Just yesterday, Rick Santorum in his farewell speech bowing so gracefully out of the 2012 campaign, made the strong assertion that this election of 2012 is the most important election the American people have faced since 1860. This morning, in a nationally televised interview on MSNBC, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention also said dramatically that the 2012 election is the most important since 1860. Newt Gingrich has said so. It is a matter of time until Mitt Romney asserts the same proposition.
If Republicans and conservatives are correct, this has terrible implications for the peace and security of the American people, their liberties, and the survival of the United States itself. For in 1860, the Southern portion of the Democratic Party, then the conservative party in the country, refused to accept the election of Abraham Lincoln, Southern states left the Union, Federal facilities were seized illegally, and one was fired upon in Charleston, South Carolina at Fort Sumter. The nation experienced a four year civil war that killed over 620,000 soldiers and unnumbered civilians.
If Republicans are casting themselves in the position of anti-slavery members of their own party and see Mitt Romney in Lincoln’s role in the present election, their grasp of history is weak and poorly informed.
In 1860, the Southern section of the nation, fifteen states that had human slavery, was attempting in that election to strengthen the right to hold slaves by expanding its geographical reach. They wanted a National Slave Code that would support slaveholders who took their slaves into the Federal lands out West. In a broad sense, Southerners were reactionary conservatives, attempting to not only preserve an earlier agrarian society based on white supremacy in the face of the ever growing industrial North, and the revolution in how people lived and saw the world based upon technological change and evolving opinion against the expansion of the “peculiar institution.”
Abraham Lincoln was chosen by the Republican Party in 1860 because he was a moderate on the question of slavery. Yet he was branded a dangerous radical abolitionist by the conservative Democratic opposition both North and South. Even limiting slaveholding to where it already was had become intolerable to Southerners. Even that, was viewed as cause for the revolutionary and treasonous step of secession from the Union.
It is President Obama who has repeatedly been labeled a dangerous radical since he ran for President in 2008, has been called a Socialist, a Communist, a Marxist, a Mau-Mau Anti-Colonial Kenyan Revolutionary. He’s been depicted as a monkey and his impeachment and removal from office has been constantly on the lips of his political opponents. So Obama here is no Breckenridge, the Deep South’s slavery expansionist candidate. He has to occupy the position Lincoln did that year in 1860: a political moderate misunderstood as a radical leftist candidate.
And the Republican Party’s move to the right of the political spectrum, and its emphasis on state authority over that of the Federal Government, its backward tilt to return to an earlier period in American history, say 1950, when white supremacy was assured, and women were relegated to second class citizenship and had little or no control over their bodies, a kind of early Mad Men TV Show made real. Or maybe it’s a return to the Ozzie and Harriet world that the young will only learn of from their grandparents. That is what Republicans now want to preserve.
But the world has shifted underneath their feet, just as Europe abandoned support for slavery in the 1830’s to the 1850’s and the United States was viewed as an increasingly socially out-of-step nation that violated its fundamental principle that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Now, the world and even the United States is becoming an increasingly multi-racial and ethnic society. The old white, suburban, 1950’s style nuclear family, and common assumptions about society in place then are no longer possible. But that is where these people wish and insist that we go It is emphatically stated by their policies on social issues, their frequent missteps on questions of race and gender and class. Today’s slavery cause, full rights for people who find themselves part of the LGBT community truly divide Republicans from Democrats.
An essential part of the Republican idea that this coming election would destroy America as we have known it of course is the growing realization by conservatives that these societal changes have occurred and solidified and the racial and ethnic mix of the nation is also changing. A largely white people’s party of wealth is not suited to winning elections fairly and squarely any longer. Perhaps that is part of the rantings in 2010 of Sharon Angle for “Second Amendment Remedies” and Rick Santorum’s labeling college educated people as snobs, and Mitt Romney’s inability to connect with real middle class Americans.
The Sara Palin’s, Michelle Bachmann’s and Sharon Angle’s, the Evangelical Christian leadership, and the Ted Nugent National Rifle Association and Patriot community represent conservative fire eaters like that of Richard Barnwell Rhett, Edmund Ruffin, and William Loundes Yancey. The moderate suburban element of the Republican Party will follow these people but do not themselves have the fire in their bellies for another American Civil War. At least not yet.
This election is important in the sense that it offers the clearest choice the American people have been given between two alternative views of our nation and who we are for a very long time.
Is deficit reduction and large tax breaks for the most wealthy Americans, where the cuts come in Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, and Social Security to achieve this, and where we cannot wait to go to war with Iran what we want? Or do we continue to work to provide real economic opportunity for Americans by actually putting them to work, raising middle class wages, and keeping what is left of the shredded American dream alive. It is a stark choice. We’ll have to look at that choice from an economic standpoint in a future post here on Struggles for Justice.
If the election of 2012 is comparable to that of 1860, what do Republicans and conservatives do if they lose this year and Obama is re-elected and the Democrats retain control of even one house of Congress?
We must ask if they will accept the decision of a majority of voters or a plurality of voters where the President wins the necessary electoral votes under the Constitution of the United States. Can they respect a Congress where the people have sent more Democrats there than Republican conservatives?
I know that Democrats will accept the results of a free, fair, and democratic election that is constitutionally sound, even if we are led after 2012 back to the 1950’s and the white dominated, morally straightjacketed conformist 1950’s. We promise a lot of breast-beating, tearing at our robes; much gnashing of teeth (what we would call whining, and bitching and moaning in our day). But I think we will respect our system of government and our leaders and permit them to govern us. If we protest it will be non-violent passive resistance. If we go to jail we do so with the respect shown for the rule of law as Dr. King did and taught by being fully willing to accept the penalty.
But what will Republicans, conservatives, and the outer fringes of what is now a reactionary right-wing party in the United States do if they lose? Will they turn to violence, revolution, secession, and defiance of the national government? Is the 1860 point-of-reference a call to some sort of second American Civil War that threatens to destroy the nation? Are we pressed back to what Lincoln said at Gettysburg in November 1863 when he said that the nation’s ability to make democracy itself to work; to survive, was on the line? We will see.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
For Struggles for Justice