It’s simply unavoidable: You’ll have to do some reading for this to make sense.
First: HARBESON: Looking at Lincoln’s legacy ... "I’m used to seeing lots of references about Abraham Lincoln in February, but the volume has certainly been pumped up this year since we are celebrating his 200th birthday ... "
Second: MATTHEWS: Read your history, Ms. Harbeson ... "How utterly disgusting that we should even dignify so selfish an opinion as Debbie Harbeson’s piece concerning Lincoln’s legacy."
Before wading in, know that I’m casual acquaintances with both columnists.
Debbie’s column was published first. In it, she approaches the legacy of Abraham Lincoln by asking a few general questions about individual freedom vs. the collective’s coercive impulses. Of course, we know that her columns usually offer considerations from a libertarian perspective. Furthermore, apart from labels, we should be able to see that examinations of this sort are the ideal mechanism for debating prevailing orthodoxy – and that’s never a bad thing.
When it comes to the life and legacy of Lincoln, my readings have been sporadic, but I recognize that the non-critical acceptance of mythology is hardly the best place to embark upon a journey of balanced understanding, whether it pertains to the lessons of Father Abraham or those of any other historical figure.
In fact, upon rereading Debbie’s piece, I’m still struck by its mildness. She isn’t attempting a comprehensive study, just extracting a few talking points by tweaking the popular perception of Lincoln as a (formerly) living God. Somewhere Howard Zinn is saying, “yes, but what about (this and that and this) … ?”
By contrast, Dave’s wild-eyed response is profoundly disproportionate, and amid his arm-waving and histrionics, he seems to have completey failed to see the real point of Debbie’s ruminations. In effect, the GOP chairman erects a straw man roughly the size of a GI Joe doll, fires a howitzer of ad hominem assumptions at it from point-blank range … and not unexpectedly, misses the target entirely.
Worst of all, Dave expends precious little effort in answering Debbie’s questions about Lincoln, beyond implying that whatever civil liberties Honest Abe trampled by suspending habeas corpus proved to be a cost worth incurring to prevent Southerners from exercising their preference to own slaves.
This is muddled, to say the least. Historians have consistently pointed to Lincoln’s constantly evolving positions on slavery. Do we teach school children that until relatively late in the Civil War, Lincoln still favored sending all of “them” back to Africa? No, we don’t, but it’s factual, isn’t it?
As for the notion of states’ rights, I’m as northern as they come in temperament, but it’s difficult for anyone to plausibly contest that in the context of Lincoln’s age, the seceding states had a better understanding of the country’s conceptual foundation than the Union’s own supporters, as might be paraphrased: “As we seceded from the British, now we secede from the Union.”
As I seem to recall the historian James McPherson writing some years ago, the real revolution was being waged by Lincoln, who by espousing the principle of keeping the country together at whatever cost was reinterpreting the nation’s founding in a completely new and different way. Seen in this light, the South’s secession was a pre-emptive counter revolution. Lincoln changed the rules of the game, and we might be able to muster a good debate on this topic.
But Dave’s too busy vigorously defaming what he imagines as Debbie’s character (and political views) to consider such matters for honest discussion. He decries the decadent American impulse to topple heroes and equates it with liberalism, although he offers no proof, and mistakes Debbie for a liberal without explaining what that might mean, preferring instead to let it serve as a term meant to inspire primal fear.
Hint to Dave: Debbie’s a libertarian. Arguably, there are more libertarians in conservative ranks than liberal, which is a discussion for another day. I’m the liberal 'round here.
You may begin the neo-Pavlovian salivating now.
At any rate, it’s all downhill from there, and I find it discouraging that the chief of the local Republican Party can’t muster a better argument than Dave does. Instead, Dave sprays conservative clichés in all directions, evidently in a calculated act of grandstanding, rather as though he sees Debbie’s presumed (and highly inaccurate) un-Americanism as a wonderful pretext to toss raw meat to the faithful. It may be good primeval politics, but it’s very poor argumentation.
Now, for my responses:
Does Dave really want us to believe that military service is a prerequisite for properly understanding the American dream?
Does he really think that taking an intellectually honest, critical look at our nation’s history somehow constitutes disloyalty to the concept?
Does he really want us to come away from all this with a view of the Republican Party as the entity that vigorously opposes free speech insofar as free speech implies a judicious look at cause and effect, and dare I say, a scientific approach to history?
Shall we be mindless drones deferring to the views of former soldiers?
If so, isn’t that a bit closer to fascistic ways of thinking than the American Dream?
Dave, you can do better – at least I hope so.
Your response to Debbie’s is about personal anger first and foremost, followed by rank politicking. Debbie’s message was this: “Lincoln … think about it.” Your response was this: “Lincoln … let’s not start thinking or anything subversive like that … just have faith in the myth, and damn the liberals.