Friday, June 13, 2003

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings.
Steal a little and they throw you in jail,
Steal a lot and they make you king.

Bob Dylan (from “Sweetheart Like You”)

Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
till he rules everything

Bruce Springsteen (from “Badlands”)

Both in response to some of the comments I received from my previous postings, and as a way of moving forward, I am reprinting something I wrote regarding the Lott affair. It is slightly edited since the original letter responded to either something I read in a newspaper, or something said to me by my conservative friend. I may have sent this into Newsday, but I doubt it. Newsday has printed some of my letters, but never anything more than a paragraph. Of course, I got sick shortly after, so I may have already sent this to most of you, but it needs to go on the blogsite by way of certain first principles, and to get to where my thinking is, especially along the issue of Federal vs. state, which is a construct guiding a lot of my thinking: Here goes,


Recent comments - recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals. And the founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the founding ideals of the political party I represent was, and remains today, the equal dignity and equal rights of every American

President Bush
December 12, 2002

(B After The Fact responded:)

What is extraordinary about that statement is how untrue it is. Doesn’t President Bush know anything about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Didn’t he see the movie 1776? Doesn’t he understand the entire meaning of the Civil War? It is because a large segment of the population disagreed with the statement that “Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals” that slavery was not discredited in the Declaration of Independence, and was not abolished in our original Constitution, or institutional racism not done away with by the 13th and 14th Amendments, or by Brown vs Board of Education. As for Republican founders, I take it for granted that President Bush does not know his Charles Sumner from his Abraham Lincoln.

Well maybe the President does and maybe he doesn’t. He is a political leader, not a history professor. As a political leader, Mr. Bush said what he thought he could get away with saying, and he got away with saying it, because whether or not it is true, the consensus in this country today is that we want the President’s statement to be a true reflection of our history.

However, Lott said a more true thing about how people felt about segregation in 1948. The subject of the debate is whether the statement is still true today. The world moves, and Lott has stayed the same. He looks like a dinosaur. Now is he really?


I believe that States Rights was, and has always been, a cover for segregation. Without trotting out too much of my knowledge of trivia, and boring us all to death, the people opposed to states rights at the outbreak of the Civil War were Southerners. They wanted a Federal Slave Code, they wanted slavery nationalized in all the territories, and according to Abraham Lincoln in The House Divided speech, it was the Southerners who were plotting for a second “Dred Scott” decision to make slavery constitutional everywhere. It was only after Southerners saw that they were not going to win these points that talk about secession into a “Southern Confederacy” went past the fire-eaters and into the general population. During the life of the Confederacy, the range of opinions on “states rights” (as opposed to nationalized Confederacy rights) was as broad as it is today.

It was only after the Civil War was lost that “states rights” began to gain prominence as a primary cause for the Civil War (as opposed to an “unseemly” emphasis on slavery).

It is this continuing myth of the primacy of the role of states rights in the causes of the Civil War that continues to pervert a lot of the jargon concerning states rights today. Since we all have lives to lead, I will spare us all another 200 pages along these lines. Suffice it to say that I do not agree with any statement that says that states rights is a good argument, both before or after the fact, for defending Confederate actions leading to the Civil War.

Like other liberals, I believe states rights (without quotes) masks an intellectually sloppy form of corporatism. Corporations and large actors prefer states rights because they believe they can divide and conquer their way to gaining their agenda more easily than they can fight the Federal government. Since these agendas are goal-oriented and amoral (in the literal sense that they are not driven by any sort of vision about the proper way to live), when the individual states do not appear to be responding to their demands (torts reform, union issues in education, tobacco legislation, Presidential election results, etc.), these corporations and fellow travelers who support them have no trouble turning to Washington, D.C. to demand that the Feds take action and preempt states rights.

In certain issues that matter to me, the Electoral College, and certain forms of education policy and health care and free speech issues, I also believe in states rights, because I believe that my deal here in New York State is better than my deal would be under a Federal regime. In no instance that comes to mind can states rights be called a philosophy. It is always a tool.

Like all liberals, I believe that the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” of treating racism with a “nod and a wink” is alive and well. Conservative bloggers now seem to conclude that this strategy is obsolete, that they do not need people who talk like Trent Lott to be part of a working conservative coalition. They reach this conclusion despite the virtual 50/50 split in the election of 2000 and the only slightly better results in the election of 2002. President Bush’s statement seems to indicate that he agrees with the bloggers. I would like to live in a world where President Bush is right. I do not know if he is.

I do not believe that every conservative is a racist, and I know that not every racist is a conservative. However, I continue to believe that large portions of voters in large sections of the country lead their lives and cast their votes, not in the hope of improving their lot, but in using their lot to keep the people they hate under their shoe. From the time of Lincoln, through FDR and the big-government New Deal, and to the time of LBJ, these people voted Democrat. Currently, these people vote Republican. The conclusion to be drawn is that these people will go along with any other portion of the agenda, tax cuts or not, war in Iraq or not, big government or not, heat in the winter or not, so long as they believe that their leaders are people who hate the way they hate.