The Left by Y.I. Wearblack
One Man's Opinion
One Man's Opinion
The victory of Newt Gingrich in South Caroline and his victory speech alluding to seven Lincoln-Douglas style debates with President Obama evokes a number of stark parallels between the issues in 1858 and the issues we face today in the 2012 election.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was the Republican challenger to the Democratic incumbent, Steven Douglas. The debates highlighted the issues that would come to the fore in the 1860 presidential election. The debaters agreed to debates in all seven districts of Illinois. The debates were recorded word for word by stenographers from all the nation’s major newspapers, and the public followed every debate, reading every line of text, analyzing the meaning of every word like biblical scholars deciphering scripture.
The first parallel to the 2012 election is the physical similarity of the debaters to their predecessors. Though Gingrich is older than Douglas he resembles him in height and shape, Obama has been said to resemble and admire Lincoln.
Although Lincoln was the Republican in 1858, he represented the anti-slavery position. Remember, at this point the argument was not to abolish slavery, but whether or not slavery would spread to the North by virtue of the ending of the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery in Kansas and Nebraska and the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court. Lincoln expressed the fear that the next Dred Scott decision would make Illinois a slave state. White America was born into a culture of bigotry which plagued the nation from its birth and from which the nation has never completely extricated itself; the parallel is stark.
In 1858 the issue was to stem the spread of slavery, preaching to a constituency that believed that all men were equal under the constitution, except for slaves. Today, the issue is class warfare; the right of the poor and middle class to retain the benefits that they have paid for versus the threat of austerity aimed at limiting these benefits.
As in 1858, the rich exploited the poor and middle class to further enrich itself, buttressed by a renegade supreme court, unabashed in their conviction for entitlement. The Romney camp marketed him as an advocate for the rich, using his life as an example, touting the evil of envy and the purity of capitalism. But this last week his strategy was exposed as a canard. No matter how hard he tried he could not identify with the southern electorate that he faced.
But Newt Gingrich, who had been brought up in Georgia, a state whose people have similar values as South Carolina was able to seize the moment. He was a desperate caged tiger, one inch from elimination. He was willing to say anything, do anything to stay alive, as he ever so gingerly tiptoed into the realm of playing to the audience's prejudices disguised in an idealistic framework called work ethic. That was his opening gambit in South Carolina, and Newt pushed the pieces with great precision. He called Williams a liberal, but some South Carolinians had a different word in mind. Just as Douglas did 154 years ago, Newt is set to exploit prejudices by rhetoric, statesmanship and debate. He has proclaimed that he’s the only one who is snarly enough, vociferous enough and pugnacious enough to “put Barack Obama in his place.”
From the perspective of a liberal, I say, let’s do it! I’m willing to suffer the tedium of seven debates. I have two reasons. The first is that an epic struggle of good versus evil defines history. Second, shrinking from this challenge for any reason would only strengthen the argument of Gingrich, namely that the Democratic platform is weak and deserves to be exploited. So, “Lay on McDuff, and damned be him who cries, hold, enough!”