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Beck, Bachmann & the U.S. Census: Fears vs. Facts

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The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. — from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address

It may or may not be a coincidence that census worker Bill Sparkman was found dead with a rope around his neck on 9-12 — the word “FED” scrawled across his chest — on the same day that Glenn Beck’s  “9-12 Project” descended on Washington, where the teabaggers, deathers and birthers gathered to protest what Beck & Bachmann have warned are “the systematic efforts” by everyone from Obama Administration and certain Democratic members of Congress, to health care reformers, environmentalists and the folk at with the U.S. Census,”to destroy our wonderful country and threaten to wipe away our God gifted liberties.”

And it may or may not be a coincidence that Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Michele Bachmann and other Capitol Hill GOPs have used the media and organizations such as Glenn Beck’s the “9-12 Project” as a forum for exercising their own “God gifted liberties” to stoke fear, hatred and conspiratorial disinformation about the Federal government, in general, and the U.S. Census, in particular — as if this 220-year-old, constitutionally mandaded U.S. Census (Article I, Section 2) were somehow a recent invention by the Obama Administration, designed to intrude into our lives and impose Nazi, socialist of communist (take your pick) control over the citizenry:

Certainly the collection of this information is going to be part of an ongoing political campaign by this administration. — RNC Chairman Michael Steele on the U.S. Census

I’ve made it very public what my position is, and I think there is a point when  you say ‘enough is enough’ to government intrusion.Michele Bachmann, explaining her plan to boycott the U.S. census

Can they, um, because I’ve considered not filling it out when I get it, but I want to make sure that they don’t use this  as a loophole to say that I can no longer have a permit for my gun. — Glenn Beck, during his interview with Michele Bachmann, hinting that the Feds might take away his 2nd Amendment rights, should he refuse to fill out his census forms — even as both have have just factually acknowledged that the Census Bureau’s stated fine for such is between $100-$5,000.

It is of no coincidence, however, that a certain percentage of citizens in this country have fallen under the spell of this “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” that has been spun by these GOP peddlers of terror, who have suggested that the census will be used by the Obama Administration to intrude into their lives, take away their guns and throw them into internment camps (the latter fear is courtesy of Michele Bachmann). A sampling of comments from Beck’s “9-12 Project” website reveals the extent of the terror, anger and hatred felt by their audience:

AMMO UP!!! I suggest ammo you don’t use yourself also. Never know when someone else could use it or trade for goods! Buy cheap/inexpensive ammo. I have my .308, .40 and 5.56.

I always thought they could only ask 2 questions? I am prepared for jail time! These are incredible times.

Why is the “census” so important right now? Two guess, [sic] it is the control this administration wants !

With the economy down and so many people out of work and worrying, the Dems are doing their best to side track this country . This is a cruel administration and it is doing everything it can to undermine our American way of life.

I think the best way to fight this, is to not participate in it. If it is going to be political and not fair anyway, why contribute to the fraud. When you get your census, just mark it, I refuse to answer these questions due to probable fraud.

Time to be sqirrels [sic] or whatever else cracks acorns. “When your [sic] a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

We have allowed, yes allowed the left to push us around for far too long. We have bowed and bent to every politically correct, tree-hugging, capitalist hating scheme they’ve come up with for fear of being called a racist, homophobe, hatemonger. I tell you what, they don’t know what a hatemonger is. It’s time to push back.

No, it’s no coincidence that our country is ripe for a lynching. After all, the Becks, Bachmanns, Steeles, Wilsons and Limbaughs of America have spent the past year working on the GOP tag team, taking turns goading their audiences into stocking up on assault rifles, ammo and grudges.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s still time to make a U-turn before something truly horrible happens.

And since Bachmann, Beck, Dobbs, Steele, Wilson et al show no signs of changing the incendiary tone of their rhetoric, it is up to each of us, as individuals, to unequivocally reject the agenda they are promoting:

  • first, by calling these people out — as have former president Jimmy Carter, Rep. John Lewis, Nancy Pelosi and others — whenever the rhetoric embraces hatred, threats and/or violence, and
  • second, by taking every opportunity to allay fears with facts.

Here is my contribution:

FEAR: Bachman says that she does not feel “comfortable” giving her personal information to an ACORN worker.

FACT:  Since 1970, the U.S. Census has been sent out and returned by mail. It’s simple. Citizens fill these out in the privacy of their own homes, then mail them back to the U.S. Census Bureau. Not to ACORN. Those citizens who do not return their form, or who return an incomplete form, are contacted either by phone or by an in-person interviewer, who was likely hired through one of several government contractors, including ACORN, so that the form may be completed. Mailing the fully completed census form to the Census Bureau entirely avoids the need for an in-person interview. (Read here for info on the federal laws that safeguard the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Data Protection and Privacy Policy,” and read here for more info on the use of GPS by the U.S. Census Bureau).

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Michele Bachmann doesn’t understand why the government needs information, such as her phone number.

FACT: Had she actually bothered to seek an answer to this question, rather than rather than resort to passing on her fearful ignorance and suspicions, Rep. Bachmann would know the reason for each and every question, as these are painstakingly explained throughout the U.S. Census Bureau documentation, as well as  on their website, including info on how long each question has existed on the census. Regarding phone numbers, these are requested in case the U.S. Census needs to contact those folks who didn’t properly fill out their forms. Calling these individuals on the phone saves the time and expense of sending a personal interviewer to the house. Oddly, Bachmann & Co. were silent over the Bush Administration’s wiretapping program, which made it legal for our government to listen into our private conversations, sans the formality of a warrant. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel more threatened by having the government listen into my phone calls, than by the rote gathering of phone numbers, which are available to anyone with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Worst-case scenario regarding phone numbers (should the above facts not allay Rep. Bachmann’s fears), according to the U.S. Census website, her phone number is not required by federal law, which she would know, had she bothered to look before leaping to conclusions.

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Michele Bachmann states that the U.S. Census short-form is 28 pages .

FACT: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The 2010 Census questionnaire will be one of the shortest in history, consisting of 10 questions. It takes about 10 minutes to complete.” The 2010 short-form is 6 pages long, with the aforementioned “10 questions” being covered on one single page. The other 5 pages allow optional space for documenting up to 12 other household members, if applicable, and requests only basic information, such as race, age, gender, etc.

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Michele Bachmann states that the U.S. Census short form is 28 pages .

FACT: Perhaps Rep. Bachmann, in her confusion, was referring to the 14-page American Community Survey (ACS) component of the U.S. Census, which went into effect during the Bush Administration, under a Republican majority Congress in 2005. The ACS replaced the now-obsolete U.S. Census “long census form,” which had been in use since 1940 and used on only a sampling of the population (5% of households in 1940, compared to 16% in the last several census counts). Today’s ACS asks essentially the same questions that were asked in the 100-question “long form” during the last two census counts, the only difference being that — rather than being used every 10 years, the ACS is (and has been since 2005) used on an ongoing basis every year. The theory is that, with our rapidly-changing demographic, economic, and housing data, there needs to be a more accurate system for tracking this data between censuses. (As an example of how rapidly our demographics change, the population increase from 1930 to 1940 was just under 9 million, whereas the population increase from 1990 to 2000 was nearly 33 million).  Too, the ACS uses a smaller sampling of households. Unlike the previously used “long-form” which was sent to 1 in 6 households, the ACS has been sent to an average of 1 in 9 households over a 5-year period. For those who have questions on how to fill out the form, a 16-page instruction guide available, but even this (the 14 page questionaire +the 16 page info guide) doesn’t add up to 28 pages.

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Bachmann states that the census asks for the number of live births.

census birthFACT: The census has never asked for the number of “live births,” although it does seem logical that — since the primary goal over its 220-year history has been to keep an accurate count of the U.S. population — there would be at least some question directed toward tracking birthrates. Perhaps Rep. Bachmann was referring to question #23 (left) which has been part of the U.S. Census for 80 of the past 110  years. This information is reportedly used both to project population growth, as well as to serve as a planning tool for the Dept. of Health and Human Services to implement programs, per statutes. (see this U.S. Census Bureau pdf document for more specifics on this)

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Bachmann states that the census asks how many bathrooms you have.

census  bathroom

FACT: No census has ever asked how many bathrooms a person has.  The census has asked, since 1940, whether a household has plumbing. This information is asked on the ACS form, not the short-form, which most households will receive. This information is used for various reasons, such as gauging poverty, determing risks for groundwater contamination, and for policy development by the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development. (see this U.S. Census pdf document for specifics on this).

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Bachman states that the census asks what time you leave for work and come home.

FACT: This question has been part of the census since 1960, and is one of several regarding transporation and the use of public highways. According to the U.S. Census:

“Transportation planners, using journey-to-work information, to plan for peak volumes of traffic in order to reduce traffic congestion, plan for parking, and develop strategies, such as carpooling programs and flexible work schedules. Decisions are made to build new roads or add capacity to existing roads, and to develop transit systems, such as light rail or subways, by projecting future needs.” Check the U.S. Census site (see pg. 35 of this 65-page pdf to both view the actual questions and to get more info on why this information is collected).

As Rep. Bachmann could attest, it would be much easier — and certainly less intrusive — for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to simply pull this data out of thin air, as she does with so many of her “facts.” However, this approach is not particularly helpful to transporation planners when designing the highway and mass transit infrastructures that our government provides equally to all citizens, in much the same way that all American citizens are given equal access — regardless of income, disability, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, age or race — to public schools, fire departments, law enforcement and, hopefully one day, health care.

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR: Michele Bachmann states that the U.S. Census does not ask if people are U.S. citizens.

FACT: The U.S. Census has been asking this very question for most of the past 180 years, beginning in 1820, when it was #13 of thirty-three questions, asking specifially for the “number of foreigners not naturalized” in the household. As Bachmann has also expressed some fear over the government’s interest in asking about age (part of the census since 1800), race (part of the census since 1790) and gender (part of the census since 1790) , it may be of interest to note that all but five of the 1820 census questions were devoted to asking the gender and ages of whites, slaves and “free colored persons.” For the record, question #8 on the 2010 census plainly asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Also, in April of this year, the U.S. Census acting director, Thomas Mesenbourg, announced to the media, “We’ll Work with ‘Community Organizations’ to Count All Illegal Aliens in 2010.”

*     *     *     *     *

FEAR:  Michelle Bachmann fears that information from the census will be used to round up Americans into internment camps, (as was done to Japanese and other immigrants in 1942, in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor), and states that she wishes that the FBI, instead of the White House, were in charge of the census.

FACT: First of all, the the U.S. Census Bureau operates through the Department of Commerce, not the executive branch of the government, nor ACORN. Regarding the FBI’s role with the census, beginning in 1939, it was the FBI who used the information from the U.S. Census to profile Japanese and other immigrants and to eventually “round up” Japanese, Italians, Germans and Jews into internment camps, per an executive order signed by Roosevelt in 1942. The U.S. government officially apologized for this and awarded $1.6 billion in reparations in 1988, with President Ronald Reagan stating, as he signed the legislation, that the government’s actions had been based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

The reason there was no mention of the U.S. Census in Reagan’s apology is because it was anti-immigration fervor — not the census — that ultimately led to these internment camps. The pity is that folk like Bachmann — having neglected to learn their history before speaking authoritatively on it — doom the rest of us to re-witness our most despicable histories. A good starting point for absorbing some historical perspective on the internment camps is the draft for an article, written by Eleanor Roosevelt, aptly titled, To Undo A Mistake Is Always Harder Than Not to Create One Originally.

What Michele Bachmann, in her defiant ignorance, failed to tell her audience is what actually led to the internment camps. It was certainly not the census. It was, in great part, the culmination of 150 years of xenophobic fear and hatred toward Asians — stoked by the Bachmanns & Becks of the day — that was nearly as old as our country, itself, beginning with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred U.S. citizenship not only to slaves and blacks, but to Asians. This law was followed throughout the 19th and early 20th century with various Alien Land Laws, which barred the ownership, leasing or renting of land by those residents who were ineligible to citizenship (read that: slaves, blacks and Asians). The Naturalization Act of 1790 was amended in 1875 to allow citizenship to Africans, still barring citizenship to Asians.   

This nativist hatred of “the yellow peril” only intensified during the 60 years leading up to WWII and the internment camps — with anti-Chinese, anti-Japanese sentiments being epidemic from the 1880s through the 1940s, along side the existing prejudices against blacks, Jews and Catholics. This period saw the passage of a series of laws directed specifically against Chinese, Japanese and/or Filipino immigration — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which barred Chinese labor and immigration), to the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907 (in which Japan agreed to not allow its citizens to emigrate to the U.S.), to Immigration Act of 1917 (which barred immigrants from most of Asia), to the Quota Law of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 (both of which sharply reduced the immigration of Catholics, Jews and the Japanese, who were deemed “aliens inelibible to citizenship,with the 1924 act finally barring Japanese immigration entirely). Anti-immigration became, in the wake of WWI, the cause célèbre of the KKK and other nativist groups and fraternal orders of the day, which targeted immigrants for intimidation, threats and lynching, the most infamous being, perhaps, the 1915  KKK lynching of the Jewish pencil manufacturer, Leo Frank..  

As the Depression descended during the early 1930s, job scarcity only escalated the anger and fear toward immigrants — not unlike the climate being cultivated today in the rhetoric of Beck, Bachmann, Dobbs and others — with the rise of WWII facism only seeming to justify old fears, while also justifying new fears of subversive facist and communist elements within the U.S. In 1939-1940, the FBI began the “Custodial Detention Index Program,” which targeted not only the Japanese and Chinese, but also Italians, Germans and Jews,  categorizing these immigrants into  several classes of “subversives.” 

With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor — and the U.S. officially at war with Japan — long-simmering hatred toward Japanese escalated to a flash-point, sparking both threats and actual acts of violence against Japanese-Americans. From this specific climate and turn of events, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the order to authorize the internment of Japanese Americans. 

It was not until the 1950s-60s that the anti-immigration laws barring citizenship and land ownership to the Japanese began to be lifted. Speaking before Congress in 1960, Senator Warren G. Magnuson — who, himself, had earlier been a proponent of the Japanese internment camps — urged a repeal of the alien land laws, describing the climate of fear that had led to these laws and, ultimately, to the internment camps: 

I am convinced that these anti-alien land laws helped substantially to create the prejudices which were fanned by hysteria in 1942, into and incident that has been described as ‘our worst wartime mistake.’ I have referenced to the mass military evacuation of 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, regardless of citizenship, age, or sex from their homes into interior interment camps.

It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965 that barriers against Japanese immigration were effectively lifted, allowing the Japanese an equal path with other nationalities to citizenship and, thereby, putting to rest 175-years of laws that served to legitimize prejudice within our immigration policies. 

It is of no coincidence that the Immigration Act of 1965 coincided with the Civil Rights and Votings Rights Acts of 1964-65, which afforded, after some 250 years, equal rights of citizenship to blacks. But as any white supremacist could tell you, it’s one thing to make a law; it’s another to enforce it. There continue to be in this country certain elements that work, like rust, to undermine the rights of non-whites. Harry Dent picked up the cause for white supremacist politicians in 1964, passing the torch to Lee Atwater in the 1980s, then to Karl Rove. Today, this same torch is being carried by Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann and, by virtue of their silence on the matter, by the entire Republican Party, who are exploiting old fears to further political agendas — stoking fear, hatred and, potentially, violence in the process. 

To borrow from the words that came back to haunt Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” It is this fear that ultimately led to the internment camps, and it is this fear — not the existence of the U.S. census — that could ultimately doom us, as a country, to repeat old history.   

*     *     *     *     *

America’s history with race and immigration is infinitely complex. I can no more do justice to this history in five or six paragraphs than Bachman, Beck, Limbaugh or Dobbs can lend in the various one-liners they broadcast over the airwaves each day, their dire predictions designed to raise ratings and political capital, entirely at the expense of the people they terrify and the victims who pay the price of this terror.

 

Henchmen to Road Rage? To a Lynching?

To date, we don’t know. But the fact that we are even asking these questions speaks volumes about the fears that have been cavalierly tossed about and taken root over the past year or so. 

This is how history repeats itself — by the perpetuation of old fears and old ignorance. It has taken me several hours to track down the facts and write them here for public consumption to set the record straight on just a tiny fraction of the irresponsible disinformation that it took Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann just a few minutes to broadcast to a national audience.

That’s the thing about terror.  It clutches at peoples’ hearts, entirely by-passing their minds, propelling them into survival mode. They’ll do whatever it takes to protect themselves from the enemy, the bogeyman.  These terrified  folk don’t ask questions. They believe what their politicians tell them. They believe what they hear on the TV box. They believe, with all their hearts, that the government is, in the words of Glenn Beck, out to “destroy our wonderful country and threaten to wipe away our God gifted liberties.” Too, there are a certain percentage who may know better, but are, indeed, acting on old hatreds.

From there, all it takes is a small spark. Perhaps an angry man in a pick-up truck who, seeing my Obama bumper sticker, rushes up behind my car on a rural road in South Carolina, threatening to rear-end my car, then nearly side-swipes me as he tries to run me off the road. Or, perhaps, a simple knock on the door by a census worker. That’s all it would take to incite the sort of rage that would compel men to murder complete strangers or to, perhaps, lynch a Boy Scout leader, a cancer survivor, a teacher, a single father to a son.

Whether or not the truth of the latter is fact or fear is a question that has yet to be answered. But it is a question that more and more American face each day — from the President, to members of Congress, to ordinary citizens like myself. It is a terrifying question, to be sure — one that no one should ever, ever again have to ask in this country. Yet, there are some in this country who would doom us to repeat it.

Again, it’s not too late. We can still make that U-turn before something truly horrible happens if, indeed, it hasn’t already.

VIDEO ABOVE: Michele Bachmann’s approach to stopping health care reform: “We have to today make a covenant, slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.”

 

VIDEO ABOVE: The Young Turks show broadcast on some of Michele Bachmann’s more bizarre statements, including her “slit our wrists” covenant, from the previous video.

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by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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Joe Wilson, the Know-Nothings and the Great Lost Cause: The South Rises Again

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(LEFT) A 9-12 protester, dressed in camouflage, carries a sign with a picture of an assault rifle pasted to the front. The caption reads: "A PICTURE this time. DON'T make me come back!" (RIGHT) D.C. Protester sporting a shirt that reads, "God & Guns ~ Back by Popular Demand."
(LEFT) A 9-12 protester, dressed in camouflage, carries a sign with a picture of an assault rifle pasted to the front. The caption reads: “A PICTURE this time. DON’T make me come back!” (RIGHT) A man wearing a shirt that reads, “God & Guns ~ Back by Popular Demand,” is flanked by D.C. protesters carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.

 

Doomed to repeat
  
Unless we choose to learn something from this particular chapter in our history, there’s no point in belaboring Joe Wilson’s outburst or gawking over the stream of vigilante protestors who commemorated 9-11 this past weekend by issuing thinly veiled threats to kill the President of the United States, along with certain Democratic members of Congress.  The fact is, until men like Joe Wilson cease being revered as the patron saint of the great Lost Cause, we can make no claim to have learned one of our country’s greatest history lessons.
 
 
flags

The Lost Cause

Growing up in South Carolina, I developed a mental block toward history, beginning sometime in elementary school. What child of 1960s South Carolina could possibly keep straight which was our state flag (the pretty blue flag, with the palmetto tree? or the scary red flag, with the big blue X in the middle, that flew from the yards and pick-up trucks of certain people?) — much less keep straight all of the Important Wars that our state had fought over slavery: the War Between the States, the Civil War, the War for Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of Secession, the Lost Cause?

Had someone told me then, what I know now, I might not have been a C-student in history and would have understood — long before the Lee Atwater era and the rise of the Southern strategy that has given birth to today’s tea baggers, deathers, birthers and twelvers — that the Lost Cause by any other name is still just a bloody war that has to be conceded. 

Before the Civil War, both the President and Vice-President of the Confederacy of newly seceded states (Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, respectively) named slavery as the primary cause of the war. After all, until the Civil War, slaves were chattel property — not human beings. What right had the Federal government to stand between a man and his property?

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite [from the U.S. Constitution] idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.  — Alexander Stephens in March 1861, comparing the new Constitution of the Confederacy with the “old” constitution — the U.S. Constitution — which Stephens claimed was built on a “sandy foundation ” as it “rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. “

It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts. — Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

After the war, Davis and Stephens backpeddled a bit, trying to divorce slavery from the equation. The emphasis was put entirely on states’ rights and secession, as if slavery had nothing to with either. It was during this period that the “Lost Cause” moniker was born.   

The Lost Cause was a purely Southern term, intended to convey for posterity the nobility of the Southern cause against the overwhelming force of the North. To this end, the Lost Causers made clear that the war was never about slavery. It was about state’s rights. It was not about the Federal government’s increasing encroachment upon the institution and expansion of slavery; it was about the South’s justification for seceding from the Union. According to this revised history, the South seceded from the Union because it was their right to resist Northern aggression toward their independence, their “Southern way of life.”

Understandably, it must have been difficult to continue infusing nobility onto a bloody war that decimated the Southern economy and humiliated its people; even more so to continue justifying the loss of 620,000 lives in a war that sought nothing more noble than the right to continue enslaving 4 million people.

dc obama massaMuch like today’s protesters who carry signs that read, “I want my country back!” — all the while insisting that their cause has nothing to do with racism — Jefferson Davis spent the balance of his life deriding the North for destroying the “Southern way of life,” all the while insisting that the war had nothing to do with slavery. Just like the protesters of today –who see today’s struggle for equal rights in health care as an assault on the Constitution and who decry Obama’s stimulus money and proposals on health care reform as the greatest assaults ever committed on our economy (even as these same protesters were perplexingly silent throughout the 8-years of the Bush-Cheney Administration’s unprecedented assaults on the Constitution and the federal budget) — Jefferson Davis was never quite able to connect the dots, never quite able to see what he was blind to seeing: the real motivation behind his selective memory on history.    

Writing in 1881, Jefferson accused the North of arriving, “like the serpent of Eden” tempting slaves with “the magic words of ‘freedom.'” If not for North, Jefferson said, these slaves — whose “servile instincts rendered them contented with their lot” — would never have succumbed to their “humble but emotional natures” and been incited to take up the cause of the North to “devastate their benefactors [slaveowners].”

And so it has been for 150 years and counting, with the torch of the Lost Cause being passed from generation to generation by various “historical” orders and “benevolent” societies thoughout the South, whose nativist, racist agendas are, at best, thinly veiled — and nearly always laid on the altar of God, Christianity and the Bible: from the Ku Klux Klan, to the  Junior Order of United American Mechanics, to the League of the South, the Association of Confederate Soldiers and the United Confederate Veterans of yore, to today’s Military Order of Stars and Bars, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the group to which the now-infamous Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) belongs, and which still embraces, today, the charge issued to them in 1906 by Lt. General Stephen Dill Lee, Commander General of the United Confederate Veterans:

To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish. 

And thus Joe Wilson’s Confederacy took the torch from Jefferson Davis, carrying it into the 21st century, their mantle cloaked in the noble language of abstracts: virtues, principles, ideals. No overt mention of the actual cause for which they fought — a cause which, by their own admission, they are committed to vindicating. You’ll find no overt pro-slavery sentiments among their literature; no overt mention of racism or oppression among the Lost Causers of today, even as their politics seek to institutionalize racism, and even as their politicians — from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to the Bush Dynasty — employ men such as Harry Dent, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, whose job is  to groom the Southern vote by exploiting old hatred. As Lee Atwater explained in his description of the Southern strategy he used in Reagan’s campign:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites….. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

This is the secret language of the great Lost Cause. This is the language being spoken, today, by politicians who seek to romance the racist vote. This is the language of those who have hijacked Christianity, using it to justify their evil deeds, exploiting religion as a tool to claim moral superiority over those whom they seek to commit oppression and violence. This is the language of corporations who exploit old hatreds and fears to incite protest against laws that would counterbalance their corruption and abuse of the American people. This is the language that will be spoken in the upcoming event being hosted by Joe Wilson’s Sons of Confederate Veterans: The American System of Liberty: Nullification, Secession and States’ Rights.  It is the adopted tongue of the common everyday man — birthers, deathers, teabaggers and twelvers alike — who, in the process of doing the dirty work for their politicians and the corporations that line their re-election coffers,  shoot themselves in the foot, under the misguided notion that they are fighting a nobler cause than the oppression to which they, themselves, will be made victim by these same politicians and corporations.  

A riddle: How to say the N-word without saying the N-word?

Here's a riddle for you: How to say the N-word without saying the N-word?

The Lost Cause and the Bogeymen

The Lost Cause, then, is why, when I was a young child — during our night-time drives home from family weekends at the lake — I used to cover my eyes and hide on the floorboard whenever we got mired in slow traffic, as passers-by gawked at the sight of men in white hoods, burning a cross in the middle of a field. The Lost Cause is why my teachers used to turn a blind eye to my classmates, who issued my daily ass beatings to punish me for being friends with a black child. The Lost Cause is why, every year, Civil War re-enactors descend on our town to reserruct the glory of that war.  

As much as this phrase is overused — those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it — it is apropos to Joe Wilson’s outburst, pertinent to his rebel yell, “You lie!” which served as a lightning rod to draw together the forces of fear, power, money and hatred into a single hot lick of flame. This is how the torch is passed — always, always ignited by fear: fear of blacks, fear of immigrants; fear of other religions; fear of things that are different, unknown, unknowable; the fear of the bogeyman that creeps in the shadows, hiding under our bed at night, lurking in our closet, stalking us from the cradle to the grave.

The bogeymen Joe Wilson conjured in those two words were not just the stereotypical black man archetypes that white men have been inventing for the past 350 years: the arrogant Negro, the militant African American, the lazy welfare buck, always trying to pull something over on whitey. No, Joe Wilson also specifically designed to conjure the fear of the immigrant bogeyman: that foreign enemy that relentlessly steals into our borders, into the American dream — OUR American dream — the greedy Polish, German and Irish immigrants intent on stealing our jobs from under us, the gluttonous Hispanics and Latinos content to suck dry the milk of human kindness on the taxpayers’ dime, the conspiratorial Catholics, Muslims and Jews seeking to undermine and, ultimately, overthrow the American democracy and capitalism, replacing these with communism, socialism, Nazism, facism…. Or worse. This is the immigrant Joe Wilson conjured in the lick of flame he passed to his audience during President Obama’s speech — the immigrant of the Know Nothing Party.

Joe Wilson and the Know Nothing Party

Rising to power in the decade preceding the Civil war, the Know Nothing Party was born from a fear of immigration — specifically Irish Catholic immigrants. The Know-Nothings were convinced that the Pope and his Irish Catholic minions were secretly plotting to take over the U.S. government in an effort to kill freedom and democracy, and to subjugate Protestants. The Know-Nothings worked in secrecy, helping to elect leaders sympathetic to their cause. Hence, the origin of their name: Whenever asked about their activities, they answered, “I know nothing.”

On the point of anti-immigration, the Know-Nothings were united, working behind the scenes to elect leaders who promised to deliver the goods. Specifically, to institutionalize their xenophobic agenda by enacting laws to restrict immigration; by barring immigrants from working at certain jobs; by excluding immigrants from voting or holding public office; and by requiring a 21-year residency as a prerequisite to citizenship. By 1855, with their numbers swelled to a million-strong, the Know Nothings jubilantly came out of the closet and formed the American Party. 

Had the only issue been immigration, the American Party would likely have survived intact into the 21st century. However, they were divided on points of prohibition and slavery, with the issue of slavery putting the final nail in the coffin of the Know-Nothings and their American Party. The anti-slavery faction migrated into the newly-formed Republican Party of the North, while the pro-slavery faction moved their numbers to the Democratic Party of the South, joining forces in what was to become the Lost Cause. 

The rest is history:

  • the Pope and his Irish Catholic minions did not overthrow the American government, despite the Know Nothings fears;
  • the emancipated black slaves did not go on a rampage and kill white people, nor overthrow the American government in the wake of the Civil War, despite the predictions of the Southern Democrats, the Red Shirts, and Ku Klux Klan;
  • the influx of immigrants in the early 20th century was not, as the Ku Klux Klan warned, an attempt to bring the Bolshevik Revolution to American soil
  • the labor unions of the early 20th century did not topple capitalism or turn our country into a communist labor camp
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms (e.g. the FDIC, SEC, organized labor and the Social Security Act) did not turn America into a fascist state, as myriad detractors cried would happen
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy,” as the suggested by John Birch Society
  •  President Harry Truman and the civil rights activists, artists, intellects, writers, actors and independent-minded politicians of the 1950s were not communists conspiring to infiltrate and overtake our government, as Joseph McCarthy believed to the core of his being.
  • President John F. Kennedy, it turns out, was not the AntiChrist. And history has since shown that, despite the concerted fears of Southerners and Protestants everywhere, Kennedy’s presidency was not a secret plot to incorporate America into the Catholic hierarchy, nor to decimate our First Amendment rights. 
  • the Medicare Act of 1965 did not turn America into a socialist country, as was warned in the early 60s by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
  • Martin Luther King was not a communist, as Joseph McCarthy insisted, nor was the civil rights movement part of a larger communist plan to overthrow the American government. 
  • blacks did not overthrow the American government or subjugate white men in the wake of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of 1964-65, nor was America transformed into a communist regime, as the John Birchers predicted 
  • the idea of allowing blacks equal access with whites to schools, restaurants, bathrooms, drinking fountains and other public places did not spring from the minds of “communist philophers,” as George Wallace and others had insisted, nor did desegration “forever” kill America’s freedom
  • Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village,” was not a Marxist manifesto calling for the destruction of the American family unit, so that our children could be placed under the care of a socialist Big Government. Nor was her health care plan.

Since the history has not yet been recorded, it will be a few years before we can offiicially add what we already know to this list:

  • health care reform is not a secret socialist plot by the Obama Administration to take over the government, subjugate Christians, empower immigrants and minorities to overpower whites, rob us of our rights and freedoms, topple capitalism, institute death panels, install fascist rule or turn American into a communist state
  • the closest America has ever come to being a fascist state was under the rule of Dick Cheney, during which time the birthers, deathers and tea baggers were asleep at the wheel

Still, hope springs eternal. Maybe one day we will no longer be a nation doomed to keep repeating this same sad, pathetic history, marching to the tune of the Know Nothings and the great Lost Causers.

 

A view of the 9-12 protest march in DC: the Confederate flag and the South Carolina state flag frame the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

A view of the 9-12 protest march in DC: the Confederate flag and the South Carolina state flag frame the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

The National Association of Retarded People and Joe Wilson’s flag

Even as the Confederate “bars and stripes” flag was never the official flag of South Carolina, nor the Confederacy, it is the official flag of the Lost Cause and all who have yet to concede the outcomes of the Civil War, the Voting Rights Act , the Civil Rights Act and desegregation.

The Confederate flag was planted on the South Carolina State House in 1961, ostensibly to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. And there it remained for 38 years, during which time the Confederate flag grew to be symbol of the Ku Klux Klan, serving as the banner under which the white supremacists marched during the Civil Rights era, then later, during the Reagan era, the flag carried by the rising movement of white supremacist skinheads and neo-Nazis. While the Civil War revisionists have long-insisted that the flag is a cherished part of our history and has nothing to do with racism, anyone who lives in the South knows the de facto symbolism. We can argue the point ’til we’re blue in the face, but the fact remains that we all know the sort of people who fly Confederate flags in their yards, or plaster its image onto their pickup truck bumpers, or proudly boast it during their Civil War re-enactments. 

And one needn’t scratch far below the surface to elicit the racial animosity that attends to this adopted symbol of our “cherished” history. In 1999, for example — after the Confederate flag had been flying over the S.C. State House for 38 years in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, and despite many efforts to have it removed — the  NAACP threatened a boycott of South Carolina tourism if the Confederate flag were not removed from the State House. In response, S.C. Sen. Arthur Ravenel announced that he wouldn’t be pressured by “that organization known as the National Association of Retarded People.” For his part, then-Senator Joe Wilson defended the flag as a “very honourable” part of his Southern heritage: 

That’s offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description. I find that very offensive, and it’s not true. The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honourable.

The fact is, slavery WAS a 200-year holocaust commmitted by Christian white men – not only against blacks, but against Native Americans and any other non-white, non-Christian race that could be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Those Native Americans who were not slaughtered, were sold into slavery to fund the African slave trade, in which millons of blacks were kidnapped from their homes and stacked like common cargo into the bellies of ships for their trip to America, where they were sold  into slavery, forced to work as beasts of burden for white men. This was written into the laws, called Slave Codes, of each and every slaveholding state in our great Christian nation:

All servants imported and brought into the Country…who were not Christians in their native Country…shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion…shall be held to be real estate.” — from the Virginia Slave Code of 1705, defining slaves as those non-Christian people of color — a population that encompassed Africans and Native Americans alike, none of whom were deemed human beings in the eye of the law but were, rather, held as “real estate.” The Virginia Slave Code of 1667 had already established that Christian baptism did not alter the state of bondage.

It would be difficult to make a factual case that any of these slaves were “contented with their lot” as the Jefferson Davis-Joe Wilson school of historical revisionists would have us believe. The punishments for escape, or for stealing food, were prescribed by law and were anything but “honourable”:

For the slave first offense of petty larceny (stealing or destroying goods valued at less than twelve pence) the punishement was to be publicly and severely whipped, not exceeding forty lashes… second offense shall either have one of his ears cut off or be branded on the head with a hot iron that the mark thereof may remain… for his third offense shall have his nose slit… a fourth time shall be adjudged to suffer death or other punishment as the said judge shall think fitting. — from the South Carolina Slave Code of 1712. Similar punishments were meted to runaway slaves, with the letter “R” branded on the right cheek for a second offense. Upon the third attempt to run away, males were castrated. Should a slave die as a result of the castration, the slaveowner was compensated our of the public treasury for the value of the slave! Upon the fifth offense the “cord of the slaves legs” would be cut above the heel or, alternately, the slave would be killed. Slave owners who failed to carry out these punishments were subject to punishments ranging from fines to forfeiture of his slave.

The South Carolina Slave Codes of 1722 and 1735 took a more charitable view toward the “pretence of hunger” that might compel a slave to steal food, changing the law to reduce the number of lashings from 40 to 30 for any slave who stole “fowls, lambs, pigs, hogs, calves or pountry or any other edible matter or other thing under the value of twenty shilings.” Too, the law reflected on whether it was really in the master’s interest to kill his slave for such thefts: 

Negroes and slaves, under pretence of hunger, do frequently break open corn houses and rice houses and steal from them corn and rice…. If these slaves sought food when inadequate amounts were provided, was it in the master’s interest to kill them for burglaries committed to alleviate hunger pangs?”  from the South Carolina Slave Code of 1722

These Slave Codes remained in effect until the Civil War era, when they were replaced by a new system of laws called Black Code, then Jim Crow, then the “racial code” of the Atwater era that is with us today. For 100 years of this time – from the 1860s to the early 1960s, lynchings were the rule of vigilante justice throughout the South. Throughout this century, Southern politicians, such as Joe Wilson’s  old boss, Strom Thurmond,  fought tooth and nail against Federal anti-lynching laws — all the way into the 1950s —  insisting on the preservation of their beloved “states’ rights” for handling lynchers, sans the intrusion of the Federal government. It worked. Despite nearly 200 anti-lynching bills introduced into Congress, not a one passed, due entirely to the power of the filibuster by Southern politicians.  As some compensation, the Senate apologized in 2005 for their failure to pass antil-lynching laws.

And Joe Wilson is offended by those who would take his “heritage” and “make it into a Holocaust era type description”? Untold thousands of blacks were wantonly murdered from the 1600s onward into the earely 1960s, with a near absence of laws to protect them, much less to punish their murderers. During this time, millions of Native Americans were targeted by the U.S. government for extermination. It’s an ugly and shameful history, to be sure — one that no man or flag could, in all honesty, claim as an honorable cause. Yet, they do.  

As Joe Wilson’s own group, Sons of Confederate Veterans puts it: 

The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight.

This is all fine, so long as we understand what that fight was — and still is — really about. It’s about the cherished belief among some people in this country that the  American ideals of liberty and freedom were never more fully realized than in the days of slavery — when white men held an entire race under bondage.

This is why, when I heard Joe Wilson bellow, “You lie!” in the Senate Chamber, I knew I wasn’t hearing the voice of a principled politician fighting for a noble cause. What I heard — what we all heard — was the collective voice of the slaveowners and Know Nothings echoing their Lost Cause. It was the voices of  Jefferson Davis, Strom Thurmond, Joseph McCarthy and Lee Atwater whispering from the grave. It was the voice of schoolchildren spitting the words “Nigger lover” as they kicked their classmate in the head. It was the voice of the men in the fields, their hands raised to their hearts, singing, “God Bless America,” their dark faces lit by the glow of a burning cross.

 

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by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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