A Weekend at Bernie’s? Maybe we should hit the Jim, instead

Rarely am I one to read either Daily Kos or that most eminent economist of the Grey Lady’s, but a Facebook friend shared this, and I went for it like a bluegill for bacon fat.

Here’s the original Krugman column, which starts with a brilliant bit of humor from the author: “The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything…”

This post isn’t about Hillary Clinton directly, but it’s worth considering something risible noted by Krugman and echoed by DK:

The press, I’m sorry to say, tends to punish open-mindedness, because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis. Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride.

(My emphasis. — TGFI)

Krugman, ever the good liberal, declines to convey the nuance of the cited article.

We looked into Clinton’s past remarks on NAFTA and concluded that she has changed her tune, from once speaking favorably about it to now saying the agreement needs “fixing.”

[…]

Today, Clinton’s campaign Web site says plainly, “NAFTA was negotiated more than 14 years ago, and Hillary believes it has not lived up to its promises.”

Semantics? Maybe. Clearly, though, Mrs. Clinton isn’t critical of NAFTA per se, but only to the extent that it has not delivered as promised — something about which wiser men, like Pat Buchanan, forewarned twenty-one years ago. That Mrs. Clinton has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership is heartening, but, pace Krugman, the cynic is compelled to question the political motivation for such opposition from the spouse of Bill “Free Trade” Clinton. It’s all about running to the left. Duh.

President Obama has proven himself to be a centrist — an actual liberal, in the mold of — Wait for it! — President Clinton, the “New Democrats”, and the DLC. As he has followed the same inclinations toward unnecessary and disastrous foreign engagements and capitalism-über-alles, he has brought the Evil Party closer to the Stupid Party, creating a gap that previously caught the eyes of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, and now draws into the race Senators Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb — and, purportedly, the good First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Wal-Mart board member/Wall Street harlot.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical that Mrs. Clinton is any less a liberal than President Obama, her husband, or the right-wing liberals of the Grand Old Party. I am willing, however, to entertain the possibility, as displayed in Krugman’s column, and as hoped for by the more socially democratically inclined members of the Democratic Party and the American electorate, that, politics being the art of expedience, Lady Hillary will be forced to campaign further to the left, especially with the entrance of Senator Sanders into the race, and this is all the more reason for those (not voting Republican) to reject the Green Mountaineer in favor of the Hillbilly.

Okay, so, excessive prefatory remarks out of the way, I am compelled to add a few more. Anyone who knows me or has read NathanContraMundi in the past knows that I’m either a right-winger or a conservative (though not both; I’m not sure which is the more appropriate term, but I am certain that “right-wing conservative” suggests something that I ain’t). My ideal candidate is a softer version of Pat Buchanan meets a saner version of Ron Paul meets a milder version of Ralph Nader. Oh, hell, just give me Bill Kauffman, please — or Andrew Bacevich  In the meantime, I’m tepidly (more so than I was with his father) supportive of Rand Paul.

That said, being skeptical of both libertarian capitalism (I really ought to discourse on why I’m not a libertarianwhy I am, nonetheless, so sympathetic to the libertarian conservatism of the Doctors Paul; and where I draw the line.) and the Republican Party’s tendency to choose Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan, as well as, you know, thinking that it’d be swell were “both” of our part”ies” to offer some kind of big-tent variety, what happens in the Democratic primaries is of great interest and concern to me.

So, here we go, the meat of the article, which, in characteristically Nathan-ish fashion, likely will be far shorter than the preface. (I can’t say for certain because most of this is stream-of-consciousness, and I’ve not exactly outlined what’s to follow.) Also, it’ll likely be a pretty superficial analysis, because, well, it’s midnight, this is the first time that I’ve posted at NCM in more than four years, and, well, I’ve reached the point at which I’m even inserting this soliloquy. (I aver that, should I get back into the habit of updating this Weblog with any frequency, the writing and arguments will improve — presumably good rationale for not redoubling my efforts!)

However much I’ve come to prioritize, at least short-term, concerns about foreign-policy recklessness and the concentration of economic power in the hands of relatively few, I am, undeniably, a cultural conservative who is typically politically “socially conservative” (though perhaps less so at the federal level than at the state and local).  This makes any contending Democrat less than appealing to me off the bat,  Senator Sanders more so than his Virginian counterpart, who, though certainly a “social” moderate-to-liberal, is arguably a cultural conservative. For me, though, this is as much a matter of practicality as it is a personal concern: there may be a certain attractiveness about Sen. Sanders to the fairly small cohort of Americans who embrace social democracy, and even to a number of more-liberal progressives, not to mention some of us despondent conservatives, but Jim Webb is likelier to have a broader appeal, while still drawing Her Majesty toward the left during primary season.

I truly believe that Sanders-ites are right to be excited that HRC will be compelled to campaign to the left as long as the soi-disant socialist of Vermont is in the race. I also believe that thinking that this sinister pull matters is rather deluded: expecting Mrs. Clinton, I fear, to live up to the faux-populism that she’s already been displaying on the campaign trail is akin, in retrospect, to expecting George W. Bush to keep his promise of a “humble foreign policy” (in the wake of the hawkish presidency of none other than Mr. Clinton!) or thinking that Barack Obama would really be delivering any substantive hope or change.

It’s nice to see a real progressive challenger compel HRC to do some work before her coronation, but, ultimately, it’s just a delay. With her gender, her name, her perversely embraced reputation, and her being a Wall Street harlot all in her favor, she has too good of an opportunity to grab the nomination as long as a kook (And I say this not to reflect my own opinion of Senator Sanders, but to suggest that this is what a social democrat from Vermont is going to be appear to be in the eyes of Joe Middle America.) is her leading opponent. That’s not to say that Jim Webb is going to perform any miracles, but he has a better chance both of playing the role of dark horse and of having any kind of impact on the party of Jefferson and Jackson (purportedly) than his further-left colleague. Why?

1. He’s a Hillbilly. Seriously, he comes from “real America”, born in Missouri, traveling across “real America” as his father was transferred from one base to another, ending up in swing-state Virginia, and proudly and publicly embracing his Scotch-Irish roots. The guy is, simply, more relatable to more Americans than a Jewish socialist who grew up in New York City.

2. He’s a veteran. This matters not merely because of the weird American fetishization of veterans that occurs even as our idea of “support[ing] the troops” constitutes, mainly, smearing anyone who criticizes the wars in which our service personnel fight or the civilian leaders who send them to God-knows-where unnecessarily, but because he is a veteran, like the aforementioned Bacevich, who has not been shy about his opposition to some of our stupider forays.

If someone’s going to challenge Mrs. Clinton on the foreign-policy front (and someone needs to), and if someone’s going to try to move the Democratic Party (which, we need to remember, has always been the war party, the GOP being something of a Johnny-come-lately in the Twentieth Century), Sanders may have the benefit of having opposed the Viet Nam conflict at the time (unlike Webb, who served in said conflagration and seems to be less opposed, retrospectively, than fellow veteran Bacevich), but Webb has the street cred afforded to someone who’s been there and knows from personal experience (Remember, not only is he a veteran, but he served as SecDef under the Republican Reagan. In 1990, out of office, he warned against escalation in Saudi Arabia and against a permanent presence in the Middle East (and he was insisting upon Congressional declarations of war before it was cool).)

Nine years ago, Scott McConnell reminded us, at The American Conservative, of Webb’s prescient words in the Washington Post at the outset of the Second Bush’s Mesopotamian Massacre:

Webb questioned whether an overthrow of Saddam would “actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism” and pointed out that the measure of military success can be preventing wars and well as fighting them. He charged, “those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade.” He concluded, “the Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. … In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.” If any major senators were thinking like this long before the invasion, not many Americans heard of it.

3. He’s not as “extreme”. In terms of both voting records and perceptions, Webb is the moderate, the guy who gets it wrong on X, but gets it right on Y — and even may have a decent reason for his wrong view on X. (I speak from the conservative perspective, of course, in using ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.) Bernie Sanders isn’t. And winning elections is about securing the strongest in-party base during the primaries without turning off independents and dissatisfied voters who generally support the other party. Jim Webb is likelier to attract, I think, progressives than Sanders is to get the attention of Blue Dogs (if any still remain); in November, Webb is absolutely likelier to attract Republicans than Sanders is.

Sanders may well be the “better” candidate — certainly for the real progressives, social democrats, and fellow-travelers, to say nothing of those of us communitarian conservatives troubled by the hyper-individualism guiding economic policy and practice today. Practically speaking, though, backing Bernie, however nicely principled, is an onanistic act of futility that will leave the Democratic Party securely in the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Jim Webb’s chances may not be significantly better than Bernie Sanders’s, but they are better, and he’s the candidate likelier to have a measurable, propitious impact on the Democratic Party and, we can hope, American electoral politics.

Besides, Jim Webb vs. Rand Paul sounds like one helluva race, right?

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The South, Progressivism, and Historic Revisionism

Over at Humane Pursuits, Brian Brown, in an exceedingly verbose disquisition (Yes, please do insert your pot-and-kettle joke here.), makes the novel assertion that

The South is certainly highly conservative in temperament (disliking change), but it is actually oddly Progressive in the values it wishes to conserve. Whether its detractors realize it or not, The South represents a chapter in Progressivism’s past, and a chapter in its present. Progressives hate the sight of it. But like it or not, The South (as a movement) is actually a form of half-grown Progressivism that couldn’t quite get the hang of it.”

Novel, and absurd. To a degree, Brown is correct in noting that some of “the values [The South] wishes to conserve” coincide with certain Progressive values, just as he is when he posits that the founders of the Religious Right — Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson — acted Progressively insofar as they “made [social issues] into national crises demanding coercive, national legislative and judicial measures.” But in his continued obsession with Progressivism, Brown errs grossly on at least three points.

First, there is something peculiar — even incoherent — about his claiming that they wish conservatively to preserve Progressive values, only then to cite abortion and gay marriage as the issues that they wish to combat — very conservative values, it seems to me — through Progressive means. (Only later does he make the partially correct contention that The South has adopted the earlier Progressive value of militant nationalism.) Toward the end of the essay, he hedges his claim, noting,

The counter to all this, of course, is that Progressivism tends to be anti-tradition, anti-family, and anti-religious, while The South is the proud preserver of all of the above. But just as the initial description of The South was a pejorative generalization, so this is a pejorative generalization of Progressivism. Many of Progressivism’s early leading men were deeply religious (Wilson is an example); only comparatively recently have the atheistic sects of the movement gained control of its policies. And the significance of The South’s upholding of tradition and family, while real, has been diluted by its adoption of the Progressive moral tradition of nationalism and material tradition of massive strip malls, chain stores, and Wal Marts over many local institutions.

I am right with Brian in condemning the “adoption of … material tradition of … Wal Marts over many local institutions”, but, again, he proceeds a leap too far in accusing The South of seeking to conserve Progressive values, when they’ve actually been guilty of using Progressive tactics to conserve their values. Moreover, he borders on equivocation with the suggestion that because Wilson was deeply religious, he was also a “proud preserver” of tradition, family, and religion. Few things so impressively rout all of the above as does engaging in a war — with a draft no less! — on another continent — to say nothing of post-war policies — when the United States traditionally had observed the Monroe Doctrine (itself a disturbing innovation). Add to that the list of federal accomplishments under Wilson — the Federal Reserve Act, the Revenue Act of 1913 —, and we see, however unintentionally, an enemy certainly of family and tradition, both moral and American-political.

Second, simply to suggest that the leaders of the Religious Right, and, following them, The South, adopted “Progressive ideas [as] the best way to solve social problems” while remaining “highly conservative in temperament (disliking change)” fails to place matters in proper context: To wit, the Religious Right and The South have not simply chosen to play by Progressive rules, but have had Progressivism forced upon them. Certainly, they could (possibly!) have chosen something of a Benedict Option, or a more ardently localist front-porch approach, rather than having adopted tricks from the Progressive playbook, but given the ramifications, for example, of Roe (Brown, recall, specifically mentions abortion.), such tactics would have offered little opportunity for undoing the atrociously Progressive act of legalizing infanticide. (I have argued, and intend to do so here at NCM later, that culturally conservative localism and a repudiation of “social conservatism” is necessary if we ever seek to develop a meaningful, strong Culture of Life, so I’ll concede to Brown slightly, but this is decidedly not the same thing as overcoming entrenched Progressivism in the chambers of government; that is, our building a Culture of Life from the ground up does not mean that we necessarily can afford to stop fighting the game on the Progressives’ terms simultaneously, given that they still rule the roost.) Just as Herbert Croly, as Brian notes, determined that the conditions of his time “demand[ed] as a counterpoise a more effective body of national opinion, and a more powerful organization of the national interest”, the Religious Right and The South recognized that Croly’s desired “more effective body” had ascended to dominance, and they had to form their own counterpoise thereto.

But, alas, I’m a Soul-Proprietor

Those few parts of the Realm of the Weblogs that I still visit have thus far been pretty quiet regarding yesterday’s significant, if not already-blown-out-of-proportion, SCotUS decision in Citizens United v. FEC. (The Extraordinary Mark, unsurprisingly, comes down in favor of it.) Consequently, I haven’t found too many outlets for expressing my opinion (save Facebook conversations), so here I am, after a too-long hiatus, engaging in all the self-absorption that the personal Weblog permits.

Perhaps needless to say, despite my occasional libertarian leanings and rule-of-law-based reluctant Constitutionalism, the predominant front-porch republican strain in me immediately anathematizes the Court’s decision. Given the ease with which corporations ably circumvent what restrictions heretofore existed (as ably noted in an unsettlingly almost-persuasive defense of the decision by Glenn Greenwald), fears that this decision in any way really changes matters in practice are probably exaggerated, but I, nonetheless, worry about to what the messages that this decision send, however quietly they will reverberate in a nation of acquiescent sycophants and myopic, long-term-memory-challenged “activists”, will amount.

First, it is a First-Amendment issue, at least as “freedom of speech” has come to be understood and to be applied to “corporate persons” as well as to ensouled people. Accepting this — and further acknowledging that the wording of the First Amendment says nothing about to whom the freedom of speech belongs (“Originalism”, I suspect, provides an answer, but not one that “conservative” “originalists” presently on the Court would likely wish to entertain. See below.) —, I have to raise the predictable question about equating money with speech, or, rather, designating spending money as a form of speech. Specifically, my concern lies with equality, the equality of liberty. (Greenwald, again, makes a discomfortingly almost-persuasive case for money as speech.)

The reality is that “the average corporation” — “the small business: the dentist, daycare operator, or grocery store owner who has incorporated due to the nature of our litigious society”, as asserted by an ardently Republican good friend of mine — is not the average corporation financially able to “say” anything loudly enough and frequently enough to get things done. That being the case, doesn’t this still decision still warp freedom of speech, subjecting it to the market? That is, instead of an equally possessed right, the freedom of corporate (political) speech is something afforded more to those who have money than to those who lack it. (Problematically, we must address this same issue when we consider individual expenditures comprising political “speech”(; more on this, as a matter of principle, below). Practically speaking, the decisive factor seems to me to be that corporate influence tends, as a matter of finances, to be much more effective than individual campaign contributions, and that matters relating to economy of scale permit the large corporate entity to out”speak” the small businessmen more effectively than the wealthy individual can the small-money campaign donor. (Also, money-bombing seems to have shown that en masse, small-time donors can make a big splash, even if their recipients ultimately fail to gain sufficient traction to upend the political Establishment.) This seems to be either a rejection of soi-disant conservatives’ preference for “equality of opportunity”, or one hell of a reductionist stretch of said principle.

Now, on to a meatier point, returning to the more foundational question of corporate personhood. I have a serious problem with the precedent set, directly or not, by Santa Clara, fully detesting the very notion that anything other than an ensouled, free-will-possessing human is a person. But even accepting that, I am troubled by the theoretical threat to federalism that rulings of this nature — and, admittedly, the very notion of corporate personhood that I’m begrudgingly accepting as precedent — present. Allow me, no Constitutional-law scholar (and thus willing to be corrected, or supported, by someone better versed in the field) to demonstrate.

A corporation exists because it is chartered by a State government. That is, it is a beast of the State’s creation, which intuitively suggests that the State ought to be able to regulate it as it sees fit. So perhaps the Citizens United decision is the right one, prima facie, because it’s stripping the federal government of regulatory power properly left to the States(; we’ll leave aside implicit questions about inter-State commerce). However, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment (regarding which the SCotUS originally granted personhood to corporations (“Judicial legislation”?)), the State loses the right to regulate what it has created because the federal court has deemed this chartered — rather than incarnate — “person” to be worthy of Constitutional protections that, through the Incorporation Doctrine, the State must now honor. It may not be an obviously direct ramification of Santa Clara, Citizens United, et cetera, but it seems to me to be a legitimate cause for concern.

Then again, the Constitution was our first, worst mistake, an inherently centralizing document for the large, commercial republic, endorsed by the sorts for whom talk of the States was mere pretense.

In the comment section of an exceptional post of his at Front Porch Republic, John Médaille has this to say:

[T]he Supremes were merely recognizing an established fact: that the government of the United States is a wholly owned and operated subsidary of corporate America. Why should the plutocracy be limited in the amount of money they spend in supporting their employees? What the Supremes did was to reveal how little they cared for “original intent,” since the founders never intended to give corporations the rights of natural persons.

And via Ted Chan, this:

Today’s structure of law gives corporations a spectrum of legal and constitutional rights which they routinely wield against people, communities, and nature. Corporations have more rights, for example, than the communities in which they seek to do business. They can and do use those rights to lobby Congress, impact elections, and to decide for us what we eat, whether mountaintops are blown off or not, whether there are fish in the oceans, and on and on. Their constitutional and other legal rights, together with their wealth, guarantee that they can define the debates that lead to the adoption of new laws—and often write the laws themselves.

Update: John Médaille offers his thoughts here:


All CU wanted was for the court to bless their end-run around the campaign laws. Corporate contributions were not an issue in the case, and not part of the relief that plaintiffs were seeking. But for some unknown reasons, the court decided to re-hear the case on grounds that had nothing to do with the plaintiffs plea. The rehearing was peculiar, not only in widening the grounds of the case beyond the issues that were placed before it, but in ordering the rehearing for September 9th, a full month before the court’s session normally began. This seems to indicate some undue haste in deciding so pivotal an issue. One is tempted to think that the majority wanted this issue decided in time to dismantle the current laws in advance of the coming congressional elections. One is permitted to ask here whether the court’s agenda is judicial or political.

In ruling on the issues presented to it, the court upheld the FEC against CU. But on the issues that were no part of the original case, they voluntarily threw out restrictions against corporate funding of campaigns, restrictions that date back to 1907 and have been upheld by every court since then, in test after test. They have, at a stroke, undone 100 years of legislation and judicial precedent. This is not evolution, but revolution, and a revolution predicated on some very peculiar grounds.

The majority of the court treated this as a “free speech” case. Yet, this is somewhat perplexing. As far as I know, CEOs have always had the right to say whatever they liked, to support whatever candidate they wanted, to go to whatever rallies they wished, and to write letters to the editor whenever they felt the need. That is, they enjoyed all the rights of free speech that every other citizen has. As far as I can recall, there are very few corporate executives in prison for expressing their opinions. The court, however, was not interested in the rights of the executives, but in the rights of the corporations as “legal persons” endowed with all the rights of natural persons. This is a rather peculiar doctrine that originated in another example of legislating from the bench, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific (1886), which granted “personhood” to corporations. This rule was a complete overturning not only of the court’s previous rulings, but of the long history of corporation law dating back to the Middle Ages.

Support Your Daily Source of Principled Conservatism

Last month, the editors of The American Conservative announced that without a significant increase in financial resources, this bastion of reasoned thought on the Right would go under. Happily, they announced that, having enjoyed most generous responses from their readership, TAC will survive, although now as a monthly, rather than bi-weekly publication.

Recently, John Schwenkler’s Upturned Earth, always one of my favorites, moved to the magazine’s Website, joining Dr. Larison’s Eunomia and @TAC. The word on the street is that, within the next couple of weeks, they’ll be further expanding the magazine’s online presence, thus providing even more of a supplement to the excellent fare they proffer on paper.

If you don’t read the aforementioned Weblogs, then make a point of doing so. Bookmark The American Conservative, consider subscribing to the magazine (which, I note, is the only magazine to which I subscribe that I make a point of reading cover-to-cover within a few days, rather than allowing issues to pile up: Suck it, The New Yorker!), and, if you can afford it, consider making a donation beyond the subscription rate (which I intend to do if, ya know, I ever have a source of income again!).

Seriously, folks, support and enjoy this magazine. Any organ that can print articles suggesting that Carter wasn’t all bad, that Reagan wasn’t all good, and that Norman Mailer could have done wonders as mayor of NYC (written by Mailer’s youngest son); interview Mailer and Ralph Nader without selling out or using the interviews as excuses to trash these folks; and still legitimately pass as conservative is surely worth reading! Methinks that Burke and Kirk would agree. Röpke, too!

An Awesome Title Or, Wordsmithery Gone Natural

Professor Deneen’s “Oeco-system.” It’s a really good piece, too — not just a superbly titled post.

Here’s a snippet:

Meanwhile, for many years now, cosmopolitans have sought to liberate humans from the narrow boundaries of unchosen communities, have urged a globalist ethic that regards humans as appropriately citizens of the world and at home nowhere in particular. Seeking the liberation of opressed individuals from the depradations of local communities, cosmopolitans have sought to commend an ethic of “multiculturalism” often at the expense of culture proper.

We should see clearly that the modern ethic, in all of its forms – philosophic, economic, political, theological, artistic – aims at the elimination of culture. Culture is an eco-system with added presence of human beings. Culture springs up in local places based on local diversities and natural conditions. In a healthy eco-system, cultures are robust and can expect to thrive – like snail-darters or tree-frogs – into the indefinite future. Under threat from external forces, they prove to be fragile and with relative ease are rendered extinct: destroy the eco-system that gives rise to and sustains creatures or cultures, those creatures and cultures are eradicated with remarkable ease and alacrity.

The commendation of “multiculturalism” is everywhere the recommended stance of our time (while this is a position most often visible on the Left, it is also in fact the default position of many on the Right, particularly in their encouragement of “free trade” whose result is a polyglot commercial sphere. Readers should consult the work of Tyler Cowen for the “Right” version of multicultural enthusiasm).

Delicious, huh? Here’s his scintillating concluding paragraph:

What needs fundamental reassessment is the idea that the current Left and Right represent true alternatives on our political stage today. There are legitimate differences, to be sure, but it turns out that what makes them more similar undermines their points of legitimate difference. Asking us to choose between “the environment” or “family values” (for instance) while simultaneously demanding that we sign on to a more fundamental agenda that makes either – or both – of those commitments finally untenable is either the most brilliantly contrived political conspiracy of all time, or simply a reflection of yet unquestioned commitments to a modern agenda that will ultimately destroy the natural and cultural pre-conditions of its own success.

My only thoughts on CPAC

Typed on a Sticky Note so that I could express my thoughts to Sarah, my layout editor, without further irritating the girl sitting in front of me who couldn’t handle my negative comments.

This event is called “Will Obama’s Tax Policy Kill Entrepreneurship?”

I have not yet heard anyone speak of entrepreneurship. I’ve heard that our president and the government in New Jersey are socialists, maybe communists, and I’ve heard a lot of [sic] stock ownership, but not one thing about taking the entrepreneurial risk. Maybe Wall Street capitalism is going to kill entrepreneurship before the president has the chance to?

I think this sorta sums up the problem with the Republican idea of economic liberty.

The Maryland Corner: “Redeeming Roger Taney”


(from the forthcoming issue of The Terrapin Times, the first installment of our new feature, dedicated to important political figures, past and present, on the Right from Maryland, tentatively called The Maryland Corner)


Americans have a way of spinning history to bolster our national mythology. JFK’s foreign policy was nightmarish — to speak nothing of his personal life —, yet we extol him. FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court, interned Japanese-Americans in numbers that dwarf the count of unfortunate souls at Guantánamo, and eagerly collaborated with the murderous Stalin, but idolizing him as the conqueror of the Depression and scourge of the Axis powers is much more palatable than embracing the truth. 


Then there is Abraham Lincoln. Ignoring that he needlessly sanctioned the bloodiest war in American history and put the kibosh on the important question of whether states, sovereign when they entered into the great experiment in liberty, could secede and reassert their autonomy, we revere the sixteenth president as a great liberator, the savior of the Union. We relegate Maryland native and Lincoln antagonist Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to the deepest pits of Hell for his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford.


Yet, ironically, as we begin at least four years under our first Black president, a man esteemed as the new Lincoln, we ought to look for inspiration to no less a man than the estimable author of that loathsome Dred Scott decision.


Roger Brooke Taney, of Calvert County, was hardly perfect; he was, however, more complex than many would care to admit. His opining that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race,” and thus ineligible for citizenship, is detestable. Nevertheless, he had personal qualms with the “peculiar institution,” and manumitted his own slaves. A dual-federalist, he stood firmly between ardent states’ rights champions and the advocates of centralization, proud of his Southern heritage and a lover of Maryland, but a loyal American who sought the preservation of the Union. 


Most important today, as our government continues to expropriate powers at the cost of our God-given liberties, Taney stood up to Lincoln’s antipathetic attitude toward the Constitution. After the mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, to the president’s consternation, proclaimed that they would permit no more Union troops to transfer through their respective jurisdictions, Lincoln instructed General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus within the area of the military line. 


Obeying the governor’s orders, Lt. John Merryman, of the Baltimore County Horse Guards, burned bridges to prevent additional Pennsylvania soldiers from entering Maryland; not long thereafter, he was arrested on charges of treason. Numerous Maryland legislators soon found themselves incarcerated for no obvious reason. 


Enter Roger Taney. Presiding over the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Maryland, Taney, in Ex parte Merryman, reaffirmed that the president lacks authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus — a power expressly delegated to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. A defiant Lincoln persisted, widening the scope of the territory wherein the writ was held in abeyance. Employing arguments frightfully comparable to — but exceedingly more eloquent than — those to which we have grown accustomed in this tumultuous decade, Lincoln asked rhetorically of Congress, “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” Orwellian reverence for the rule of law at its finest.


Taney’s comprehension of liberty was incomplete, perhaps unforgivably so. That President Obama intends to try to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is dubious. However, given Obama’s vision for expanding government’s role in the economy, embrace of the Pax Americana ideology, and, more relevant, support for the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA “compromise,” one is right to fear for his liberty. If we look beyond his imperfections, in Roger Taney we see a Marylander of whom we should be proud and whose spirited defense of the Constitution we should aspire to mimic.