Monday, December 7, 2009

Harry Reid & The Hard Truth

'Slow down, stop everything, let's start over.'

You think you've heard these same excuses before? You're right. In this country there were those who dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough' -- about slavery. When women wanted to vote [they said] 'Slow down, there will be a better day to do that -- the day isn't quite right...'

When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.

Those were the words spoken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) earlier today. They have unleashed a firestorm of controversy, all of which focuses on how the outrage felt by right-wingers and the so-called "centrists" who have aligned with them, and none of which pays any attention to whether the historical comparison is apt.

I happen to think that it fits beautifully. Of course, I do have a bias in feeling that way, as I made a very similar claim roughly three weeks ago during the "Thinkin' Lincoln" argument:

Back in Lincoln's day, there were millions of Americans who argued that anti-slavery advocates wished to take away the slaveowner's freedom. The idea that one should have the "freedom" to own another human being is rightfully scorned as both logically absurd and morally bankrupt today, but we must not forget that the reason so many intelligent and wel-intentioned people believed it back then was because conventional wisdom held that being pro-slavery was a legitimate point-of-view... and as such, identifying its obvious flaws (as men like Lincoln did regularly) was regarded as gauche at best, and downright tyrannical at worst (remember what John Wilkes Booth shouted immediately after taking Lincoln's life).

Today there are many who believe that a moral and logical case can be made in favor of people not receiving the health care they need because of the capriciousness of an insurance company or because of their meager financial circumstances; that it is a greater wrong for the rich to pay more in taxes than for the needy to receive decent jobs; that a fair and reasonable position exists for further deregulating banks and Wall Street firms despite the economic collapse their fatuous cupidity caused. Just like the pro-slavery forces of Lincoln's day, these people are either incapable or unwilling to see through the chimera of conventional wisdom and recognize the horrifying ridiculousness of what they believe. Today we have wolves savagely fighting for their freedom to kill sheep, and many sheep being mesmerized into supporting the very wolves who wish to murder them. The wolves' argument is no better today - logically or morally - than it was in 1864, and I am willing to bet that Americans in 2154 will be just as dumbfounded by the wolf defenders of our time as we are by the wolf defenders of Lincoln's.

Of course, I was addressing the rationalizations used by right-wingers to defend positions that are morally and logically incompatible with the basic precepts of humanitarianism and democracy. Reid was drawing a comparison between the tactics used by the obstructionists of yesteryear and those who confront us today. Ultimately, though, the fundamental point is the same: Those who wish to deny others their basic human rights - be it the right to equal participation in the political process regardless of one's gender, the right to equal treatment regardless of race, or the right to quality health care regardless of financial status - use strikingly similar rhetoric and strategies. This is not a coincidence.

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