Exclusive: Right-wing Republicans in Congress are plotting to cripple the U.S. government if Barack Obama, the first African-American president, doesn’t submit to their demands. The battle pretends to be over the size of government but it echoes the whips, chains and epithets of America’s racist past, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
The United States finds itself at a crossroad, with a choice of moving toward a multicultural future behind a more activist federal government or veering down a well-worn path that has marked various tragic moments of American history when white racists have teamed up with “small government” extremists.
Despite losing Election 2012 both in the presidential vote (by five million) and the overall tally for Congress (by one million) the Republicans are determined to use their gerrymandered House “majority” and their filibuster-happy Senate minority to slash programs that are viewed as giving “stuff” (in Mitt Romney’s word) to poorer Americans and especially minorities.
Republicans are gearing up to force a series of fiscal crises this fall, threatening to shut down the federal government and even default on the national debt, if they don’t get their way. Besides sabotaging President Barack Obama’s health reform law, the Republicans want to devastate funding for food stamps, environmental advancements, transportation, education assistance and other domestic programs.
“These are tough bills,” Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, told the New York Times. “His priorities are going nowhere.”
A key point is to slash help to what the Right sees as “undeserving” Americans, especially people of color. The ugly side of this crypto-racist behavior also surfaced in the gloating by right-wing pundits over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Fox News pundits, in particular, have mocked the outrage over the verdict from America’s black community and Obama’s personal expression of sympathy.
It is now clear that Obama’s election in 2008 was not the harbinger of a “post-racial” America, but rather the signal for white right-wingers to rally their forces to “take back America.” The fact that the modern Republican Party has become almost exclusively white and the nation’s minorities have turned more and more to the Democratic Party has untethered the GOP from any sense of racial tolerance.
There is now a white-supremacist nihilism emerging in the Republican strategy, a visceral contempt for even the idea of a multi-racial democracy that favors a more vigorous federal government. Some of these extremists seem to prefer sinking the world’s economy via a U.S. debt default than compromising with President Obama on his economic and social agenda.
Though the mainstream media avoids the white supremacist framing for the political story preferring to discuss the upcoming clash as a philosophical dispute over big versus small government, — the reality is that the United States is lurching into a nasty struggle over the preservation of white political dominance. The size-of-government narrative is just a euphemistic way of avoiding the underlying issue of race, a dodge that is as old as the Republic.
The Jeffersonian Myth
Even many liberals have fallen for the myth of the dashing Thomas Jefferson as the great defender of America’s Founding Principles when he was really a great hypocrite who served mostly as the pleasing political front man for the South’s chief industry, human slavery.
The popular history, perpetuated by authors such as Jon Meacham, downplays how Virginia’s plantation owners and other investors in slavery served as Jefferson’s political “base” helping to fund his propaganda battle and then his political war against George Washington’s Federalists who were the real designers of the Constitution with its dramatic concentration of power in the federal government. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]
Prominent Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason, were alarmed that the Constitution’s overturning of the states’ rights-oriented Articles of Confederation would inexorably lead to Northern domination and the eventual eradication of slavery.
After ratification, many of these Southern agrarian interests grew even more alarmed when the Federalists began using the expansive federal powers in the Constitution to begin creating the framework for a modern financial system, such as Alexander Hamilton’s national bank, and promoting a potent federal role in the nation’s development, such as George Washington’s interest in canals and roads.
With every move toward a more assertive national government, the Southern slaveholders saw a growing threat toward their economic interest in human bondage. After all, slavery was not just a cultural institution in the South; it was the region’s biggest capital investment.
Though Jefferson was in France when the Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788, his return in 1789 marked an important political moment in early U.S. history. The Anti-Federalists, stung by their bitter defeat at the hands of Washington’s Federalists over the Constitution, finally had a charismatic leader to rally behind.
Jefferson, who was a critic of the Constitution but not an outright opponent, retained an outsized reputation from the American Revolution as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a star intellect and a crafty political operative who, perhaps more than anyone else, personified the hypocrisy of the slave-owning Founders.
Though he had famously declared, as “self-evident” truth, that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he also was one of Virginia’s major slaveholders. And he engaged in the pseudo-science of racial supremacy, measuring the skulls of his African-American slaves to “prove” their inferiority.
Known as a harsh “master” when having runaway slaves punished, Jefferson lived in deathly fear that his slaves would rise up violently against him and his fellow plantation owners, much as the slaves of St. Domingue (today’s Haiti) did against their French plantation owners in the 1790s.
So, like Patrick Henry and George Mason, Jefferson wanted a strong state-controlled militia in Virginia to put down slave revolts while opposing a professional federal military which white Southerners saw as a potential threat to the future of slavery.
Despite Jefferson’s interest in maintaining slavery and his racist pronouncements, many modern writers have bought into the Jeffersonian version of early American history. In part, that may be because Jefferson was among the most handsome, most complex and most intellectual of the Founders. But that modern fascination with Jefferson frequently involves averting one’s gaze from the dark and racist underbelly of Jefferson’s personal beliefs and his political movement.
For instance, Meacham’s best-selling Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power says almost nothing about Jefferson’s real source of power, the South’s plantation structure. Instead, Jefferson’s advocacy for “farmers” and a “small-government” interpretation of the Constitution is taken at face value. Plus, few questions are asked about the fairness of his vituperative attacks on the Federalists, especially Hamilton and Adams. Those assaults are seen as simply an expression of Jefferson’s sincere republican spirit.
Meacham’s writing is instructive, too, on the Jefferson-slavery issues. Meacham focuses mostly on Jefferson’s taking a teenage slave girl, Sally Hemings, as his concubine, what could be regarded as rape, pedophilia or both. While Jefferson’s sexual exploitation of a vulnerable girl is certainly noteworthy in evaluating Jefferson’s character, the liaison is less significant historically than Jefferson’s role in defending slavery by revising the original (Federalist) interpretation of the Constitution.
The Federalists, who included the document’s principal drafters, understood that the Constitution granted very broad powers to the federal government to act in the national interest and on behalf of the general welfare. That was also the interpretation held by Anti-Federalists, explaining the intensity of the battle against ratification. So, by substituting a revisionist interpretation, stressing “states’ rights” and a tightly constrained federal government, Jefferson negated much of what the Framers had sought to do with the Constitution. He also set the country on course for the Civil War.
Before becoming President, Jefferson secretly conspired with some political forces in Kentucky on possible secession, and he helped devise the theory of nullification, the supposed right of the states to nullify federal law, which became a driving force in the South’s belief that it could secede from the Union.
Jefferson was one of the eight early presidents who owned slaves while in office (another four owned slaves while not in office). But Jefferson was one of the most unapologetic, insisting that blacks could never live as freed citizens in the United States and refusing to liberate his own slaves after his death (except for a few relatives of Sally Hemings).
When I visited Monticello some years ago, the tour guide pointed out the beautifully manicured Jefferson family cemetery, which was for white members of the household. When I asked where the slave cemetery was, I was told that no one knew. By contrast, Washington’s Mount Vernon has a respectfully maintained slave cemetery.
Meacham and other Jeffersonian apologists also miss many other layers of hypocrisy surrounding their hero, such as his near-hysterical condemnations of the Federalists as they struggled with the herculean task of building a functioning government under an untested constitutional framework, amid extraordinary international pressures and threats.
It is surely true that Washington, Hamilton and Adams made missteps in their efforts to pioneer this new form of government and thus left themselves open to political attack from Jefferson’s paid propagandists but historians who buy into Jefferson’s narrative ignore the unprecedented challenges that the Federalists faced.
The Federalists also were the ones, particularly Hamilton and Adams, who demonstrated sympathy and support for Haiti’s black freedom-fighters, while Jefferson did all he could to undermine their success. But Jefferson is the Founder who is praised for his open-mindedness. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rethinking Thomas Jefferson.”]
Though Jefferson skillfully exploited examples of the Federalists’ elitism and overreach to win the presidency in 1800, President Jefferson proved to be hypocritical, too, regarding his insistence on “limited government” narrowly defined by the Constitution’s “enumerated powers” as well as his supposed respect for freewheeling dissent and his love for freedom of the press.
After undermining President Adams over his signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts a wartime measure meant to suppress alleged foreign influence seeking to induce the young Republic to take sides in a European conflict Jefferson expressed his own sympathy for harsh measures against dissidents.
For instance, in 1803, President Jefferson endorsed the idea of prosecuting critical newspaper editors, writing: “I have long thought that a few prosecutions of the most eminent offenders would have a wholesome effect in restoring the integrity of the presses. Not a general prosecution, for that would look like persecution: but a selected one,” as cited by Meacham’s largely pro-Jeffersonian book.
On a similar note, after leaving the White House, Jefferson advised his successor and ally James Madison on what to do with Federalists who objected to going to war with Great Britain in 1812. As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg write in Madison and Jefferson, “Jefferson called for different measures in different parts of the country: ‘A barrel of tar to each state South of the Potomac will keep all in order,’ he ventured in August . ‘To the North they will give you more trouble. You may have to apply the rougher drastic of hemp and confiscation’ by which he meant the hangman’s noose and the confiscation of property.”
In other words, Jefferson, who has gone down in school history books as a great defender of freedom of speech, urged the sitting President of the United States to “tar” war dissenters in the South and to hang and dispossess dissenters in the North.
Jefferson was similarly hypocritical when it came to his views on “limited government.” He arguably was the first imperial president, dispatching the Navy to battle the Barbary pirates before seeking congressional approval and then negotiating the purchase of the Louisiana Territories despite the absence of any “enumerated” power to that effect in the Constitution.
As even an admirer like Meacham was forced to acknowledge, Jefferson “believed in a limited government, except when he thought the nation was best served by a more expansive one.” So, Jefferson’s opposition to the Federalists’ view of the Constitution was less philosophical than political. He, like them, adopted a pragmatic approach, accepting that the Constitution did not anticipate all challenges that might confront the country.
While one might commend Jefferson’s flexibility even though he decried similar actions by the Federalists the public impression of Jeffersonian “small government” principles became more absolute and dangerous. As the nation’s early decades progressed, Southern slaveholders seized on Jefferson’s constitutional positions in defending the South’s investment in slavery and its expansion to new states.
Jefferson had put a powerful stamp on the young country through his own two-term presidency and those of his Virginia colleagues James Madison and James Monroe. By end of this so-called Virginia Dynasty in 1825, the permanence of slavery had been burnt deeply into the flesh of not only the original Southern states but new ones to the west.
In the ensuing decades, as the national divisions over slavery sharpened, the South escalated its resistance to federal activism, opposing even non-controversial matters like disaster relief. As University of Virginia historian Brian Balogh noted in his book, A Government Out of Sight, Southerners asserted an extreme version of states’ rights in the period from 1840 to 1860 that included preventing aid to disaster victims.
Balogh wrote that the South feared that “extending federal power” even to help fellow Americans in desperate need “might establish a precedent for national intervention in the slavery question,” as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted in a May 22 column.
The intensity of the South’s hatred toward a reformist federal government exploded into warfare once an anti-slavery candidate, Republican Abraham Lincoln, won the presidency. The South rekindled Jefferson’s old flirtations with nullification and secession, even though Lincoln was willing to continue tolerating slavery to save the Union.
But Southern politicians saw the handwriting on the wall what Patrick Henry and George Mason had warned about the inevitability of Northern dominance and the eventual demise of slavery.
The bloody Civil War ended slavery but it also stoked the bitterness of white Southerners who reacted to federal amendments granting citizenship rights to blacks by engaging in the terror of the Ku Klux Klan and broad resistance against Reconstruction. Finally, the North’s determination to reshape the South as a place of racial equality dissipated and Union troops were withdrawn in 1877. A near century of Jim Crow laws, lynching of blacks and racial segregation ensued.
When the federal government finally moved to outlaw the South’s apartheid system in the 1950s and 1960s, white racists mounted a new political resistance, this time by forsaking the Democratic Party, which had spearheaded the major civil rights laws of the era, and migrating in droves to the new Republican Party, which used racial code words to make white racists feel welcome.
The key subliminal message was opposition to “big guv-mit,” an allusion that white racists understood to mean less interference with their suppression of black votes and black rights.
Just as the civil rights victories of the 1960s were viewed as a resumption of America’s march toward racial equality that was begun a century earlier with the Civil War, so too the petering out of this so-called Second Reconstruction paralleled the original Reconstruction, which ended also about century earlier.
With the emergence of right-wing Republican Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s, the white racist resistance to civil rights found another charismatic front man, who like Jefferson pushed the message of “small government” and “states’ rights.”
The Reagan era marked a reversal of the strides that America had taken after World War II to open mainstream society to black citizens. But it also signaled a retreat on other federal initiatives, including regulation of Wall Street and other industries.
So, besides worsening the financial standing of many blacks and other minorities, Reaganomics returned to a boom-and-bust economy of an earlier capitalism. The Great American Middle Class, which had emerged with the help of federal laws after World War II, began to shrink, though many whites, especially in the South, stuck with the Republicans because of the party’s hostility to helping blacks.
But there was still a national push-and-pull over whether to resume a march toward a more equitable society or to embrace Jim Crow II, a more subtle and sophisticated arrangement for disenfranchising black and brown Americans.
Some political observers believed the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president was a point of no return toward a multi-cultural America. However, instead of heralding a day of greater racial tolerance, Obama’s presidency intensified the determination of right-wing whites to do whatever is necessary to make his presidency fail.
That battle appears likely to get even uglier this fall as the House Republican “majority” plots to shut down the federal government and even default on the nation’s debt if the African-American president doesn’t surrender to their political demands.
Pundits are sure to frame this donnybrook as an ideological fight over the principles of “small government,” but behind that will be a replay of the South’s historic insistence on maintaining white supremacy.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.
I’m surprised these old fossils even have time for racism. If you read “Classified Woman” by Sibel Edmons, you will understand that they are so busy protecting their patch and lining their pockets that this takes up all of their time. There is corruption with a small ‘c’. This is when you have to bribe a guard to cross a border or give an official a couple of bucks to put your form on the top of the pile. Then there is CORRUPTION with all capitals and this is what pervades the American bureaucracy. They have long since forgotten what they were voted into office to do.
As a Black Man age 62, its very easy to see why the RepubliKKKans have a problem
with President OBlackBama.
What are they going to when around the year 2035 or Whites in America will be the New Minority?
Perhaps they will carve out an area in the North and North East and call it, AngloLand?
History has never been on the side of Racists.
Karen Lee’s rebuttal is outstanding. I would add/clarify ‘anti-federalists’ were by no means limited to southern states and slave sympathies. There was general angst of a central government over-reach that included many in the northern states and having nothing to do with slavery but with general tyranny per se. The so-called ‘anti-federalist’ amendments (Bill of Rights) were ratified by states in the north, not only the south and it is clear they were a carefully crafted compromise promised promised by the federalists to get the anti-federalist support to turn out the constitution and the states rights amendment ten is clearly subject to the supremacy clause (article six.)
That political movements will misrepresent the general demands of the rule of law laid down in the constitution is nothing out of the ordinary, it is certainly nothing new and it has never been limited to southern bigots. In any nation (such as ours) where political lies are protected speech, it follows avarice and bigotry will always have the advantage if only because people who play by the rules will be at a disadvantage to those easily subvert the rules to their own advantage.
Obama, if only because he is Black in color (if not philosophy) has gotten away with more constitutional violations than Bush ever dared dream of, all with knee jerk liberal support. That fact does not erase the ill of what Parry (somewhat inaccurately) writes about. Nor does the behaviors of what should better be described as Christian nationalism concealing a racist agenda excuse the excesses of Obama when it comes to undermining the rule of law, particularly in relation to the supposed civil liberties written into the first through eighth amendments. If the CIA or FBI violated your rights and Obama Attorney General Holder claims ‘state secrets privilege’, your right to petition for redress is dead, example given.
For an excellent take on Obama policies concerning the Black community by some very savvy Black people, there is much good reading at ‘The Black Agenda Report’ (google it)
As always, Mr. Parry’s work is outstanding. So is “Consortium”Consortium for its courage to print the truth. The Consortium’s attitude of “damn the torpedoes; Full speed ahead” symbolizes what excellent journalism stands for. The Honorable Mr. Parry provides the the intellectual force. Long live both.
The Republican Party they are the root of all evil
Itâ€™s obvious the GOP assault on Obama has played to extant racism in the US, but it can be argued that itâ€™s a cynical rather than heart-felt phenomenon. Along with other rightwing wedge issues, itâ€™s aimed at garnering electoral support for policies that benefit the wealthy. I think you may have over-played the card, however, particularly by centering on Meachamâ€™s work. Jeffersonâ€™s ownership of slaves did, indeed, war against his other statements that were fired by enlightenment ideals, but his behavior was shaped by his class and times. Measuring his slavesâ€™ skulls likely helped him justify a business model that provided him the luxury of travelling, corresponding, and agitating for independence.
A better understanding, in my view, is found in the meticulously researched â€œAlbionâ€™s Seed: Four British Folkways in America.â€ Looking at the main sources of immigration to US regions, D. H. Fischer notes that the Virginia Colony was predominantly populated by English West Country â€˜second sonsâ€™, i.e. non-landed gentry seeking such wealth as their older brothers inherited. They brought along their belief in the right of aristocracy, granted the vote to land-owning white males, and cried out for Liberty â€¦ for themselves.
In â€œFounding Brothers,â€ Joseph Ellis scours the correspondence among the founders, and points out that Jefferson recognized the even stiffer resistance to emancipation among plantation owners further south. He used that sentiment to argue that tackling slavery at that early stage would tear apart the vulnerable young Union before it had a chance to stabilize. He was not alone in that view, and it was not included in our Articles or Constitution. In fact, when slavery and related issues of regional economic disparity finally came to a head in the next century, the country was engulfed by civil war.
Perhaps if we look at our â€˜great personsâ€™ in their historical perspective, we can spend less time arguing about whether they were virtuous or racist or elitist or populist. None were perfect; some were less personally virtuous than the resounding rhetoric they produced. They should be judged, however, in the setting of their times and mores, as should present day personages. Our arguments could focus, then, on whether 18th century concerns are still with us. What many saw as right in 1776 has long since been judged wrong. Laws have been adjusted to reflect our human progress, and those changes are always under threat from the selfish. That some still hold outdated views, believing they set their own â€˜tribesâ€™ above others should not be surprising. That still others exploit those views for their own ends is also to be expected and overcome, again and again. The selfish will always be with us, and they will always try to take back what they think is theirs alone.
If Jefferson were alive today, would he think slavery a good thing? Quite possibly not. Would he have re-written the Declaration that has somehow stood eloquent and inspiring across all our changes? No, I think heâ€™d marvel that it has. What, indeed, would Jefferson make of Obamaâ€™s cranial measurements after an evening spent together, discussing the progress weâ€™ve made and the distance still to go?
Bravo, Karen Lee…well said!
Astute. The context is the issue. My father had an expression that continually resonates with me – “vas you der, Charlie?” ie., without knowing the circumstances, it’s difficult to assess actions.
wrf1984 wrote, “… among old white men (which is my demographic, Iâ€™m embarrassed to say), there is nothing he can do to appease them in any way.” Huh? What’s there to be embarrassed about? You were born white, and you lived long enough to be considered old. Me too. If you feel embarrassed, it should only be because of your own thoughts or actions.
please shut up your lieing. you wanted him back and see what you get in the end.
SIDNEY MOSS on July 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm said:
so this is rabid racism underwritten by white billionaire ceoâ€™s of major corporations who want to prevent America from becoming a strong multicultural multiracial country.
so this is rabid racism underwritten by white billionaire ceo’s of major corporations who want to prevent America from becoming a strong multicultural multiracial country.
HELLO IF YOU ARE WHITE YOU ARE ALL RIGHT. IF YOU ARE BROWN YOU CAN STICK AROUND.IF YOU ARE BLACK THEN I AM BACK YOU STAND BACK.
To Raleigh Monroe:
Just by ur comment, we understand that you are immature, uneducated, and over-all ignorant.
Or possibly being satirical. And by most accounts, Sally Hemmings was the half sister of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha(Skelton). They shared a father. Possibly even a bit weirder on T.J.’s part.
With your kind permission:
If you’s white, you’s all right
If you’s brown, stick aroun’
But, if you’s black
I AM BACK
Stand back, stand back, stand back.
FYI – in case anyone doesn’t recognize – the lyrics to a song by blues singer Big Bill Broonzy titled ‘Get Back’
I am not a Republican and am not a racist. I do not love Obama, nor did I love Bush. My problem with Obama is that he has morphed into Bush. He has exceeded Bush when it comes to sending predatory drones to Africa and the Middle East…54 during the 8 years of the Bush administration…to over 300 during the first 3 years of the Obama administration. Did Bush have his own personal Kill List?
My training does not allow me to comment on this piece of writing in a scholarly manner. However, I have read Jon Meachem’s book on Jefferson enough to see that Jefferson feared that the successful revolt in Haiti [La Dominque] could mean trouble for the USA as it went forward with so many African Americans.
I further see the outpouring of energy toward initially making Obama a ‘One-term’ president and now to try to make him ineffective at all to quite agree with Parry’s assessment with our current sad state of national politics.
Submission to Republican demands will do nothing for president Obama. Let’s face it, they hate his race and are using it to marginalize him.
And among old white men (which is my demographic, I’m embarrassed to say), there is nothing he can do to appease them in any way. He needs to realize this and govern around them to the best of his ability.
The test? When he leaves office in 2017–he will NOT be replaced by another African-American of either party. Let’s see how much of this rabid, hateful “Tea-Party” Republicanism, along with “militia movements” goes away then.
Obama’s election provided an opportunity to recover from the loss of white privilege in recent decades. Rich white people are not so much racist as they are conservative of their wealth and privilege.
White’s privileges have never been diminished, never. Rich people are indeed racist because that is a sure way to guarantee that their properties are kept from being distributed with more equity. For example, in the Democratic Party, purportedly pro-inclusion of all, the Big Tent, there are multimillionaires and yet they pass as progressives (Nancy Pelosi, to mention one). So to be rich in America -from the beginning of the Republic- is only because you are racist and your are racist because you are rich. Redundant statement? Perhaps. But we must not forget that there is a sizable multimillionaire Negro families that hide from everything and want nothing to do with either Negroes, whether they are educated, rich, and politically powerful. This is an oligarchic Negro class who are as powerful as Henry Ford was and others like him. Racism is part and parcel of White America because from the beginning, the New World was seen not as a place for the advancement of western civilization as was known the, but an extension of British capitalist investor that expected a return. Sadly, we are led to believe a “pretty history” of what our Country really is, i.e., Our America is still waiting for someone or someones to start righting the real history of our country. The issue is very complex because what has passed as Founding of the Republic history is nothing but a long sabre tooth cat biting the jugular of those who want to think of American Exceptionalism. It would appear that from the very end of the ceremony ending the presence of the British in America, the people were left out on purpose and thus we started the descent into a pletho9ra of lies. I, unfortunately, do not have proof of what I have written here although I do state that I am reading more and more about the way our History has been shrouded to give the appearance of Lady Liberty, when in fact, the shroud is made of polyester. Thus, we really do not know our History and by “we,” I mean Us who are on the outside.