Byrd: GOP is no "Party of Lincoln"


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Continuing its recent string of submissions to The Daily Iowan, the College Republicans issued a guest opinion on Nov. 22 titled “The Daily Iowan’s ignorance of the Gettysburg Address,” penned by group treasurer Dennis McWeeny, attacking the DI on three fraudulent fronts.

To begin, McWeeny slams the DI for not honoring the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. To this I say, so what? The Gettysburg Address is one of the most revered and constantly invoked speeches in American history. It has become so immortal and fixed in American society that whether or not the DI honors its 150th anniversary says nothing about our appreciation for the speech.

McWeeny goes on to attack my colleague Ashley Lee’s article “Why I’m not a Patriot” (DI, Nov. 19), a polemic explaining why she is not too eager to honor the Founding Fathers who kept in place the brutal, dehumanizing, immoral system of slavery. McWeeny responds to this thoughtful argument by suggesting that the Founding Father’s “errors” (a very pernicious word that minimizes the horror of instituting policies of racist subjugation, when you think about it) were somehow wiped away by the stirring rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In his estimation, Lincoln “forever corrected the errors committed by the Founding Fathers.”

Basic historical fact exposes this claim as simply false. The Gettysburg Address did not end the institution of slavery nor did it end the disenfranchisement of women and blacks, the undemocratic election of senators, the Electoral College, or any other of the multitude of grievous “errors” the Founding Fathers made in creating their flawed Constitution. It was a nice speech, I’ll give it that, but its far-reaching policy implications are not nearly as concrete as McWeeny would suggest.

He then moves on to pan a letter recently published in the DI by James Larew (DI, Nov. 19) that argued the Republican Party has moved away from the principles of Abraham Lincoln and toward the radical, far-right anti-government principles of Ayn Rand. McWeeny responds to this charge by suggesting “it is not necessarily the case that Ayn Rand’s ideas are such a sharp departure from the ideas of Abraham Lincoln … Rand’s work also lends hope to the ideas of a freer America, free from oppression by government …”

This notion only makes sense if you don’t really think about it. Rand’s fanatical hatred of a strong federal government doesn’t exactly fit in with the fact that, except for the New Deal, the biggest expansion of federal power in U.S. history occurred during Lincoln’s administration. As historian Eric Foner has argued, the Civil War strengthened the federal government through the use of military conscription, the institution of a national currency, rapid expansion of the tax-collecting policies, the suspension of habeas corpus, the declaration of martial law, and the wholesale emancipation of 4 million slaves. To suggest that the man who oversaw and ramrodded all these expansions would be sympathetic to a figure that called for the destruction of most of the federal government’s authority is simply absurd.

In the end McWeeny goes on to declare that his “party is and always will be the party of the Great Emancipator.” Electoral politics disprove this premise — the modern Republican Party is composed of a patchwork alliance between the party’s traditional business wing, the descendants of segregationist Southern Democrats, warmongering neoconservatives, and anti-government libertarians, groups with no sort of ideological consistency with Lincoln. Put it this way, a party that derives most of its electoral support from the former Confederacy and whose supporters frequently brandish Confederate flags can’t claim Abraham Lincoln as their party’s representative.

In their most recent contribution to this paper, McWeeny and the College Republicans forwent a substantive, important debate on the legacy of slavery, the Civil War, and its impact today in favor of manufactured outrage and a dishonest historical vision of Abraham Lincoln. All of this, of course, is characteristic of a College Republican staff that continues to churn out political pabulum.

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