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Republicans Defend Slavery to Attack Kagan

May 10, 2010

One month after Republican Governors Bob McDonnell and Haley Barbour celebrated a slavery-free version of the Confederacy, the GOP is defending slavery in order to attack President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. In an RNC memo released today, Republicans blast the former clerk to Thurgood Marshall for concurring with her boss' assessment that the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted was "defective." Of course, that's just the latest rotted carcass of the Confederacy to be exhumed as a Republican talking point.
Unable to prevent three-fifths of the Senate from voting on Kagan's nomination, Republicans instead are suggesting the Founders' three-fifths of a person standard for counting slaves was no defect. As the Hill reported, the RNC, including Michael Steele, objects to Kagan's citation of a 1987 Marshall speech in a 1993 tribute to her late mentor. Among the offending if self-evident passages from the 1987 address by Marshall:

[T]he government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite "The Constitution," they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

Even more alarming to the Republican mind than Marshall's spotlight on the early Constitution ("We the People" included, in the words of the Framers, "the whole Number of free Persons.") was Kagan's approving citation of his belief that the mission of the Supreme Court was to "was to "show a special solicitude for the despised and the disadvantaged." Inquiring conservative minds, the Hill reported, now want to know:

"Does Kagan Still View Constitution 'As Originally Drafted And Conceived' As 'Defective'?" the RNC asked in its research document. "And Does Kagan Still Believe That The Supreme Court's Primary Mission Is To 'Show A Special Solicitude For The Despised And Disadvantaged'?"

But the shocking defense of slavery is just the latest episode of antebellum nostalgia from the Republican Confederacy of Dunces. From their inflammatory rhetoric to their resurrection of discredited Confederate notions of secession, nullification and states rights, the GOP's fans of Dixie constantly remind Americans that the old times there are not forgotten.
As the health care reform debate reached its climax in March, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was among those longing for the days of the antebellum South. Missing the irony that health care is worst in those reddest of Southern states where Republicans poll best, Broun took to the House floor to show that he was still fighting the Civil War:

"If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States -- the Great War of Yankee Aggression."

If you thought you had heard that outdated term of Dixie revisionist history recently, you did. In February 2009, Missouri Republican Bryan Stevenson took exception to President Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which codify the reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide:

"What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression."

The next logical step for the neo-Confederate s of the GOP is to threaten secession. And as ThinkProgress reported a year ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested to a furious Tea Party rally that the secession option should be on the table:

Perry told reporters following his speech that Texans might get so frustrated with the government they would want to secede from the union.

"There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Sadly for Perry and the secessionists, Supreme Court Justice and would-be Elena Kagan colleague Antonin Scalia crushed their hopes:

"If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede."

Hoping to stand the Civil War on its head, President Obama's Republican opponents are once again turning to nullification. Suggesting that South Carolina's effort to nullify federal tariffs starting in 1828 was a blessing, foes of the new health care reform law claiming state sovereignty trumps federal supremacy. The new "Tentherism" is embodied by Minnesota State Senator Tom Emmer, the Republicans' choice to succeed Governor Tim Pawlenty. As TPM recounted last week:

He has even proposed a state constitutional amendment that would allow federal laws to operate in Minnesota only if they were consented to by super-majorities of the state legislature.

(Sadly, Republican Civil War era propaganda has been successful in transforming American political discourse. A Pew Research Center poll found that 77% of respondents have a positive view of the term "states rights.")
And so it goes. As Republicans wage their battle against Elena Kagan as the latest front in their perpetual war against President Obama, they turn to the Constitution. Just not, TPM pointed out, the one you think. Under the Constitution of the Confederate States of America:

Language promoting "the general welfare" was omitted, while the right to own slaves was explicitly guaranteed although foreign slave trade was forbidden).

The president, serving a single six-year term, was given line-item veto power over the budget, and his cabinet awarded nonvoting seats in Congress. To guarantee Southerners their much-desired states' rights, the federal government had no authority to levy protective tariffs, make internal improvements, or overrule state court decisions, while states had the right to sustain their own armies and enter into separate agreements with one another, and were given greater power in amending the constitution.

So much for the Party of Lincoln.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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