Monday, October 18, 2010

Lincoln Saw It

Future President Abraham Lincoln in his famous 1858 speech at the Cooper Union articulated the problem he saw of dealing with the slave-owning interests, who could not stop accusing him and his party of undermining their rights to own slaves, notwithstanding a complete lack of evidence:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

This applies today with the same force to so-called conservatives, who constantly complain of government spending and the need for "limited government." They cannot stop damning Democrats, who they falsely accuse of radicalism. Future President Lincoln saw through this non-sense as well:

But you say you are conservative - eminently conservative - while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;" while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are for reviving the foreign slave trade; some for a Congressional Slave-Code for the Territories; some for Congress forbidding the Territories to prohibit Slavery within their limits; some for maintaining Slavery in the Territories through the judiciary; some for the "gur-reat pur-rinciple" that "if one man would enslave another, no third man should object," fantastically called "Popular Sovereignty;" but never a man among you is in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live." Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our Government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge or destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations.

As usual, the so-called Conservatives suffer from a mental tic that makes them accuse others of their own sins. Future President Lincoln had a final word for those who claimed that the issue was raging across the land, and that such raging was evidence of the wrongheadedness of Lincoln's claim that he only wanted to preserve the status quo -- the very essence of the word "conservativism:"

Again, you say we have made the slavery question more prominent than it formerly was. We deny it. We admit that it is more prominent, but we deny that we made it so. It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers. We resisted, and still resist, your innovation; and thence comes the greater prominence of the question. Would you have that question reduced to its former proportions? Go back to that old policy. What has been will be again, under the same conditions. If you would have the peace of the old times, readopt the precepts and policy of the old times.

Everything old is new again, except of course that history never repeats itself exactly the same way twice. And many Americans think we are simply going through the usual partisan back and forth. I submit that the half-century long failure of the left to develop and execute a push-back strategy is no more small thing, and that their timidity and inaction has already opened the door to destructive forces they are now powerless to pacify absent a great cataclysm.