Michael Tomasky takes on a Calhounian pronouncement from Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint What Plantation Is Jim DeMint Living On? Daily Beast 04.11.14. The DeMint statement in question is this:
Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately, there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.Tomasky says of this comment:
Please, I beg of you, don’t do DeMint the honor of thinking him merely stupid. He’s probably that, in some way. Certainly those sentences add up to a mountain of stupid, a Himalayan range of it. Yet at the same time, a statement this insane can’t be propelled merely by stupidity. A denial of reality this whole, this pure, requires, I think, some thought, some premeditation.Tomasky's right. This kind of thought is typical neo-Confederacy: writing black people and the legacy of slavery out of American history and distorting the real history of the country to serve a present-day rightwing, segregationist ideology.
Tomasky does a useful unpacking of some of the silly thinking behind this:
How, as a radical conservative today, and especially a Southern one, and especially one from the state (South Carolina) that started the Civil War (first to advance nullification, first to secede, first shots fired), are you supposed to explain that war? And how are you supposed to explain slavery? Tough ones. If you ever visit any of those crackpot websites I look at sometimes, you've seen, for example, the commonly advanced idea that the Civil War wasn't really about slavery, it was about states' rights and economics and so on. I guarantee you that notion will show up pretty quickly in this very comment thread.How does William Wilberforce (1759-1833), an antislavery British politician, get into this picture? Tomasky explains:
But that explains only the war’s beginning, not its end. I had not heard, until DeMint's comments here, their theory on the war’s end, and more deliciously on slavery’s. So it was "the conscience of the American people" that ended it. And the Constitution, which "kept calling us back to 'all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights.'" And William Wilberforce. But whatever it was, it wasn't "big government."
Finally, this Wilberforce business. They love Wilberforce, today’s rad-cons. He was a devout Christian, you see, and a conservative; and yet at the same time a stern abolitionist. What a useful combination! Invoking Wilberforce allows conservatives like DeMint to pretend that he, not Calhoun, is their moral lodestar and inspiration. It's somewhat problematic for them that while Wilberforce did indeed fight slavery, he did so in England, where he actually lived, not in America. And only up until 1833, when he died. Besides which the fiery abolitionists in America, William Lloyd Garrison and so forth, were quite religious too, but on the political left.Christian Right star Eric Metaxas wrote a biography of him, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (2009). Metaxas was the choice of the Christian fundamentalist organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast chose him to be the main speaker at the 2012 event, where he got to pose as a prophetic voice scolding the Islamunist atheist President. (Prayer Breakfast speech 02/26/2012)
Republicans' language continues to show cultish signs, when leading lights of the Party like DeMint will make off-hand references to "people like Wilberforce" that are incomprehensible to a normal voter but are a "secret handshake" to the initiated.
Tags: christian right, confederate heritage month 2014, slavery, white racism