February 21, 2008 - Issue 265
The Biggest Lie Ever Told:
Every time I hear Republican Candidate John McCain refer his party as the “Party of Lincoln,” I wince. It is probably one of most factually inaccurate references in politics today. In fact, if you were to measure it against some of the biggest lies ever told, it would be right up there with the great “old lies” like Columbus discovered America and Lincoln Freed The Slaves, or the new lies like Smoking doesn’t kill (one of the greatest lies) and “I did not have sex with ‘that woman,’ Ms. Lewinsky!” Save those lies; the Republican party as the “Party of Lincoln,” is the biggest lie ever told.
The only thing today’s Republican Party has in common with the Radical Republicans of the 1850s and 1860s is the name. It’s like saying the Ford at the turn of the 1900s is the same car Ford makes in the 2000s. Or the Jeffersons of 18th Century (related to Thomas) is the same Jeffersons (related to George) of the 20th Century. Both the face and the mindset are different.
The constant reference to Republicans being the Party of Lincoln is purposeful. It infers that there is a sentimentality in the party around being inclusive, being principled, being the party of new ideas and even newer practices. While it couldn’t be further from the truth, McCain needs to say that to convince the conservative arm of his party to embrace him, a liberal moderate, as the leader of the party. McCain is trying to force a “culture change” in his party, while advocating against the culture change that is taking place before his eyes - the notion of a black or woman President.
The Republican Party of the 19th Century led the culture change to abolish slavery, went to war (Civil War) to back it up and managed the reconstruction of a nation without slavery. That Republican Party was at the front of the change. This Republican Party is fighting change and will be the last to reform. There’s a big difference between bringing up the front and bringing up the rear. This Republican Party can’t compare itself to its former self. There is no comparison. Here’s why: The Republican Party came together out of a coalition of old Federalists, disgruntled Democrats (forced out of the Party by Jacksonians), and the disbanning of the Whigs (the other major party of the National Two Party Rule Period) over their inability to come together on an ideological position over the expansion of slavery. The anti-slavery movement was at an all-time high as the Democrats sought to use the 1857 Dred Scott decision as a national referendum on the citizenship status of blacks and, more critically, the expansion of slavery.
The Republican Party first appeared on the national ballot in 1856, but by 1860 had expanded the coalition broadly enough to elect a President who was thought to be anti-slavery, Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln argued that he was personally against slavery on moral grounds, he wasn’t opposed to the institution of slavery as long as it was held to its existing boundaries. Lincoln, in essence, was against the expansion of slavery and frequently stated that it didn’t mean he was for black equality (he wasn’t) but he did view slavery as America’s curse.
His party, however, was clearly for the total abolishment of slavery. They were called “radical” in their thought and were thus labeled, “Radical Republicans.” Southern states threatened that if Lincoln was elected President, they would consider it an affront on the culture of the South, and they would leave the Union. Lincoln was, and eleven southern states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America before Lincoln took the oath of office. Lincoln never governed over a unified nation but the Radical Republicans looked up and found that they had a majority in Congress. They proceeded to work on Lincoln to deconstruct slavery.
Lincoln, like McCain, was a moderate. Lincoln’s views were to the right of the original Republican party, while McCain’s views are to the left of today’s ideologically realigned Republican Party. But unlike McCain, Lincoln was viewed by his party as an agent of his party’s change agenda. McCain is viewed as an anomaly to his party “status quo” agenda. Let’s get one thing clear while we’re on this topic - Lincoln DID NOT FREE THE SLAVES. Lincoln resisted his party’s call for emancipation for two years into the Civil War. Only when the North was losing the war, did Lincoln move to sign the Emancipation Proclamation - and only for states rebelling against the Union. Lincoln could not afford to abolish slavery as six slave-holding states fighting in the Union cause would have defected.
Lincoln was assassinated five days after the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox. The “Radical Republicans” pushed forward with an even more conservative, pro-slavery President, Andrew Johnson, in place, passing the Reconstruction Amendments (13th - abolishing slavery, 14th - giving citizenship, due process and equal protection to Blacks, 15th - voting rights to black males) and required re-admitted states to abide by the new cultural standards. For nearly 100 years, Southerners said they would never be a part of the party of Lincoln for the party's abolishing of slavery and so spent most of that time, first as Democrat “Redeemers” eroding the gains of Reconstruction (1877-1896), then as “Dixiecrats” (1901-1968), enforcing segregation politics.
When Conservative Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, succeeded JFK in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, picked up the mantle of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement and signed the Civil Rights legislation of 1964, 1965 and 1968, southerners left the party. They showed up in the Republican Party in 1968 (as part of Nixon’s southern strategy) and in full force in 1980 when Reagan announced his Presidential candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Former Dixiecrats Strom Thurman and Trent Lott (and others) became spokespersons for the party in the Reagan Revolution’s Era of “New Optimism.” Dixie’s new optimists became the party’s leaders in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 (Newt Gingrich) and the New “Colorblind” Conservatism became entrenched by Bush I and through the 1990s, where, by the time “W” came about, conservative ideologues ran (and still run) the Party. What McCain faces in the revival of the Republican Party is nowhere near what Lincoln faced. Lincoln faced a divided nation that wanted a change that Lincoln favored. McCain faces a divided party over change that his nation wants, but that he and his most of his party resist.
There is no way this is the Party of Lincoln, and the Republicans need to stop invoking Lincoln, as if they are somehow connected to the ideological mindset that Lincoln’s party represented. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want that kind of change. So, they need to stop telling that lie. They are not Lincoln’s party. This is not your great, great grand-daddy’s Republican Party. They just have the name of Lincoln’s party.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the new book, Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Click here to contact Dr. Samad.