July 16, 2002

[Not] Of the People:
Why the Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln

The Republicans get as much mileage as they can out of the fact that Lincoln was the first Republican president, but even they must know how ridiculous it is for them to call themselves "The Party of Lincoln." Even they have to know that they've gone about 180 degrees from practically all of the things that made so many believe that Lincoln was the greatest American president.

This should be so obvious as to require no explanation at all. But today we must address ourselves to an media environment so skewed that within that environment it is considered an unquestioned fact that George W. Bush is a legally and legitimately elected president. To see Bush stand up in front of Congress and say, "They hate what they see in this room, democratically elected leaders…" and have no reaction from the media other than genuflection shows how much of a fantasy world they maintain. It's getting more and more ridiculous and, as a result, more difficult to maintain.

Bush's big 9-11 speech in which he was allegedly transformed from frat boy to a figure of Churchillian dimension is another one of those moments you really have to stop and think about to get the full effect of all the ways it was totally whacky. Here is George W. Bush telling us that these monsters hate us and want to kill us because we are free, because we believe in democracy, freedom of the individual, and the rest of the standard items. Besides the fact that the statement makes no sense no matter how evil you imagine the monsters he is evoking to be - look who is saying it!

This guy is "president" as a result of the ugliest campaign of lies, manipulation and intimidation ever seen in American presidential politics. He blatantly stole an office he did not win through double-talking, lying, threats of violence, tampering with the Florida government's computer system, tapping political buddies on the Supreme Court to get them to turn out the most ridiculous judicial decision ever produced in any country, or any county for that matter, so he could claim the presidency. And after making the American people swallow that whole Florida fiasco (complete with thugs, stripping people of their voting rights, and every trick in the book of old time political corruption) he continues to rub it in, to draw attention to it in blatant references like that.

Powell also drew the contradiction out in bold terms when he wrote to the government of Zimbabwe about that country's election, saying, "The pre-election period was marked by a sustained, government-orchestrated campaign of intimidation and violence, and the numerous and profound irregularities in the electoral process itself resulted in an outcome that did not reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe. As a result, Mr. Mugabe may claim victory, but not democratic legitimacy."

How could he say that? How could he come right out and say that in front of everybody, just that way, drawing attention so explicitly to the crimes that brought his regime to power? It so perfectly describes what happened here! Can he not be aware of that? Is that possible?

Strange as it is to contemplate, the inescapable answer is no. It is practically impossible to contemplate a man of Colin Powell's experience and intelligence being unaware of that glaring incongruity. It cannot be attributed to ignorance. It cannot have been an error. It was not an off-the-cuff remark, it was a formal letter for all the world to see. So we have no choice but to assume that it is intentional. It is strategic, as is every move the Bush guys make.

I believe the strategy is to re-write history, it is a conscious campaign to reiterate the lie so many times, so blatantly and loudly, to overtly turn the truth on its head and do it with great fanfare until it wipes the truth from people's minds. It's classic propaganda, a mental bludgeon.

The one antidote to propaganda is critical thinking. applying logic to a series of propositions to see if they hold up. This Lincoln thing is another Big Lie, but it's so big even these Herculean liars don't pull it out that much.

Why aren't the Republicans "the party of Lincoln"? Let me count the ways. I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence by stating the elementary and obvious, but can there be any doubt in anyone's mind that today's Republicans are the spiritual and ideological descendants of the Confederacy? Lincoln's diametric and mortal enemy in the struggle of his life, the struggle that defined his life, that is the reason there is a Lincoln in American history?

The South stood for slavery, for an aristocratic and hierarchical society. The aristocratic feudalism of the American south is on a straight line of historical development between the old monarchies of Europe and the fascist dictatorships of the 20th century. Modern fascism is an industrialized form of feudalism, or monarchy. The south believed - as the monarchies before it and as the Republicans today, that some people are supposed to own the world and lord over others and that that order of things must be protected against change that would disrupt it. This in inherently not a democratic idea. It is in direct opposition to democracy, and the activities in Florida in 2001 are only the most blatant expression of that opposition, which is fundamental to all the Republican positions.

The south believed in slavery, the north didn't. That was the issue from which the violence erupted and grew into an epic struggle. Republicans dismiss that today and say, "Lincoln fought the war to save the union and only later threw out the Emancipation Proclamation as a strategem of the war." It is true that saving the union was Lincoln's first priority and his ultimate concern. But it is also true that the secession itself grew out of the national dispute between "free states" and "slave states." It's also true that there were essential economic disputes underlying the struggle and it was a division between the northern industrialized country and the Southern agrarian culture, but none of this detracts from the fact that slavery was the issue that drove it all to a violent clash.

Slavery was the worst aspect of the difference between the two world views. The conflict was not over race as much as over issues of whether to have a free society as the founding documents of the country spell out, or a slave state, as the Southern states were aptly called. The two world views are still locked in struggle in today's world.

The odd correspondences between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations that were passed around as folklore after the Kennedy assassination (they were presidents elected 100 years apart; they both had vice presidents who were southern Democrats named Johnson; Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln, Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy, and so forth…) resonated in the population as much as they did because people sensed that there were other underlying parallels between the two periods, but the connections were hard to define.

In fact, many of the same struggles were still playing out in the theater of the 1960s that tore the country apart in the 1860s. Black people were still subject to the Jim Crow segregation laws that were put in place in the South after Lincoln's death, and which returned the former slaves to a state that was not quite slavery, but was certainly well under the foot of white southerners. "States Rights" had become the modern form of the secessionist position in the Civil War. The struggle had not vanished with the end of the war, but had transmuted and infused itself into the character of American politics. A century after Lincoln the major parties had changed places in the issues that defined the Civil War and still define political struggles in today's America.

What had been the solid Democratic South became the solid Republican South. The inheritors of the aristocratic, conservative, keep-the-powerful-powerful ideology are the Republicans. Unfortunately there is no political party that champions the free state side of the war: democracy and equal rights. Both major parties have been co-opted by the major corporate powers, who almost by definition favor the hierarchical structure of society over the democratic.

So without dumbing down the obvious too much, it seems almost self-evident that the Republicans of today represent the enemies of Lincoln, not Lincoln himself. In the ways that the new Bush II-Rove-Gingrich-Republican Revolutionaries are different from the Confederacy, they are worse. Their other spiritual ancestor is the Nazis. They are different from the Confederacy in the ways their world has changed in a century. Fascism is the industrialized, corporatized version of the aristocracy that existed in the agrarian South. The essential difference is that the industrialized version is supercharged with the energy and social organization that characterized the industrial revolution. Today's Republicans are a more concentrated version of the confederacy, the way Nazi Germany was a modern, mechanized version of the monarchies of Europe. The change is not a good one, if you prefer democracy.

If it wasn't obvious in the first place, and if it's not obvious now that the Republicans are not the heirs to Lincoln's beliefs, let's turn to Lincoln's own words. You could pick almost anything Lincoln ever said and overlay it over today's politics and it will be clear he has little affinity with Newt Gingich, Tom Delay, George W. Bush, Trent Lott, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney in any but the most superficial sharing of a few words, which in the case of modern politicians are used disingenously in almost all cases.

For example, the way George W. Bush or Colin Powell used the word "democracy" in the above quotes is a blatant contradiction to its literal meaning. It's an Orwellian trick that helps to confuse and diffuse the public dialogue so people won't get on to them. It's a semantic smokescreen. And they know what they are doing, though they would never admit it.

One quote of Lincoln has been occurring to me often lately in reference to the overactive production of lies by the Bush administration. Starting with the stories about the Clinton vandalism of the White House, which was proven to be false; through the threats against Air Force One on Sept. 11, which were also proven false; the bizarre stories about the pretzel, which just sounded ridiculous; to the recent prevarications about whether anyone in the administration actually read the famous environmental report, the Bushies seem to be constantly creating fantastic stories. It almost seems they just say whatever comes into their heads and hope it has the effect they want it to have.

On this subject Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." The Bushie's seem to believe they can, but Lincoln was a wise man and I think he was right. It's going to catch up to them.

Less often quoted are Lincoln's concerns about corporations, which had already started to show their character at that time to a visionary on the order of Lincoln. "I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country," he said. "Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

Stunning how perfectly he foresaw our current state in the 21st Century. Lincoln was a literary mind who often produced language as stirring and eloquent as Shakespeare or Keats. His Gettysberg Address is widely considered one of the great literary works of history. Pulling it out of the mechanical repetition of a Disney animatronic figure and examining it in light of the election of 2001 and today is again stunning.

Lincoln referred first to the unique historic moment when the founders of the United States "brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Here he is stating a fact, quoting the Declaration of Independence.

"Now," he continues, "we are engaged in a great Civil War testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure." This is exactly the question we collided with head-on when the Supreme Court stopped the counting of votes in 2001. That was the legal negation of precisely what Lincoln is referring to. Can a democratic nation endure? It was a question then only 80-some years since the founding the republic. It is very much a question in 2002.

This is the question which the modern southern Republicans and the compromised Supreme Court once again brought out and put on our table. Can democracy survive? If the holy polls are telling the truth, a majority of Americans are so fearful now they are content to let democracy and civil liberties go. I never believe the polls, but at the same time it's hard to completely dismiss them.

The Patriot Act took away the right to due process of law. Initially it was only done on paper. Now they are exercising it, and they are starting with people like Jose Padilla, who they can say is a lowlife. They show pictures, police drawings. He's obviously one of those brown, criminal types. He even changed his Spanish name to a Muslim name. If that doesn't prove he's a terrorist, how much proof do you need?

If we let it go with Padilla, then we have a legal precedent and there is no legal line between Padilla and you. You only have social protection. If you are in the right class, you will be relatively safe. But not necessarily. The thing is, you have no legal protection. The Constitution guarantees due process. But the Patriot Act negated it. It's an inherent conflict. It now remains to be seen where the legal collision is going to take place. If it goes to the Supreme Court under Rhenquist and Scalia and their sidekick Clarence, do you feel confident your legal rights will be protected? December 2001 cured me of that confidence for a long time.

If we choose to follow Lincoln's cause, as opposed to that of the Confederacy, then our job (should we choose to accept it) is: "to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Let's just get one part very clear, corporate America: that's "of the people, by the people and for the people."

-- David Cogswell

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