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PORTSIDE  July 2010, Week 1

PORTSIDE July 2010, Week 1

Subject:

Thank You, Rand Paul (from a Historian)

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Date:

Fri, 2 Jul 2010 22:09:51 -0400

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Thank You, Rand Paul (from a Historian)

Van Gosse
Historian and author
Posted: June 30, 2010 02:41 PM
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/van-gosse/thank-you-rand-paul-from_b_630625.html

Rand Paul is a gift to historians. As a candidate he
embodies some of the longest-lasting, most picturesque
-- and most reactionary and dangerous -- elements of the
American political tradition: contempt for government;
veneration of personal property over all else; freedom
defined as the absence of restraint, meaning the
'freedom' to exploit.

Like his father Ron, Rand Paul is schooled in the late-
modern ideology of libertarianism (Ayn Rand, Friedrich
Hayek, Milton Friedman). But learned discourses on
"capitalism and freedom" hardly matter to their base,
which wouldn't know Hayek from a hole in the wall. When
they rouse audiences, they appeal to currents in
American life that predate Friedman's "free markets"
utopia.

The real ancestors of the Pauls, Sarah Palin, and the
rest of the Tea Partiers are the antebellum Jacksonian
Democrats, who drew on the "Old Republican" tradition of
Southern slaveholders. Deeply concerned about threats to
their way of life, they accused national government
supporters of "monarchical" tendencies, and authored the
doctrine of states' rights and nullification of federal
authority. Sound familiar?

Like today's Tea Party, Jacksonians considered
themselves the inheritors of the American Revolution.
Above all, they venerated private property of two types.
First was the land they had extorted at gunpoint,
following massacres, from the Southern Indians, who
mistakenly thought federal treaties protected them. The
second form of property was the slave labor that turned
the forests of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and
Louisiana into the "Cotton Kingdom" after Jackson's
armies expelled the Indians. Led by Mississippi Senator
Jefferson Davis, the men who rose to power on the wealth
slaves created broke up the Union rather than accepting
Lincoln's victory.

Jacksonians like Davis believed in their rights, as
white men, over everyone else--their women, children and
slaves, the Indians, the land itself. They asserted that
this was America's identity: conquering nature,
accumulating wealth and ruling over others. They wanted
only enough government, under their control, to protect
them in these endeavors. Anything else they viewed as
treason. To libertarians and Jacksonians alike, freedom
belongs to those who can take it, and practicing freedom
means having the liberty to make money any way you can.

No wonder Rand Paul called Obama's criticism of BP and
the Massey Coal Company "un-American" and told Rachel
Maddow that government had no business deciding whom
restaurant owners must serve. The sanctity of "private
property," no matter how you got it or the societal
effects of how you use it, is the dogma animating this
kind of "constitutional conservative."

I'd really like to know Paul's views on the Thirteenth,
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments -- respectively, the
abolishment of slavery in 1865, the creation of
government-enforced equal citizenship in 1868 and
requiring the states to let all black men vote in 1870.
My gut tells me that's not the "Constitution" he has in
mind!

The Jacksonian attitude toward the rule of law also
prefigures today's Tea Partiers. As Daniel Walker Howe
points out in his 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winner What Hath
God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848,
Jackson "did not manifest a general respect for the
authority of the law when it got in the way of the
policies he chose to pursue." A notorious duelist,
Jackson regularly executed without trial his own
soldiers and Indians, and he used his 1835 State of the
Union address to endorse mob violence against
abolitionists while gangs burned black churches in New
York and Philadelphia.

It is a short move from that brand of vicious
demagoguery to Palin's telling white rural audiences in
2008 that only they were the "real Americans" and
instructing her followers after health care reform
passed: "don't retreat, just reload." The Pauls'
antigovernment rhetoric about the income tax and the
Federal Reserve stokes the Patriot movement, which
denies the authority of the federal government entirely.
The benighted "Patriot" trucker Jerry Kane and his son,
who both died in a shootout with police May 22, are only
the most recent casualties in the long history of
Jacksonianism.

"States' rights," a glorification of the private
interest over the public good, and race hatred are
certainly, historically speaking, American, but there's
nothing "constitutional" or "conservative" about them.
So, I would like to thank Rand Paul for bringing history
so vividly to contemporary light, if only I didn't think
these elements of our history were far better left in
the past.

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

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