Saturday, April 17, 2010

From A Certain Point Of View

"So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view. Luke, you will that many of the truths that we cling to depend greatly on our point of view." - Obi Wan Kenobi (from Episode VI, "Return of the Jedi) 

Something about this simple pronouncement in a movie script has caught my attention recently as I watch instances of the political debate in this country. Both sides believe that they have the facts on their side, both seem convinced that they have the backing of history, and both are equally passionate in defending their beliefs (and attacking the opposition). It is however, the facts that we choose and how we interpret them that defines us however. 

Take for example, the recent proclamation made by the Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia, declaring April as Confederate History Month. Given that he was a Republican governor swept in on the Conservative momentum change he was already a target, and with this he was immediately attacked by the media and the left as racist for attempting to lionize the Confederate history of his state and for not specifically mentioning the evils of slavery in this proclamation. (He later amended his proclamation to do so, though he continued to be vilified.) 

Forget that Civil War tourism is a large source of revenue for his state, at a time when all are struggling with revenue shortfalls. Forget as well that many of Virgina's most famous and laudable citizens deserve to be remembered regardless of which side of this war that they fought on. Apparently all we are to remember is that slavery is evil and that the Civil War was fought about the cause of slavery alone. 

Now while there is no doubt that slavery is evil and little that it had something to do with this tragic period in American history, anyone who looks closely at the times can see that there was far more to it. If slavery were the cause of the war, then why is it that slavery was not ended before the war began (see definition 1 of cause)? In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation was not issued until January 1, 1863, two years after the war had begun, and slavery was not officially abolished in the United States until 1865, with the passing of the 13th Amendment. 

If the belief instead is that the war was fought not because of, but over slavery; how do we reconcile this with the fact Lincoln initially felt that he had no Constitutional right to abolish the institution? In fact, Lincoln stated after the war had begun: "My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it."  

Perhaps instead we should look more closely at this first Republican president, someone who was committed to strong central government and to a tax and spend philosophy. Lincoln believed in high tariffs that were putting a strangle hold on Southern exports when he was still a Whig Party member in the mold of Henry Clay, and signed the bills that created the IRS and the first US income tax when president. He also favored spending federal money to sponsor massive infrastructure projects (outlawed in most state constitutions of the time), which greatly expanded the miles of railroad track in this country (mostly in the North) through the use of federal subsidies. 

In addition to saving and strengthening the Union, Lincoln was unafraid to use the power of that stronger central government he desired to enforce his will. He suspended (illegally) the rights of habeus corpus in this country, arrested Maryland legislators who were considering joining the Confederacy in legitimate legislative session, shut down newspapers and arrested publishers who spoke out against his abuses, and deported to the Confederacy a former Ohio Democratic state legislator (Clement Laird Vallandigham) who criticized him.

Perhaps in fact, the Civil War was (until very recently) the last stand of the states who adopted the US Constitution in 1787 to assert the states rights that they thought were guaranteed under that document. It might be said they feared the federal government with Lincoln at its head was overreaching the limits placed on it by that document, and that they simply sought the same relief that the Founding Fathers outlined in the Declaration of Independence and pursued some 111 years earlier. 

While some might argue the extremity of the method used, it is difficult (especially in these times) not to sympathize with the fears that these men had. It is also difficult to understand why Virginia cannot use a state proclamation (often an instrument of spectacular absurdity) to create a discussion to explore the subject and more closely scrutinize some of the facts and interpretations of the history of this period. Instead of castigating the man and attacking the idea, perhaps this could be used as one of those "teachable moments" that the liberal intelligentsia is so fond of. 

Of course all of this is simply my take on the issue, given from a certain point of view ...


Roland Hansen said...

Extremely good posting, Tim. It is informative, educational, and factual. You have used an excellent example that really is poignant.
All too often, people believe in "truths" based on perspectives and points of view rather than based on cold, hard, fast facts. You, Dave (Hooda Thunkit), and I all seem to understand that. I guess that is why you, Dave, and I may differ with one another on some topics, and still remain close amigos. That is from my point of view.

Tim Higgins said...

Thank you Amigo Roland. As you rightly point out, there is not only nothing wrong with discussion of facts and points of view, in fact such discussion is essential in a free society.

I am blessed that you choose to share that sometimes differing point of view with me, with Dave, and with the world at large (even when we don't agree).

Roland Hansen said...

Gracias, mi amigo Tim.

I have found that having intelligent discussions in an open and honest dialog containing differing viewpoints and perspectives provides for better understanding and increased knowledge.

I have an unquenched thirst of knowledge and I have learned much from you and Dave. I do not have to be in agreement with people of differing viewpoints in order to learn.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

Amigos Tim and Roland,

You've both said anything that I would have in my brief absence.

Although we may not always agree on every point, I do agree that the there is always something to be learned from the other person's point of view.

I will miss our get-togethers and discussions most of all.

I too found value in our talks...