Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sean Wilentz Strikes Back

Sean Wilentz literally wrote the book on early American democracy. His 2005 work, The Rise of American Democracy won the Bancroft Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Wilentz' pedigree is immediately off-putting to the Risible Class: Yale, Columbia & Oxford, and he teaches at Princeton. The motley group of pundits and politicians who kowtow to evangelical nonsense and confuse random sound bites for legitimate argument dismiss scholars like Wilentz as elitist eastern liberals.

The Risible Class acquires power with twisted appeals to credulous voters. Their power base is white, mostly uneducated and largely fundamentalist/evangelical. People who accept the bible as literal truth are very easy to control. Proof lies in three decades of Republican use of so-called "values" to beguile the white working class into voting against its own interests. Drop a few code words, like "eastern liberal" and legitimate debate can be preempted by superstition. You don't even need complete sentences, let alone a paragraph or two. If Glenn Beck is any indication, the Republican base can be manipulated with incoherent babble.

Wilentz also writes for The New Republic and other media outlets. In the context of long-held views of consequential presidents, Wilentz' stand on Grant is fairly brave. He recently published a vigorous defense of Grant in the New York Times. The first sentence in his New Republic review of U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth begins thus: No great American has suffered more cruelly and undeservedly at the hands of historians than Ulysses S. Grant. In historical matters, Wilentz is not a stereotypical eastern liberal. That is not to say that the Risible Class will not continue to hold him in contempt as it was Grant who nullified the Klu Klux Klan.

TheRaven also notes that Jill Lepore, no lightweight among prize-winning, ivy-league historians, gave Wilentz a fairly wide berth in her NewYorker review of
The Rise of American Democracy. With Wilentz established as a genuinely fair & balanced expert, we turn to the most execrable item on the "modern" Republican agenda.


That word should inspire anger, disgust, loathing and fear. In a constitutional context, nullification is the worst possible heresy. The notion that states can choose which Federal laws they will abide by was born in John Calhoun's fevered defense of slavery. Nullification is political rabies. Calhoun's nullification movement was smacked down by Andrew Jackson, yet it would not die. The plague returned in the 1850s but the Civil War only sent it into hibernation.
Racial segregation was rabidly defended in the 1950s and now that (surprise!) America has an African-American President, slavering nullification proselytizers lunged for the bully pulpit once again. Wilentz' nullifer smack down can be found here: http: //,1

When state legislators threaten to disobey Federal law they mimic long-dead slave owners and cynically abuse the credulous. Legislators in Georgia, Oklahoma and other miscreant states fail the first test of their convictions: comparison to the most famous southern icon (who didn't commit treason).
Andrew Jackson was a borderlands descendant, a self-made man, a slave-owner, a leader, a southern gentleman and a genuine tough-guy. He was a product of his times, with a personal code of honor. It's difficult to see how acceptance of slavery and a reliable sense of right and wrong could live in the same man but the 1820s were long ago in a cultural context. Slavery wasn't completely abolished in New York until 1827. The key to understanding the importance of Jackson's stand is comparison of what he had to gain versus what a southern gentleman President stood to lose from aggressive suppression of a pro-south political movement. The key point is that Jackson put country first in suppressing Calhoun's nullification movement.

Compare Jackson to our current crop of dissembling state legislators. That they dishonor themselves is without question. They also dishonor the men and women who gave their lives over the 223 year defense of The Constitution. Consider those Americans who currently defend our interests overseas. These "modern" nullifiers dishonor the very people they supposedly represent. Their deceitful use of the credulous is shameful, disgraceful and absolutely contrary to their obligations as American citizens and the oaths they swore to uphold the Constitution!

In a different time, their actions would be characterized with only one word.


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