Around the Block and Heather Cox Richardson unpack Republican amnesia and deceitfulness
Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and professor of history at Boston College. She previously taught history at MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In her spare time Professor Richardson publishes a daily email newsletter, Letters from an American. Her most recent column began,
Right on cue, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana today told a reporter that states not only should decide the issue of abortion but should also be able to decide the issues of whether interracial marriage should be legal and whether couples should have access to contraception. He told a reporter: ‘Well, you can list a whole host of issues, when it comes down to whatever they are, I’m going to say that they’re not going to all make you happy within a given state, but we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country as Roe v. Wade did.’
According Professor Richardson, Braun walked back what he had said after “extraordinary” backlash.
The newsletter gave me pause for two reasons.
First, I was shocked, shocked that a Republican politician, after making what, for all intents and purposes, was an asinine statement, disavowed it, in this case because “he had misunderstood the question!” Yeah, right!
Second, and more importantly, Braun is a member of the so-called “Party of Lincoln.” The (not so) Grand Old Party is very proud of its Lincoln heritage. But do you think that Braun “thought*” for a minute whether the words, “but we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country…” would have emanated from Lincoln’s mouth?
*(Is GOP think/thought a contradiction in terms?)
Lest Senator Braun and some of his like non-thinking Republican colleagues forgot, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” there was a man, Abraham Lincoln, who was President of a land in that galaxy, the United States of America. That man, in his first inaugural address warned that the Constitution required him to make sure “the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States.”
As Professor Richardson wrote recently,
Their [the southern states] determination to promote their new philosophy [the Negro is not equal to the white man] meant that the southern states insisted on states’ rights. The majority of Americans, speaking through the federal government, insisted on reining enslavement in, restricting it to the southern states where it already existed, while southern enslavers wanted to expand their “peculiar institution” to the nation’s newly acquired western lands. In white southerners’ view, federal oversight was tyranny, and true democracy meant that state legislatures should be able to do as their voters wished. So long as a majority of voters in the southern states voted for human enslavement, democracy had been served [in the minds of the South].
The Republican Party had organized in the mid-1850s to stand against this version of American democracy. Their point of view was expressed by an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln who, in discussing the overriding issue of the day in 1858, said that the government could not “endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
By the time Lincoln became President, the South had indeed tried to dissolve the Union and had indeed attempted to make the house fall and for it to become divided. The attempt to put this Union back together only began after a horrific and bloody Civil War.
When it [the Civil War] ended…southern state legislatures again tried to circumscribe the lives of the Black Americans who lived within their state lines. The 1865 Black Codes said that Black people couldn’t own firearms, for example, or congregate. They had to treat their white neighbors with deference and were required to sign yearlong work contracts every January or be judged vagrants, punishable by arrest and imprisonment. White employers could get them out of jail by paying their fines, but then they would have to work off their debt.
This southern intransigence led to the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 which guaranteed that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
So how does this relate to our not-so-good Senator Braun and current events?
Braun walked back what he had said, claiming he had misunderstood the question saying, “Earlier during a virtual press conference I misunderstood a line of questioning that ended up being about interracial marriage, let me be clear on that issue—there is no question the Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race, that is not something that is even up for debate, and I condemn racism in any form, at all levels and by any states, entities, or individuals.”
But he had stated his position quite clearly, and as he originally stated it, that position was intellectually consistent.
After World War II, the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights in the states, imposing the government’s interest in protecting equality to overrule discriminatory legislation by the states.
Now, Republicans want to return power to the states, where those who are allowed to vote can impose discriminatory laws on minorities.
It is, quite literally, the same argument that gave us the claimed right of states to enslave people within their borders before the Civil War, even as a majority of Americans objected to that system. More recently, it is the argument that made birth control illegal in many states, a restriction that endangered women’s lives and hampered their ability to participate in the workforce as unplanned pregnancies enabled employers to discriminate against them. It is the argument that prohibits abortion and gay marriage; in many states, laws with those restrictions are still on the books and will take effect just as soon as the Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are overturned.
Think about this. If the Braun’s Party of Lincoln prevails in our upcoming “unlevel playing field” elections in 2022 and 2024, is this the country you want to live in?
I’m writing this at sea, after visiting the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire, a “special municipality” of the Netherlands proper, and subject to Netherlands law. It’s beautiful, accessible and outside the Caribbean “hurricane zone.” Maybe, just maybe, I’ve found my long sought “escape.” from Braun and his cohorts.