19th Century Conservatives

by: Mike Lux

Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 16:45


As I wrote a few weeks back, when I sat down to write my book The Progressive Revolution on the history of the American political debate, I knew that the themes that animated our current political debate would be the same as in the past.

What I underestimated was that we would start to re-fight some of the exact same issues that have been fairly settled for the last 50 years or even longer. It is a sign of how radical conservatives in the last couple of years have become that they are raising issues that have seemed settled for so many decades. Republican nominees and elected officials for major offices have, over the last few months, made open arguments for:

-the privatization or outright phasing out of Social Security and Medicare

-the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

-the secession of states from the union

-the nullification of laws passed by the Congress and signed by the President

-the repeal of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1914, allowing people to vote directly for their Senator rather than have them appointed by the state legislature

Now comes the most radically extreme proposal yet: Senate Majority Leader McConnell and other Republicans are now calling for amending or even outright repeal of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. To understand how profoundly reactionary this proposal is, let me refer to my book:

The 14th Amendment was passed at the height of the Radical Republican frustration at Johnson’s alliance with Southern conservatives on Reconstruction. Section 1 asserted that the federal government, not the states, decided who US citizens were and gave that citizenship to all those born in the United States or naturalized by the federal government. The states were prohibited from denying those citizens their civil rights and “the equal protection of the law.” It was the first time the Constitution created a definition of national citizenship as opposed to just leaving it to the states. Section 2 stated that any state denying the right to vote to any of its (male) citizens was to proportionally lose seats in Congress and the Electoral College. Sections 3 and 4 denied Southerners who had held federal office before the war and then served the rebel cause the right to run for federal office again, and ensured that the debts that the Confederacy had incurred would never be paid by either federal or state governments. The 14th Amendment was designed by progressives to be a long term stake in the heart of states’ rights and slave power by asserting that the federal government, not the states, had the right to guarantee American citizens their civil and political rights under the law. It literally extended the Bill of Rights to all American citizens, no matter what state they lived in, and gave the federal government the power to enforce those rights.
A little background: contrary to right wing hagiography, our founding fathers were not gods or perfect men. There were some brilliant and courageous people among them, but they were politicians not that dissimilar to the current crop. Some, like Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, and George Mason were more progressive minded thinkers, while some were more conservative, and all were products of the time and the white, male, privileged constituencies that elected them. The constitution that was written, like every other set of laws written by politicians, thus had flaws in it. Not only was slavery embedded into the document, but the authors of the constitution agreed to a series of compromises with the strongly pro-slavery politicians from the deep South that were designed to make slavery a permanent part of our nation rather then phasing it out as even some slaveholders (like Jefferson) proposed. These provisions – chief among them the notorious 3/5 of a man rule for counting slaves in the census for Congressional apportionment – combined with the constitutional conventioneers just punting on the issues around who gets to vote/have basic civil rights/be a citizen and leaving those crucial issues to the states left the country heading inexorably to a civil war. The compromises of 1820 and 1850 just delayed the inevitable. Lincoln was right, the country could not survive as half slave and half free.
Mike Lux :: 19th Century Conservatives

From the wreckage of the civil war, the provisions related to slavery had to be repealed, and something new and more enduring had to be put in its place. The progressives who ran Congress in the 1860s, ironically known as the Radical Republicans (a quite different sort than we have today), put into place 3 new amendments to rebuild those parts of the first constitution that had been so flawed:

-the 13th amendment abolished slavery and allowed the federal government to enforce those provisions

-the 15th amendment established that voting rights would not be limited based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and again had a provision allowing for the Feds to enforce the law.

As huge as those two amendments were, in many ways the 14th was the centerpiece amendment, the one that was the foundational cornerstone for most of the progress we have made on civil rights, civil liberties, and equality over the last 150 years. Brandeis used the 14th amendment to firmly establish freedom of speech and the press in every state; Warren used it to rule on Brown V. Board of Education. It has been the basis for most of the major civil rights/liberties advances in the last century of this country.

This generation of Republicans are proving themselves more extreme, more fundamentally reactionary than any group of Republicans in the past. Barry Goldwater didn’t want to go this far back; Ronald Reagan didn’t; not even George W Bush was so profoundly reactionary as to want to turn back the clock to the 1860s.

I did not think I would be hearing talk of seceding from the union, repealing civil rights, state nullifying of laws when I was writing about all those past battles a couple of years ago in my book. And I most especially didn’t think Republicans would be taking on the 14th amendment, the amendment that re-structured the constitution to allow our federal government to enforce the Bill of Rights after the civil war. But this group of Republicans wants to go back not just 50 years, not even a 100 years, but 150 years.

The only question now is whether we will begin to hear them talking about how abolishing slavery wasn’t such a great idea, or whether that Bill of Rights thing was the wrong way to go.


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The GOP are their own worst enemy. (4.00 / 4)
Indeed, it's precisely this kind of lunacy that will prevent the Dems from getting clobbered in November. So instead of getting upset at the Red Tribe (I admit, that's damn near impossible anyway), we ought to thank them for being such idiots.

But I do have one quibble: Looting Social Security is now Obama's project, so we can't just lay that one on the Red Tribe. It's the Blue Tribe that will pull that one off. It is, of course, a perfect example of what buy-partisanship means amongst our ruling elites. Barry, Harry and Nancy are going to push that puppy through in the lame duck session, as promised, unless there's some kind of revolt.

The GOP is largely now the party of the Southern White Bigot. That will always prevent them from ever moderating their positions or their rhetoric. RWAs will always do that. Indeed, they have to keep ramping up their HateFest in order to keep their base interested, so it can only get worse.

This works nicely for the neo-liberals in the Blue Tribe, since they can always use the Red Tribe and say, "Look! They're so very much worse than us! You don't want them in charge do you?!"

And that, my friends, is how you move the Overton Window into Fascist Town.

The problem is, of course, they have much the same agendas, excepting all that blatantly nativist crap. Oh wait, Obama is deporting more "illegals" than Bush, so maybe that's not right either.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


McKinley, George III (4.00 / 4)
Rove claimed he wanted to move things back to the time of McKinley.  That would include few taxes, robber barons, no civil rights or black voting, lots of cheap immigrant labor, prolonged high unemployment, no safety net.  Some of the Republican agenda is clearly going far past that.

The first amendment guaranteed the right of peaceable assembly for redress of grievances.  Nope.  Free speech.  Nope.  No establishment of religion.  Nope.  No religious favoritism.  Nope.  Moslems and Buddhists, for example, don't get treated as well but then neither do the former main stream Protestants.

The fourth amendment prevents search and seizure in the home without a warrant issued upon reasonable cause.  Nope.  So help me Patriot Act.

The fifth amendment prevents the deprivation of life liberty and property without due process of law.  Nope.  We gotta be afraid of "terror."

The sixth amendment guarantees trial by jury.  Forget that.  People are even held without trial.  The exception of "war" is meaningless in this environment. Just like in the novel 1984. the "war on terror" insures that the US will always be at war.

Torture is prevented by the seventh amendment, "no cruel and unusual punishment."

The widespread use of mercenaries , not contractors was one of the major complaints against George III.

No where is there anything giving corporate "persons" a leg up on real persons.  The closest thing is the advantage given to the British East India Company and British fur traders.  The real tea party was aimed against corporate power.  The baggers are on the wrong side.


The Left needs to take this seriously. (4.00 / 2)
Because restricting birthright citizenship is emerging as the pound of flesh that the Right will extract in exchange for allowing immigration reform. This will tee up a court challenge which they not only welcome but will probably win. We need to keep to keep citizenship restrictions out of the immigration bill.

They can't overturn the 14th amendement (4.00 / 1)
and if they want some silly court challenge there, then I say screw them, and wait until filibuster reform goes through next session.  

[ Parent ]
The idea of challenging the constitutionality of an Amendment (0.00 / 0)
is so absurd, one is left speachless and unable to meaningfully respond. Your honor, I am filing suit against gravity and thunder!

This is like a bad Ally McBeal episode.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


[ Parent ]
I'm all for pushing back on this (4.00 / 1)
but what makes you think they would win a court battle over birth right citizenship? The Court is willing to overturn long standing precedent, but not when the idea has next to no support in the legal community.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
You sure? (4.00 / 1)
Because I wouldn't put anything past the Roberts court.

[ Parent ]
Ruh-roh. Someone's already tried to pass a bill restricting birthright citizenship (4.00 / 2)
In the exercise of its powers under section 5 of the Fourteenth Article of Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Congress has determined and hereby declares that any person born after the date of enactment of this title to a mother who is neither a citizen of the United States nor admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident, and which person is a national or citizen of another country of which either of his or her natural parents is a national or citizen, or is entitled upon application to become a national or citizen of such country, shall be considered as born subject to the jurisdiction of that foreign country and not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States within the meaning of section 1 of such Article and shall therefore not be a citizen of the United States or of any State solely by reason of physical presence within the United States at the moment of birth.

Who wrote this??? Senator Harry Reid


another link (4.00 / 1)
for people who don't like to download random files from the internet - S.1351 -- Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993

"An immigration push Reid regrets" quotes a speech Reid gave in 2006, but gives no source for it, saying Oh hey you know that thing I did? That was dumb. (i paraphrase.)

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.


[ Parent ]
These meshugunahs think the constitutional convention's still in session (4.00 / 1)
They make John Calhoun seem sane and reasonable in comparison. They think that the Articles of Confederation are still in effect (hey, did you know that the Constitutional Convention was convened and its output ratified contrary to the Articles, making ALL of it null and void). Cassius, bring me my mint julep and tell Brutus and Julius that I need to speak to them about Missy Scarlett's cotillion.

Seriously, five seconds of listening to Jon Kyl and it's so obvious that he's petulant over losing some of him rich white privilege to them northern agitators and their negra collaborators. The modern GOP is racist and elitist to the core--and filled with insane knuckle-draggers who if they didn't have rich parents would be digging graves and cleaning out toilets.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


It's more goosing the base and moving the 'window' (4.00 / 1)
Few if any GOP MCs would for a second imagine that such consitutional amendments were remotely possible.

(On nullifying Federal laws, we had signing statements under Bush that did something of the sort in a limited way - I've not seen how Obama has been using this trick, if at all.)

It's all the sort of propaganda that the GOP can produce with ease: the underinformed element of their base get some psychic return for their support of a corporatist party, and (some) lefties get driven wild, which is amusement for the propagandists.

From 'death panels' and 'pulling the plug on Grandma' to 'Kerry looks French' (and 'Kerry was a coward in Vietnam), they just have the knack.

And Bush's failed attempt to privatize social security? Dem MCs had been so obliging in letting so much of his stuff through, he needed a proposal sufficiently outrageous to find the limits of his ability to pass legislation!

And he helped 'move the window' a bit.

Remember South Carolina's finest, Olin Johnston, on Strom Thurmond's filibuster of the 1957 civil rights bill: "I reckon Strom really believes that shit."  


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