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.