Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinkin' Lincoln

Yesterday I posted the following status update on my Facebook account, little imagining the tempest I was about to unleash:

My opinion on the opponents of health care reform, economic stimulus, and new financial regulations:
"The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty."
- Abraham Lincoln (1864)

You are just on with the statuses today Matt.

except that he was talking about the war, not government control of our healthcare system. I would apply this statement, much more aptly, to Bush.

Actually, Lincoln was specifically rebutting an argument used by oppressors of African-American rights - namely, that not being allowed to subjugate black people constituted an injustice against themselves. I think this is very much in keeping with the logic used by the wealthy who oppose economic stimulus, by the insurance companies in trying to halt health care reform, by Wall Street companies in trying to halt financial regulations, etc. If you wish for the greater context of the speech, check out "Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, MD - April 18, 1864".
PS: Let it be noted that there were many poor white people in America who, despite not owning slaves and therefore deriving no personal profit from supporting that institution, were nevertheless duped by plantation owners into supporting the wrong cause. I would lump the millions who have thrown their lot in with the superwealthy, the insurance companies, Wall Street, and the Tea Party movement in with the Copperheads of yore.

I've read the address before, and I still say it related to the war, insofar as the war concerned itself with slavery. I don't see a damn thing about plantation owners. Lincoln's legacy was an era that created the first super-wealthy class this nation ever knew, and his triumph the clearing of the way for big business as we know it.

Wow. Let me deal with this point-by-point:
1a) I could be a cynic and argue that, having been clearly caught by your own ignorance regarding the context of that quote, you are now retroactively revising the meaning of your initial statement to cover for your error.
1b) I will be generous and assume otherwise, in which case, your saying that the quote does in fact deal with persecution of blacks essentially concedes that my application of its meaning to contemporary injustices (whether you agree with my conclusion or not) was logically valid.
2) The superwealthy existed in America well before Lincoln's ascent to power, as the existence of the Federalist Party and the presence of men like Nicholas Biddle and the countless Northern industrial magnates and Southern plantation aristocrats attests. Feel free to read any book on antebellum American socio-economics if you don't believe me.
3) Likewise, powerful men in big business have long had a disturbingly strong hand in American political processes. Just look at Hamilton's speech to the Constitutional Convention saying "the rich and well-born" should have "a distinct, permanent share in the government" because "the people... seldom judge or determine right"; check out the vicious fight in the early-19th century to repeal laws that made property ownership a prerequisite of voting, such as the Dorr Rebellion; or look at the titanic struggle between Andrew Jackson and the Whigs over renewing the charter of the Second National Bank.
I can't honestly say whether your points are intended to add up to an attack against Abraham Lincoln or a glorification of plutocracy. Either way, both of those conclusions are not only morally despicable, but entirely lacking in any factual foundation.

Look matt, I have neither the time nor the energy to respond to that. IT WAS A WARTIME ADDRESS that made mention of the war itself and referenced slavery, during a war particularly concerned with slavery. Jeez. I was speaking generally, saying that the wealthy class AS IT EXISTS TODAY was made possible by Lincoln, and no that is not an attack on Lincoln; I'm part of that class. Also, none of this changes the fact that there is no mention in that address of the "super-wealthy". How a metaphor about slavery has anything to do with Nancy pelosi putting people in prison for not buying their neighbor's abortions is unclear.

Wow Jim. Well argued Matt.

Lincoln was using the wolf/sheep thing as a metaphor to describe a situation. I think both the metaphor and the situation--whilst deriving from different issues-parallels the pitched battle between those in favor of healthcare reform and those opposed. Metaphors can be applied to many situations other than the ones they were originally spoken in.

What Jackie said.

"While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else."
That was Lincoln, and so was this:
"Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration... Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost."
While I do not believe Abraham Lincoln was a perfect man, there were many admirable qualities he possessed that the Republican Party he helped found should try to recapture. One was the ability to construct logically coherent and factually substantial arguments, something that you are clearly either unable or unwilling to do; the other was focusing the efforts of government on improving the lot of the less fortunate, something that both you and other Republicans not only refrain from, but actually dismiss with contempt. Today there are many circles in which it is denounced as "socialist" or "un-American" to talk about using the people's government to protect homeowners from predatory banks, guarantee high-quality health care for all citizens, or help those struck by hard times obtain well-paying and stable jobs. It is fashionable to view the government as a malevolent entity that must be feared and weakened, rather than as an instrument that can improve lives. These assumptions go against the most famous of all Lincoln's declarations - that an ideal government is not one that is separate from and indifferent to the welfare of the people, but is instead "of the people, by the people, for the people".

Why get so vicious, Matt? I've been writing my comments as casual musings, via iPhone, in between classes, so I don't feel like an attack on my argument style is very warranted. I didn't even had italics handy, had to use all caps. I did not enter into a formal debate here, and like I said I don't have time for that. I'm sorry if that disappoints you, but please don't insult me. I stated my opinions, and I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything unsound or irrational.And to restate, I was familiar with that address prior to your posting of it. I would not have chosen to comment on its context had I not been. That would be foolish. I just feel like this radical devotion to healthcare, and intense demonization of all of its opponents by the left is a little unfair, views aside.

Lol, yes because the right CERTAINLY hasnt demonized the left AT ALL when it comes to Healthcare...

What do you consider to be vicious? I won't deny that I have been extremely candid about what I perceive to be the glaring logical and substantive weaknesses in your argument, but I haven't name-called or in any such way directly insulted you. You say that you did not intend to enter a debate, but if that is the case, why did you post your opinions in the first place? Did you expect people to simply note what you thought without responding to it? Did you anticipate that everyone would agree with you? Or did you assume that those who disagreed with you would simply state bald opinions based on their pre-existing ideological leanings (as you did), instead of aggressively identiifying and exposing the inaccuracies and flaws in your own position?
My main goal in all of this was not to humiliate you. It is instead to determine what is true and what is right about issues that have very serious consequences for human beings. In order to do that, all opinions must be held to the highest standard - the soundness of their factual foundations proven, the strength of their logical underpinnings tested, their pragmatic and idealistic objectives made crystal clear. Anything less than that wouldn't just be an insult to the gravity of what we discuss - it would be an insult to you.

1) I said I did not enter into a "formal" debate, as in, I did not intend to go gathering quotes ad nauseam and go much past a you think, I think discussion. Again, via iPhone, between class, not sitting at desk, digging up sources.
2) What pre-exisiting ideological leanings influenced my so-called bald statements? I have leanings, but in this case I read the quote, recognized it, and commented.
3) I'm not humiliated, Matt, not in any way, but please tell me how it has been determined, or even addressed, that is what is true and right about these serious issues (I assume you're referring to healthcare)? From what I can tell, you took a quote uttered 150 years ago from a wartime speech about war/slavery/baltimore and applied it to the advancing of a bill enabling socialist healthcare, and no, I'm not just using a right-wing buzz word there, I'm calling it what it is, without attaching a connotation. You are then somehow implying that this quote touches on class divisions, which it does not, and that these divisions are relevant to a socialist healthcare bill, and then accusing me of a poor argument because I casually stated my opinion on this. You want to talk about healthcare, talk about it, I'll talk all day, but this is not about Lincoln or Andrew Jackson, or the Second National Bank, or plantation owners, it's about Nancy Pelosi's bill.

1) Not to brag, but it didn't take me very long to write those posts. I already knew all of the information that I provided to support my positions, so the only research I needed was to do quick Google searches on key phrases from the quotes so that I could put down their exact wording. I also type at over 80 wpm, so it doesn't take me long to reply.
2) The fact that you kept warping the metaphor used in Lincoln's quote in order to make it so that I couldn't use it to advance a liberal point... that is what suggests to me that you were tainted by ideological bias. It would have been one thing to DISAGREE with the message in that quote, but it was ridiculous to try to claim it meant something other than it did.
3) I was arguing that the metaphor Lincoln used in 1864 to condemn slavery could be equally apropos in addressing a whole host of other issues from our own time. I'm not sure how I could be any clearer on that point.
4) When you say "socialist health care", you are just using a right-wing buzzword. For a more elaborate response, see this blog article:

I'm wondering what your definition of socialism is, because as far as I can tell a public option that you can choose not to accept is anything but socialism. That was directed at Jim, not Matt.


Megan said...

Sean makes a good point as well - public option=/=socialism.

Sean said...

I wish this debate could have continued, I was interested in seeing what his rebuttal would have been. Oh well...

Oh, and thank you Megan!