It was no accident that President Obama portrayed himself as Abraham Lincoln after the 2008 election. Both were said to write their own speeches. Both were certainly powerful orators. A piece in Newsweek recalled that both sprang from the political loins of Illinois to the presidency and characterized the unlikely pair as “[t]wo thin men from rude upbringings” who were “relatively new to Washington” and brought “the nation together to face a crisis.”
The comparison runs deeper.
Many conservatives credit Lincoln with the creation of the Imperial Presidency, characterized by all power to the executive branch of the American government, including vast abuses of constitutional power justified by national emergency. I am not here to argue Lincoln’s presidency; I am here to tell you that love him or not, states’ rights and federal power were never the same after the American Civil War.
Since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 America has been at war, both Cold and hot, to the present day. This has solidified the Imperial Presidency, since war naturally pushes power to the president as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, with his finger at the button of ultimate destruction. I am fifty-four years old, and my entire life has been lived under the dark clouds of war and threats of war.
The left is currently trying to use the Imperial Presidency to great advantage. The missing piece of Lincoln’s legacy is the remaking of America into a purportedly just nation, known as “reconstruction,” a piece missing because his assassination prevented him from serving his second term of office. The task of rebuilding America in 1865 after one of the bloodiest wars in history (half of all the white southern men between 18 and 45 were either killed or wounded) was left to Lincoln’s vice-president, Andrew Johnson, and his successor, Ulysses Grant.
Without going into great detail, reconstruction did not go too well. It freed the slaves as a matter of law, but it left a great deal to be desired in the areas of racial equality and the unresolved power struggle involving states’ rights. Reconstruction technically ended with the election of James Garfield in 1876. It ended, unfortunately, in large part due to murder and intimidation in the South by the Ku Klux Klan and other armed wings of the Democratic Party.
It resumed, however, in 1945, when the defeat of fascism in Europe and Japan in World War II meant America had to look at itself and clean up its own house. For all practical purposes, the second reconstruction of America began after World War II when President Harry Truman integrated the armed forces and the Supreme Court of the United States declared segregation unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education.
America had some great unfinished business that would take decades to remedy. The left argues that we are still in the midst of the “second American reconstruction,” which President Obama is quite determined to finish as quickly as possible.
This second reconstruction is based on a political concept that stems from Lincoln and the American Civil War. “Inequality is unconstitutional.” The problem with this idea is obvious. How does one achieve equality and still remain a free people? The passage of the Obama health care bill demonstrated this. Was it possible, after all, to guarantee health care to everyone and not impinge on the freedom of everyone at the same time?
What makes the second reconstruction entirely different from the first is the inclusion of women’s rights as one of its foundations. Women are seen as an oppressed class in the same manner blacks were in the 19th century. Race, it seems, has actually taken a secondary role in the new reconstruction of America, and while it remains a powerful consideration regionally in places like California, on the national stage America is in the midst of a restructuring by women.
I watched the debate on the Obama health care bill in the House of Representatives and was struck by the speeches of the women of the left side of aisle who were in favor of it. The fundamental message they delivered was the premise that equality is no longer conceptual, it has to be actual. The three big domestic issues are education, healthcare, and benefits to the poor and elderly. (It is interesting to note that traditionally women performed these tasks in American society, but now these tasks have been turned over to the government, which frees women to do other things or become nurses and teachers professionally.) They are also soft on immigration because they do not want to appear mean to anybody. When it comes to foreign policy, many are against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, against a military option dealing with Iran, and ambivalent to the safety and security of Israel.
In the past equality was viewed as equality before God and the law, now it is viewed as a literal equality of fact. Ironically, the Republican Party plays the opposite role that it did in 1865 after the American Civil War — now, in 2010, it is fighting the second reconstruction instead of attempting to impose it. The left understands this. And there are five issues conservatives have to keep in mind as reconstruction continues:
- The left advocates gun control in part because reconstruction was opposed in the South by armed force. The left understands that the American public has the capacity to oppose national government with force. This scenario is unlikely to the point of impossible in 2010, but the left has not forgotten about past history.
- The left will do everything it can to preserve the Federal Reserve system. As crazy as it sounds, the left really needs corrupt, centralized banking. In order to push through an equality agenda, bribery is necessary on all levels, and bribery requires lots of cash. If you think I am being cynical, how much bribery went on during the health care debate? In the original reconstruction the South was taxed and punished. Today, the left will use a combination of taxes and government payoffs.
- Government censorship is on the way. After 1865 the Democratic party ran openly white supremacist political campaigns, and in the end got what they wanted. Since the left believes it holds the Truth, they do not see any reason for debate. A signal that censorship is coming is the open public forums from the FCC and other discussing the licensing of the Internet in the same fashion radio stations are licensed. We would all be able to use the Internet, of course, but under government supervision. The government lives in fear that the traditional media outlets will go bankrupt, and since the government controls these media outlets by allowing them “access” to information, the government will do whatever it can to preserve them. If the Internet as it currently exists has to go away, it will go away. In the future, the left would like the Internet to become a version of the shopping channel. No dissent, but great window treatments and napkinholders from Overstock.com.
- The left wants to end states’ rights once and for all. Federal opposition to the Arizona immigration bill is an obvious example, but Republicans like the Imperial Presidency, too. Centralized power reduces the potential for serious opposition. Equality for all is the aim of the second reconstruction, not only for people in who live in Maine. This is also the reason why President Obama relishes his role as the anti-terrorist Commander in Chief, even if he isn’t wielding it in a way to keep Americans safe. That he is in the role means that the public is more likely to give him the power he wants when the country is under threat.
- The influence of Christianity has to be diminished. Traditional Christianity is viewed by the left as a detriment to the equality of women (remember Eve?), which is interesting since the leaders of the civil rights movement for blacks in the 1950’s and 60’s were ministers. Christianity has been relegated to the status of a private choice, not a public good. (Interesting note, though, is that the same feminists refuse to address the subjugation of women by Islam.) Even Justice Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, said at his confirmation hearing that his personal religious beliefs would have no influence on his legal decisions. Religion, you see, is a private matter. Denunciation of religion is a public matter.
The national model women often cite as the great example of gender equality is Sweden. Women have the best of every freedom, we are told, in Sweden. I saw an Internet article a few months ago that said American women had the same social equality as women in Ecuador. Sweden is socialist. High taxes. Low growth. Sounds like the American future.
Interestingly, this whole notion of equality is actually failing miserably. The divide between rich and poor in America is growing worse every day. The equality the left desires has created an American society never more divided by class. The difference between contemporary society and American society of thirty years ago is that America has more women in positions of power and wealth now, but a growing number of citizens as a whole are losing wealth. In the end, the second American reconstruction will end in the emergence of a socialist utopia — a rich, privileged elite ruling over peasants begging for a handout.
The Republican party needs to decide how it will oppose the second reconstruction in its current form. The left will not let them off the hook. When Rand Paul won the Republican primary in Kentucky, the press immediately asked him his opinion about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He could have answered better. The left will try to use any opposition to the second reconstruction as backward and prejudiced.
The conservatives know better, but knowing better does not win elections.