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The good old days of slavery

I commented yesterday on Facebook and in a tweet: “Is Michele Bachmann running for president of the United States or the Confederate States?” The occasion was an article from Fox News (!) explaining that she had endorsed a marriage-and-family-values pledge that included this opening sentence:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.

The Bachmann campaign tried to edge away from the reaction to this by saying that the candidate had endorsed the pledge rather than the preamble, which is, I suppose, a way of saying that her staff didn’t bother to look closely at the text.

But, hopeful that Ms. Bachmann will begin to read the things she signs, I want to turn away from her to examine the fatuous assertion itself.

To accept it at face value is to ignore that slaves were typically denied the right to marry in the first place (hence the “jumping the broom” tradition), that families were in fact frequently split up as members were sold elsewhere, and that quite a number of those well-off children were the offspring of the master or the master’s male relations, by rape or subtler forms of coercion.

But even if we overlook a mountain of historical evidence about slavery, accept this twaddle, and focus on the main contention about the current black family, we would have to conclude that blacks were also better off in slavery than under the administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both George Bushes, since anyone living outside a gated community is aware that the current situation did not develop after January 20, 2009.

I know, I know, American political rhetoric is usually silly and often compacted of lies a child could see through. There is, for instance, the cant about Barack Obama being a socialist, though it’s a peculiar socialist who would preserve the private insurance companies and reduce the federal workforce. And on the left there’s the clamor that he is betraying Social Security.* Who could sift through it all to determine how much is ignorance and how much cynical posturing?

Still, we look at language here, and that means looking at rhetoric, and looking at rhetoric involves determining what works and what doesn’t. What doesn’t work is linking America’s first African-American president with slavery. It’s too ugly and touchy a subject from the nation’s past, with too many resonances, and invoking it is a little like having a smoke in a munitions plant.

 

*If the left had troubled to read what President Obama has written or listen to what he has said, it would understand that he’s a damn centrist.** And a realist who understands that only a combination of increased taxation and limitation of benefits is going to get us out of the hole. But the signature emotion of the left is disappointment, as rage is of the right.

 

**The various candidates opposing him and the discontented in his own party might recollect the lessons of Barry Goldwater and George McGovern: You can get nominated with the base, but you can’t get elected with the base alone.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 4:27 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Comments

Yes, sir, I'll willingly confess to being disappointed that Mr. Obama is not more of a socialist than he is, but I'm not gormless enough to be surprised by it.

I think that if either side paid attention to anything Obama said, the situation might be better (not because he is right, but because he encourages negotiation and centric politics).

Then again, if any politician ever read or kept informed on anything... the situation would be better off. Instead there are these blind sign-offs and partisan rhetoric.

Nicely pointed out, Mr. McIntyre.

Two thumbs up to Carolyn for nice use of "gormless," an under-used word. I agree with her sentiments as well.

Your otherwise accurate Bachmann comment is undercut by your questionable asides about Barack Obama. Bachmann's willful ignorance and pandering to the right wing christianists is in no way comparable to left or right-wing criticism of Obama. While you didn't equate them, you implicitly compared them. It was candidate Bachmann who committed herself to a racist and historically false statement. The criticisms of Obama are either epithets ("socialist") or worries that he will cave to Republican demands to change the benefit structure of the Social Security retirement system. By the way, where did candidate Obama say he would agree to lower Social Security retirement benefits when running for office?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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