trade." That April, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell omitted any mention of slavery from his declaration of Confederate Heritage Month. Former RNC Chairman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour explained why that was no big deal:
"To me it's a sort of feeling that it's just a nit. That it is not significant. It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."Hearing that slavery didn't "matter for diddly" probably sounds shocking to most Americans. They could be forgiven for assuming only the most unreconstructed neo-Confederate could utter such appalling words. That's why conservatives who persist in trafficking in such language have no grounds for complaint with the comparisons which naturally ensue.