The latest Michele Bachmann gaffe once again has eyes rolling and heads shaking among the commentariat. The irony is, it’s not really a gaffe. In fact, it’s not even that far from today’s conservative mainstream. It might even be closer to conservative orthodoxy than right-wing fringe. And that raises a serious question: What — or, more appropriately, WTF — has happened to the party of Lincoln?
By now, everyone has heard about Michele Bachmann’s latest gaffe. This time, it wasn’t a statement she made, but a statement she signed. The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative Christian organization led by Bob Vander Platts, introduced a pledge last week — “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMILY” — that Republican presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa were encouraged to sign.
Bachmann was the first to sign the pledge, which included this unfortunate statement as the first bullet point in its supporting argument.
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.
Many people on the left were quick to point out the obvious:
- Slavery didn’t create strong families.
- Slave marriages weren’t legally recognized, and thus couples had no rights their owners or other whites need recognize. “Jumping the Broom,” symbolized “stepping over” into a new life, but it didn’t signify a relationship that slaveowners were obligated to recognize or respect. Slaves were sometimes forced into marriage/mating by owners who chose their “spouses” based on breeding potential.
- Slavery separated families. Slave marriages were often shattered by the action block.
- The slave child was most likely to be “raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household,” if one of those parents was his white owner/father. (Think about it. Thomas Jeffereson’s children with Sally Hemmings were “raised by their mother and father in a two-parent household.”)
Slave narratives are replete with reference to forced marriage and forced separation of families.
The narrative of Sam and Louisa Everett is one example.
Louisa and Sam were married in a very revolting manner. To quote the woman:
“Marse Jim called me and Sam ter him and ordered Sam to pull off his shirt – that was all the McClain niggers wore – and he said to me: ‘Nor, do you think you can stand this big nigger?’ He had that old bull whip flung acrost his shoulder, and Lawd, that man could hit so hard! So I jes said ‘yassur, I guess so,’ and tried to hide my face so I couldn’t see Sam’s nakedness, but he made me look at him anyhow.”
“Well, he told us what we must git busy and do in his presence, and we had to do it. After that we were considered man and wife. Me and Sam was a healthy pair and had fine, big babies, so I never had another man forced on me, thank God. Sam was kind to me and I learnt to love him.”
The narrative of John W. Fields is another.
My name is John W. Fields and I’m eighty-nine (89) years old. I was born March 27, 1848 in Owensburg, Ky. That’s 115 miles below Louisville, Ky. There was 11 other children besides myself in my family.
When I was six years old, all of us children were taken from my parents, because my master died and his estate had to be settled. We slaves were divided by this method. Three disinterested persons were chosen to come to the plantation and together they wrote the names of the different heirs on a few slips of paper. These slips were put in a hat and passed among us slaves. Each one took a slip and the name on the slip was the new owner. I happened to draw the name of a relative of my master who was a widow.
I can’t describe the heartbreak and horror of that separation. I was only six years old and it was the last time I ever saw my mother for longer than one night. Twelve children taken from my mother in one day. Five sisters and two brothers went to Charleston, Virginia, one brother and one sister went to Lexington, Ky., one sister went to Hartford, Ky., and one brother and myself stayed in Owensburg, Ky. My mother was later allowed to visit among us children for one week ob each year, so she could only remain a short time at each place.
That’s for those of us in the “reality-based community,” for whom facts, historical accuracy, and first-hand accoutns matter. To us, Bachmann siging her name to the “Marriage Vow” was typical of the kind of “gaffe” that causes us to roll our eyes and categorize her as the spokesperson for the wild-eyed, right-wing fringe of today’s GOP.
But her statements are not that far out line with what seems to be the emerging conservative mainstream on the subject.
- March 2006: In a now hard-to-find (because it’s been removed from the site)
column for the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal, Adele Fergusen wrote that the the “pony in the manure pile” of American slavery is “that it was the ticket to America for black people,” and that blacks should “consider their presence here as the work of God, who wanted to bring them to this new, raw country and used slavery to achieve it.” Fegusen acknowledged that slavery was “a harsh life, to be sure,” but no worse than the hardships endured by immigrants an indentured servants.
- May 2006: Republican media spokesman Rush Limbaugh is quoted book 101 People Who Are really Screwing America that slavery “had its merits.” Limbaugh denied making the comment in 2009, when his interest in buying a share of the St. Louis Rams franchise sparked controversy.
- October 2006:“Reparative Therapy” specialist Gerald Schoenewolf, in an essay that was removed from the website that published it, writes that “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle … Life there was savage … and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.” The essay was published on the website of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization with ties to Focus on the Family as well as other conservative Christian organizations.
- January 2007: Virginia Delegate tells the Daily Progress of Charlotsville that blacks should “get over” slavery. He went on to ask, “Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”
- January 2007: Conservative blogger argues that Dred Scott was rightly decided.
- September 2007: Conservative columnist Michael Medved pens a 6 point defense/historical revision of slavery, consisting of “six inconvenient truths.”
- March 2008: Conservative media spokesman Pat Buchanan writes that blacks should be “grateful” for slavery.
- February 2010: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ,)speaking of abortion, says that “far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery.”
- March 2010: The RNC attacks Sumpreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, because of her ties to justice Thurgood Marshall, and her quotation in a 1993 article of a 1987 quote in which Mashall called the U.S. constitution “defective” for its institutionalization of slavery, and adoption of the “three fifths rule,” under which slaves were counted as three fifths of a person for the purpose of determining representation.
- May 2010: The conservative dominated Texas Board of Education moved to erase the mention of the slave trade from textbooks, renaming it the “Atlantic triangular trade.”
- June 2010: Conservative media spokesman Glenn Beck launches into a bizarre defense of slavery, based on his fanatsy of how Liberia was founded, and declared that race relations in colonial America were good until the Civil War: “The things that have happened in this country where it really starts to wrong was the lead up to the Civil War, and it became politicized and it was all about slavery, before then we were moving on the right track. You’ll learn things tonight that you never ever learned before and ask yourself ‘Why?’”
- August 2010: Conservative spokesman Rush Limbaugh suggests that Michelle Obama’s vacation is linked to reparations for slavery. The First Lady is a descentant of slaves.
- September 2011: South Carolina Senate President, Republican Glenn McDonnell comes under fire after pictures surface of him dressed in Confederate attire, with two African Americans wearing “antebellum” contumes — that is, dressed as slaves. The event, called “A Southern Experience” was hosted by the National Federation of Republican Women during its Board of Directors Meeting. McDonnell, a Civil War reenactor who has been photographed in Confederate garb before, defended the photos.
- November 2010: Rep. Steve King (R, IA) says the USDA’s settlement with black farmers, who were discriminated against for decades by federal agencies is “slavery reparations” cooked up by a “very, very urban” Barack Obama. (King also refers to Obama, who was sworn in as president on January 20, 2009, as “Senator Obama.”)
- January 2011: After their wins in the 2010 midterm election, Republicans made a big deal of out of opening the first session of the new Congress by reading the constitution on the House floor, only to skip the passages condoning slavery.
- January 2011: Conservative media spokesman Glenn Beck defends the three-fifths clause of the U.S. constitution on his Fox News show.
- Virginia Governor, Republican Bob McDonnell issues a procolamation declaring April “Confederate History Month,” without any mention of slavery. When asked about the omission, McDonnell said slavery wasn’t “significant” enough to deserve a mention. McDonnell later issued an apology for the omission, which still raised questions about what he really believes.
- April 2011: Mississippi Governor, Republican Haley Barbour defends Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s proclomation declaring April Confederate History Month, and its omission of slavery. Barbour says the concern over the omission of slavery “doesn’t amount to diddly.”
- April 2011: A Public Policy Polling survey of southern Republicans reveals that less than half are glad the Union won the Civil War: only 47% in Georgia, 35% in North Carolna, and 38% in Mississippi.
This list could go on, believe me, but perhaps it’s best to stop here and get back to the question at hand. WTF happened to the “party of Lincoln”? How did a party founded to fight slavery end up the party of white Southern conservatives whose schizoid approach is to co-opt slavery at times — calling every policy they oppose or dislike “slavery” — appear to justify or defend it at others? How did the party of the Great Emancipator come to this?
For much of 20th-century politics, one of the dilemmas of being a liberal was that vast swathes of America teemed with unsavory and grossly illiberal characters who were fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party. This is because — despite its Northern, progressive elements — the Democratic Party was ironically the historic home of Jim Crow. The party of FDR, Harry Truman and Julian Bond also harbored America’s staunchest segregationists. The breakaway “Dixiecrat” movement of 1948 was led by a South Carolina Democrat named Strom Thurmond.
Thurmond said, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force… the southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”
Strom changed parties after a turncoat southerner named Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. LBJ then said that Democrats had lost the South for the next generation. He was right. In a rush of bitter defections, southern voters and politicians fled the Democratic Party.
Richard Nixon, campaigning in 1968, did his utmost to assure that America’s segregationist diehards, white supremacists and anti-Semites would find a new political klavern. Nixon invented the “race card” and transformed the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and the wellspring of the Emancipation Proclamation, into the last bastion of the Confederacy. The G.O.P. has been playing the same hand — with remarkable impunity — in every election since.
As Robert Kuttner noted in a January 2003 issue of The American Prospect, ever since Nixon devised his southern strategy, “the Republican grand electoral design has been based on locking up the white South while playing to the white backlash in the North. Often the appeals to race are tacit, sometimes they are crude; but the stance is unmistakable to anyone who bothered to notice.”
Decades after the damage was done, RNC chair Ken Mehlman apologized on the party’s behalf in 2005, in an attempt to build bridges with black voters. Morris O’Kelly, I think, sums up what Bachmann’s latest gaffe, along with the indicidents mentioned above, are likely to do to that.
But, it wasn’t a gaffe. Like I said earlier. First, it’s not that far out of the Republican mainstream. And, I think Faiz Shakir nailed the second point Keith Olberman. It’s unlikely that she or her campaign staff didn’t read it. It’s more likely that she really believes it.
Shakir got one thing wrong, though — one very important thing. It’s that fundamentalists really DO believe this stuff. And a party that’s increasily dominated by them is can’t help but reflect that.
I wrote about just the phenomnon of un-reconstructed racism on the right years ago.
But let me get back to the question concerning how few “Christian Right Powerhouses” have spoken out against various statements like Hargrove’s, or any other Republicans’ for that matter, regarding slavery, civil rights, etc. Why? Why haven’t they spoken out against concepts that, the overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians in America would probably find morally offensive and indefensible, like slavery or segregation?
They can’t. It’s inherent in the particular brand of Christianity that groups like Concerned Women for America (run by Berverly LaHaye, wife of apocalyptic author Tim LaHaye) and Focus on the Family subscribe to more or less openly, and that’s detailed in books like Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and a few others I’ve read. Call it Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism, the basic idea is that the country should be run according to their literal interpretation of the Bible.
A contrary development is increasingly in evidence in the Western world, and especially in the United States, i.e., the development by systematic indoctrination of a bad conscience. The political cultivation of guilt is a central means to power, for guilty men are slaves; their conscience is in bondage, and hence they are easily made objects of control. Guilt is thus systematically taught for purposes of control. Several instances can be cited readily. For example, the white man is being systematically indoctrinated into believing that he is guilty of enslaving and abusing the Negro. Granted that some Negroes were mistreated as slaves, the fact still remains that nowhere in all history or in the world today has the Negro been better off. The life expectancy of the Negro increased when he was transported to America. He was not taken from freedom into slavery, but from a vicious slavery to degenerate chiefs to a generally benevolent slavery in the United States. [Emphasis added.]
The ‘civil rights’ revolutionary groups are a case in point. Their goal is not equality but power. The background of Negro culture is African and magic, and the purposes of magic are control and power. . . Voodoo or magic was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive.” (p. 61) [R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law]
Segregation or separation is thus a basic principle of Biblical law with respect to religion and morality. Every attempt to destroy this principle is an effort to reduce society to its lowest common denominator. Toleration is the excuse under which this levelling is undertaken, but the concept of toleration conceals a radical intolerance. In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions as though no differences existed. [R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 294]
Biblical law permits voluntary slavery because it recognizes that some people are not able to maintain a position of independence . . . The law is humane and also unsentimental. It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so. (pp. 286, 251) [R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law] [Emphasis added.]
They, the “Christian Right Powerhouses,” can’t denounce statements like Hargrove’s or anyone else’s precisely because either those statements aren’t that far from what they privately believe, or because to denounce them would mean having to renounce the statements of a founder of their movement. Or they’d have to do some serious contortions to reinterpret them, and these folks are all about literalism.
So, they’re “un-reconstructed” reconstructionists, in a sense. And, as they comprise about 30% to 40% of the Republicans’ base, they’ve got the party by the balls as well. Few if any Republicans will go so far as to denounce Hargove or anyone else who makes such statements.
So, Hargrove gets a spirited defense, Lott returns to leadership, and no one asks or bothers to point out what they really believe. They’re just misunderstood. Because, as I’ve pointed out before, religion is the great conversation stopper, and criticizing even faith-based bigotry is too much to contemplate.
So, they get a pass. And, maybe, we get “reconstructed.” Eventually.
It puts the story about Bachmann’s “ex-gay” clinic, and the practice of her husband Dr. Marcus Bachmann — a story which has now gone mainstream after percolating in the progressive/gay blososphere for weeks — into perspective, and even brings full circle the NARTH connection I mentioned earlier. Bachmann, who couldn’t apologize for signing on to an inappropriate slavery analogy without making another inappropriate slavery analogy, is doing her best not to talk about the therapy practiced at Bachmann and associates. That’s probably because increasing support for gay rights and reports of the damage done by “ex-gay” therapy suggest this news places her even further outside the American mainstream.
She’s not outside the Republican mainstream. She’s getting closer and closer to the the center of it, in fact. And, while she may not get the nomination, that’s why she’s not going away. Whether, or how far, the Republican party goes her way as a result? Well, it remains to be seen.