More Than Historical Stupidity in Paul's Slavery Crack
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No shot GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul tossed out yet another juicy zinger this time on "Meet the Press" when he said that Lincoln was a bad guy for fighting the civil war. Paul's solution: simply shell out some cash, buy the slaves, and set them free. One would like to believe that Paul is just jerking off the press and the public with his shoot from the lip, loose brained, solutions on everything from taxes to ending the Iraq war. And that his dig at Lincoln for fighting the Civil War is the latest in the train of dumb wit Paulisms.
But the Civil War and the Lincoln jibe needs a response for two reasons. The first is for its idiot read of history.
Lincoln as an Illinois Congressman in 1849 proposed a bill for voluntary and gradual emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia. Lincoln toyed with the idea of offering compensation to get the slavemasters to go along with it. Congress dominated by Southerners and the slave owners showed absolutely no interest in taking a government bribe to give up their slaves in D.C. Lincoln didn't give up the idea.
In 1861, Lincoln, now president, dangled the carrot of federal dollars in front of the slaveowners in the Border States. He'd pay them $400 per slave to free them. There were no takers. The next year, Lincoln, even arm twisted Congress to pass a resolution providing for paynment to the slaveowners in the Border States and elsewhere. That went nowhere too.
The slave masters understood something that Paul doesn't. Slavery was not an aberrant, patchwork system that consigned a few million luckless blacks to hard, unpaid labor. Slavery was a cornerstone of the Southern economy. It wove personal lifestyle, custom, and comfort together for the benefit of the slave owners. Slavery was slyly encoded in articles in the Constitution, protected by court decisions, and bolstered by the full force of federal law (the enforement of the fugitive slave law). Lincoln had a better chance of dismantling slavery with dollars than Paul has of winning the White House.
The other more compelling reason to take on Paul's dumb crack is that while the North may have won the war, the South won the peace. No other region has so dominated national politics -- the military, the courts, Congress, the White House -- as the South.
It retooled slavery into a iron clad sytem of Jim Crow segregation, economic domination, and state government sanctioned violence to maintain power. No amount of money could have changed that.
The South maintained political dominance for nearly century after the end of slavery by forcing every Democrat or Republican that wanted to bag or stay in the White House to do and say as little as possible about race and racism, slavishly adhere to states rights, and pander to Southern politicians.
When the civil rights movement momentarily changed this neat political formula white Southern Democrats simply swapped their Democratic political pin for a Republican one. In the eyes of many white Southerners, the Democratic Party became the hated symbol of integration and civil rights.
The big break came with Republican Barry Goldwater's presidential bid in 1964. Southern politicians adroitly read the political tea leaves, stumped for Goldwater and urged Southern Democrats to do the same. In the process, he dropped the racially inflammatory rhetoric that had long been his and other Southern politicians' stock in trade. This ignited the first big exodus of Southern whites from the Democratic Party into the Republican Party.
The stampede got even bigger in 1968. President Nixon formally crafted the "Southern Strategy." That strategy became the anchor of Republican politics in the South. In the years to come, Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush also made masterful use of Nixon's Southern Strategy to win elections and tighten the Republican grip on the South.
President Bush, like Paul a fellow Texan, benefited as much if not more than any other politician from the Southern Strategy. In the 2000 presidential election, he snatched the electoral votes of all the states of the Old Confederacy. Without the granite-like backing of these states, Democratic presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow. He swept the 11 old slave states again in 2004.
By whopping margins, white males provided the cushy margin of victory in these states. No amount of federal dollars would have changed the white Southern mindset toward the Democrats. They were still seen as liberal, big government, tax and spend social tinkers, especially on racial matters.
Millions in the South and elsewhere agree with Paul that the legacy of slavery has ruined the nation. If they could turn the clock back a century and a half they'd do just what Paul says and would not shed one drop of blood to free the slaves. Worse, they wouldn't spend a penny to free them either. My suspicion is that neither would anti-big government, abolish taxes Paul. Lincoln are you listening?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York).