Tuesday, June 19, 2012

James Buchanan: Centrist Hero


UPDATE:  Welcome C&L readers and many thanks to the most righteous Batocchio

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

...
Why is it, then, that discontent now so extensively prevails, and the Union of the States, which is the source of all these blessings, is threatened with destruction?

The long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States has at length produced its natural effects. The different sections of the Union are now arrayed against each other, and the time has arrived, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, when hostile geographical parties have been formed.

I have long foreseen and often forewarned my countrymen of the now impending danger. This does not proceed solely from the claim on the part of Congress or the Territorial legislatures to exclude slavery from the Territories, nor from the efforts of different States to defeat the execution of the fugitive-slave law. All or any of these evils might have been endured by the South without danger to the Union (as others have been) in the hope that time and reflection might apply the remedy. The immediate peril arises not so much from these causes as from the fact that the incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question throughout the North for the last quarter of a century has at length produced its malign influence on the slaves and inspired them with vague notions of freedom. Hence a sense of security no longer exists around the family altar. This feeling of peace at home has given place to apprehensions of servile insurrections. Many a matron throughout the South retires at night in dread of what may befall herself and children before the morning. Should this apprehension of domestic danger, whether real or imaginary, extend and intensify itself until it shall pervade the masses of the Southern people, then disunion will become inevitable. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and has been implanted in the heart of man by his Creator for the wisest purpose; and no political union, however fraught with blessings and benefits in all other respects, can long continue if the necessary consequence be to render the homes and the firesides of nearly half the parties to it habitually and hopelessly insecure. Sooner or later the bonds of such a union must be severed. It is my conviction that this fatal period has not yet arrived, and my prayer to God is that He would preserve the Constitution and the Union throughout all generations.

But let us take warning in time and remove the cause of danger. It can not be denied that for five and twenty years the agitation at the North against slavery has been incessant. In 1835 pictorial handbills and inflammatory appeals were circulated extensively throughout the South of a character to excite the passions of the slaves, and, in the language of General Jackson, "to stimulate them to insurrection and produce all the horrors of a servile war." This agitation has ever since been continued by the public press, by the proceedings of State and county conventions and by abolition sermons and lectures. The time of Congress has been occupied in violent speeches on this never-ending subject, and appeals, in pamphlet and other forms, indorsed by distinguished names, have been sent forth from this central point and spread broadcast over the Union.

How easy would it be for the American people to settle the slavery question forever and to restore peace and harmony to this distracted country! They, and they alone, can do it. All that is necessary to accomplish the object, and all for which the slave States have ever contended, is to be let alone and permitted to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. As sovereign States, they, and they alone, are responsible before God and the world for the slavery existing among them. For this the people of the North are not more responsible and have no more right to interfere than with similar institutions in Russia or in Brazil.

Upon their good sense and patriotic forbearance I confess I still greatly rely. Without their aid it is beyond the power of any President, no matter what may be his own political proclivities, to restore peace and harmony among the States. Wisely limited and restrained as is his power under our Constitution and laws, he alone can accomplish but little for good or for evil on such a momentous question.

And this brings me to observe that the election of any one of our fellow-citizens to the office of President does not of itself afford just cause for dissolving the Union. This is more especially true if his election has been effected by a mere plurality, and not a majority of the people, and has resulted from transient and temporary causes, which may probably never again occur. In order to justify a resort to revolutionary resistance, the Federal Government must be guilty of "a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise" of powers not granted by the Constitution.

The late Presidential election, however, has been held in strict conformity with its express provisions. How, then, can the result justify a revolution to destroy this very Constitution? Reason, justice, a regard for the Constitution, all require that we shall wait for some overt and dangerous act on the part of the President elect before resorting to such a remedy. It is said, however, that the antecedents of the President-elect have been sufficient to justify the fears of the South that he will attempt to invade their constitutional rights. But are such apprehensions of contingent danger in the future sufficient to justify the immediate destruction of the noblest system of government ever devised by mortals? From the very nature of his office and its high responsibilities he must necessarily be conservative. The stern duty of administering the vast and complicated concerns of this Government affords in itself a guaranty that he will not attempt any violation of a clear constitutional right.

After all, he is no more than the chief executive officer of the Government. His province is not to make but to execute the laws. And it is a remarkable fact in our history that, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of the antislavery party, no single act has ever passed Congress, unless we may possibly except the Missouri compromise, impairing in the slightest degree the rights of the South to their property in slaves; and it may also be observed, judging from present indications, that no probability exists of the passage of such an act by a majority of both Houses, either in the present or the next Congress. Surely under these circumstances we ought to be restrained from present action by the precept of Him who spake as man never spoke, that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." The day of evil may never come unless we shall rashly bring it upon ourselves.
...

How very little the mating call of the Counterfeit Centrist has changed in the century and a half since President Buchanan addressed the Congress for the fourth and last time.

When faced with a clear, moral choice, the  Counterfeit Centrist -- being a natural coward and terrified at the thought of having to pick a fucking side in anything that is not 100% safe and risk-free -- will instead predictably attack the shrillness of the Dirty Hippies who disturbed his establishmentarian somnolence by blowing the whistle on the Establishment's gross failings and hypocrisies in the first place.
"The long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States has at length produced its natural effects. "
The Counterfeit Centrist will then predictably attack vituperative, foul-mouthed Dirty Hippie bloggers...
"In 1835 pictorial handbills and inflammatory appeals were circulated extensively throughout the South of a character to excite the passions of the slaves, and, in the language of General Jackson, 'to stimulate them to insurrection and produce all the horrors of a servile war.'"
...the terrible bias of the Dirty Hippie Liberal Press...
"This agitation has ever since been continued by the public press, by the proceedings of State and county conventions and by abolition sermons and lectures."
...and the terribly partisanship of the Dirty Hippies' Congressional supporters:
"The time of Congress has been occupied in violent speeches on this never-ending subject, and appeals, in pamphlet and other forms, indorsed by distinguished names, have been sent forth from this central point and spread broadcast over the Union."
The Counterfeit Centrist gives his deeply authoritarian biases away by the lengths which he will go to in order to avoid getting tricked into debating the actual merits of the Dirty Abolitionist Hippies' positions.  Instead, the Counterfeit Centrist  refuses to acknowledge any reality outside of a debate over process:
How easy would it be for the American people to settle the slavery question forever and to restore peace and harmony to this distracted country! They, and they alone, can do it. All that is necessary to accomplish the object, and all for which the slave States have ever contended, is to be let alone and permitted to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. As sovereign States, they, and they alone, are responsible before God and the world for the slavery existing among them. For this the people of the North are not more responsible and have no more right to interfere than with similar institutions in Russia or in Brazil.
The Counterfeit Centrist loves process debates, because sooner or later, the Counterfeit Centrist will insist that the deciding factor in any such debate is not matter of right and wrong, but of deference to the will of Authority, no matter how pernicious or corrupt that Authority may be (once again from President James Buchanan's Third Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union)

I cordially congratulate you upon the final settlement by the Supreme Court of the United States of the question of slavery in the Territories, which had presented an aspect so truly formidable at the commencement of my Administration. The right has been established of every citizen to take his property of any kind, including slaves, into the common Territories belonging equally to all the States of the Confederacy, and to have it protected there under the Federal Constitution.
Neither Congress nor a Territorial legislature nor any human power has any authority to annul or impair this vested right. The supreme judicial tribunal of the country, which is a coordinate branch of the Government, has sanctioned and affirmed these principles of constitutional law, so manifestly just in themselves and so well calculated to promote peace and harmony among the States. It is a striking proof of the sense of justice which is inherent in our people that the property in slaves has never been disturbed, to my knowledge, in any of the Territories.

Also, if the going gets too tough, the Counterfeit Centrist will simply resort to making shit up -- falsifying or deliberately misreading statistics, imputing fictional, defamatory positions to the shrill challengers of corrupt Authority, lying about history or conjuring out of thin air sweeping generalizations which are absolutely unsupported by the facts -- in order to keep the scales artificially "balanced" and the sides synthetically "equally wrong".  Here is President James Buchanan's during his Third Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union, arguing against re-opening the African slave trade by explaining what a sweet deal our domestic slaves really have (emphasis added) -- 
Reopen the trade and it would be difficult to determine whether the effect would be more deleterious on the interests of the master or on those of the native-born slave. Of the evils to the master, the one most to be dreaded would be the introduction of wild, heathen, and ignorant barbarians among the sober, orderly, and quiet slaves whose ancestors have been on the soil for several generations. This might tend to barbarize, demoralize, and exasperate the whole mass and produce most deplorable consequences.

The effect upon the existing slave would, if possible, be still more deplorable. At present he is treated with kindness and humanity. He is well fed, well clothed, and not overworked. His condition is incomparably better than that of the coolies which modern nations of high civilization have employed as a substitute for African slaves. Both the philanthropy and the self-interest of the master have combined to produce this humane result. But let this trade be reopened and what will be the effect? <

The same to a considerable extent as on a neighboring island, the only spot now on earth where the African slave trade is openly tolerated, and this in defiance of solemn treaties with a power abundantly able at any moment to enforce their execution. There the master, intent upon present gain, extorts from the slave as much labor as his physical powers are capable of enduring, knowing that when death comes to his relief his place can be supplied at a price reduced to the lowest point by the competition of rival African slave traders. Should this ever be the case in our country, which I do not deem possible, the present useful character of the domestic institution, wherein those too old and too young to work are provided for with care and humanity and those capable of labor are not overtasked, would undergo an unfortunate change. The feeling of reciprocal dependence and attachment which now exists between master and slave would be converted into mutual distrust and hostility.
 -- and thus sparing himself the agony of having to side against established authority on the basis that the status quo was wrong and evil.

All of which would merely be an interesting discursion down one of history's little byways were it not for the fact that, 150 years later, as our country is being kicked to pieces by Conservative goons, everywhere you look you can find the same cowardly, cloying, dishonest, career-insulating goo being spackled over our very real problems.

Ripped from today's headlines, a few of the dozens of examples you can find on any given day sloshing around the America media, clogging up our civic arteries with whiny, self-deluded, Centrist bullshit:



Stuck in the middle

The only time candidates care about independents is when they’re running for office


By LINDA KILLIAN

... Independent voters also think the parties care more about winning elections than about solving the nation’s problems.

Politicians seek the votes of independents and woo them with attention in November. But once they have their victory, independents are forgotten as both Republicans and Democrats worry about keeping their base supporters, donors and party leaders happy.

This has left independents feeling disconnected and disillusioned with a government they do not believe truly represents them.

Independent voters feel ignored, fed up and shut out of the system.

They are tired of being taken for granted. They’re tired of partisan wrangling, which all too often results in either gridlock and a lack of action on the most important issues the nation faces, or unsatisfactory legislative outcomes, pushed through by one political party with little input from the other.

Independent voters have determined the outcome and sought change in each of the last three national elections, but they haven’t yet seen the change they are looking for. Politicians are moving to the edges. Americans are moving to the center. When will anyone speak for the overlooked middle?

... 
Both sides are “not building anything around the commonality of issues,” and “there is an overabundance of hate,” New York Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman said at a panel discussion sponsored by Bloomberg Businessweek.

The two parties have “become completely intolerant of the other side,” he said. No longer are fights over “good and bad” legislation. “It’s the fight between good and evil,” he said. Lawmakers “can compromise between bad and worse and terrible, but you can’t compromise between good and evil.” 
...
Fox and MSNBC News Corp. 
(NWSA) (NWSA)’s Fox News Network carries Republican commentators such as political consultant Karl Rove, and MSNBC features pro-Democratic hosts such as Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz.

“People tend to listen to what they agree with,” said Conrad. Members of Congress “are probably the only ones who watch both Fox and MSNBC,” Ackerman said...
...
The position of the activist left is to abandon any sort of effective or bipartisan action on the drivers of the deficit — specifically entitlement spending and tax policy — in favor of across-the-board cuts that fall primarily on our soldiers and dramatically increase the burden of the already-dysfunctional and counterproductive tax code.

The other choice is to pursue a renewed effort based on a bipartisan and relatively-balanced approach, as set forth in Simpson-Bowles and expanded on by the various working groups in the Senate.
...
Sit down with the average, "independent" voter and, once you cut through all the snuffling over how aw-aw-awful everyone is, you will get down to their real, core problem.

They're terrified.

They're terrified that they might actually be forced to take a side.  Might actually have to tell a neighbor they're full of shit.  Might actually have to tell Grandpa to shut the fuck up already about scary Negroes and uppity women and "illegals" and all the rest of the bogey men that Hate Radio and Fox News and wingnut email pumps into his skull around the clock.

And since Grandpa is obviously never going to shut the fuck up, the only way Mr. and Mrs. Independent  Voter can reconcile the awful realities that besiege them on every side with their deep desire to never get involved or take a side on any subject of any importance is to believe with all their hearts the Big Centrist Lie that the Dirty Hippies are always just as crazy and just as wrong as Grandpa.

They need to invent elaborate fantasies about imaginary Liberals so that they can look at something like this (from Ezra Klein) -- 
...
This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation’s least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate “unconstitutional.”

This shift—Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders—shocked Wyden. “I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic,” he said.

It was not an isolated case. In 2007, both Newt Gingrich and John McCain wanted a cap-and-trade program in order to reduce carbon emissions. Today, neither they nor any other leading Republicans support cap-and-trade. In 2008, the Bush Administration proposed, pushed, and signed the Economic Stimulus Act, a deficit-financed tax cut designed to boost the flagging economy. Today, few Republicans admit that a deficit-financed stimulus can work. Indeed, with the exception of raising taxes on the rich, virtually every major policy currently associated with the Obama Administration was, within the past decade, a Republican idea in good standin

...
What is notable about the conservative response to the individual mandate is not only the speed with which a legal argument that was considered fringe in 2010 had become mainstream by 2012; it’s the implication that the Republicans spent two decades pushing legislation that was in clear violation of the nation’s founding document. Political parties do go through occasional, painful cleansings, in which they emerge with different leaders who hold different positions. This was true of Democrats in the nineteen-nineties, when Bill Clinton passed free trade, deficit reduction, and welfare reform, despite the furious objections of liberals. But in this case the mandate’s supporters simply became its opponents.

In February, 2012, Stuart Butler, the author of the Heritage Foundation brief that first proposed the mandate, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he recanted that support. “I’ve altered my views on many things,” he wrote. “The individual mandate in health care is one of them.” Senator Orrin Hatch, who had been a co-sponsor of the Chafee bill, emerged as one of the mandate’s most implacable opponents in 2010, writing in The Hill that to come to “any other conclusion” than that the mandate is unconstitutional “requires treating the Constitution as the servant, rather than the master, of Congress.” Mitt Romney, who had both passed an individual mandate as governor and supported Wyden-Bennett, now calls Obama’s law an “unconstitutional power grab from the states,” and has promised, if elected, to begin repealing the law “on Day One." ...
-- and not see the frightening reality of the raving madness of American Conservatism and the GOP staring back at them.

They need to believe both sides are equally wrong in equal amounts about everything because if this is not so, then history will not record their continued, obsessive neutrality as wise or thoughtful, but instead mark them forever as dupes and cowards: lazy, gutless AWOLers who stood by and did nothing but bitch about Both Sides while their country was torn to bits by fascists and maniacs.

Which is quite a pathetic epitaph for any American citizen.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

A brilliant thesis on the problematic existence of centrism. There was a time which I was also afflicted with this condition, mostly due to the underlying fear of scorn and ridicule for my liberal beliefs. Instead of pride I sought to compromise. And then it occurred to me one day that I was behaving like a complete fucking idiot. Why should I hedge my true beliefs and values when those who would seek to ridicule me would never do the same? I wish I were able to send you and Blue Gal a donation but momentarily I find myself unable. Thank you for your blog and podcast. Keep up the excellent work.

John Hall
Wyoming, PA

steeve said...

History is a story of unbroken dominance and oppression by oligarchy. How can anyone not in that group possibly devote all their efforts to making absolutely sure that that oligarchy doesn't experience one single five-year period of unfairness?

No matter how busy or uneducated someone is, there's just no excuse for being wrong about this. The sweep of history is so uniform that all you have to do is observe any part of it at any time.

Even today, and on liberal blogs, you'll see progressive taxation argued on grounds of fairness. It's time to move past that. It's time for the rich to be treated so completely unfairly, so wretchedly, for so many decades at a stretch, that it's finally they who have to revolt.

tmk said...

...is it just me, or are there two versions of the "reopening the slave trade" section in this?

driftglass said...

tmk,

No, it was not just you. I was experimenting with the effectiveness of various arrangements of big blocks of text on a little screen, got pulled away into another project and just plain forgot to delete the chunk of text in question from its original location.

Thanks for the catch!

Habitat Vic said...

The rough analogy to the inherent evil/failing of the centrist accomodater (enabler?) on a personal level is as follows:

Mary's neighbor: - Hey did you hear, our neighbor Bob just beat the shit out of his wife Mary and put her in the hospital. What an asshole!

Centrist Nieghbor: - Well, that was a little overboard. But I don't know, um, he's been under a lot of stress at work. Mary gets a little bossy sometimes herself. What a shame. Mary should be more careful.

Correct response to Centrist Neighbor: - Fuck you, you gutless piece of shit! Mary didn't deserve this. Bob's a drunken asshole and you're a Goddamn worm for not taking a side in this.

Replace Centrist Neighbor with Brooks/Friedman/Sullivan/Blue-Dog/etc and there you have it.

Evil only needs silent good men to succeed? Then think of how well evil does with so-called centrist enablers.

Fuck em all.

Anonymous said...

"And everybody's shouting, 'Which side are you on?'"

Bob Dylan Desolation Row Highway 61 Revisited, 1965

I suppose the more things change the more they stay the same.

tmk said...

yw. mainly wanted to make sure my brain was parsing things correctly - I've been known to space out entire paragraphs while reading at times (probly mental fatigue from all the verbal hippie-punching I put up with...)

:)

Anonymous said...

"No wise man has the power, to reason away, what a fool believes he sees..."

Fiddlin Bill said...

This speech ought to be taught in every American History class room for what it reveals about our bullshit "exceptionalism"--the lie that the US is some sort of arrow shot from God's quiver for the good of the world. And Obama ought to read it to see that his state by state solution to evils such as those now visited upon our gay citizens is no solution at all. And everyone ought to continue on, past the Buchanan speech, and the whole Civil War, and understand that in fifteen years or so Jim Crow was in place, and black people were being denied the right to vote, and all the horror the country experienced from 1861 to 1865 was pretty much wasted, while the architect of the Union's victory was hard at work destroying the American Indian. Instead, the voters are probably going to elected Mitt Romney in November.

Anonymous said...

It was precisely my inability to *not* tell crazy (and racist, yes) Grandpa that he was a raving loon, and my inability to not respond to my mother's email forwards of wingnut BS that helped me finally accept that I was, in fact, a... a... a... Liberal. *gulp*

This post-dated my Dem voter registration (that was all about trying to fire Joe Lieberman for being a warmongering ahole).

For many years, I was a low-info, self-identified moderate independent. This only lasted while I stayed low info. It wasn't about avoiding taking sides, really. It was not actually knowing that my "moderate, centrist" opinions matched up rather well with the Dems (as it turns out, I'm to the left of many) and that the GOP was a pack of raving lunatics and grifters.

Professor fate said...

Brilliant Post.

a quick trip over to Wikipeadia shows he also was a master of the well loved tatic of telling the Hippies that they with their shrill voices were the ones preventing the outcome they desired. A quote "The abolitionists have postponed the emancipation of the slaves in three or four states for at least half a century" Klein, Philip S. (1962). President James Buchanan: A Biography (1995 ed.).
David Brooks could not have said it better.

Jack said...

Outstanding and deeply interesting post, DG. I had never read the Buchanan State of the Union, so thanks for bringing it to my (our) attention: it's a useful reference, and one more (as if any more were needed) bit of evidence of the centrality of slavery to the American Civil War. Or, you know, "The War for Property Rights," as the neoconfederate fucksticks think of it.

Ormond Otvos said...

Never cease to be amazed at the depth of your scholarship, DG. Another fin in your pot.

Malacandra said...

I'm sure the David Brooks of Buchanan's time was telling his readership that Old Buck would go down in history as one of our greatest presidents.

Most historians rank him among the bottom 2.

SnarkyShark said...

Brilliant. That you don't have a job at the NYT is a travesty and poor reflection of national character.
I too wish I could send some coin but I am all the way over the cliff and holding on to some pretty thin roots.
If I could trade my life for something that would help restore our democracy I would, but I can't think of a damn thing. We are too far gone.

doctress said...

Brilliant argument. We are enablers if we continue to vote in elections where the "lesser of two evils" is the only real choice. And I agree that you need a NYT Op/Ed job but unfortunately they too are pandering to readers. We have all lost any national will.

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