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Thursday, August 11, 2011

GOP debate: Santorum misquotes Lincoln

In the GOP debate tonight, Santorum took a shot a Romney after Romney, defending the healthcare reform bill he passed in Massachusetts, asserted that the individual mandate is in accord with the Massachusetts Constitution but not with the U.S. Constitution. Santorum said, roughly, what's wrong is wrong, regardless of written law. Then: "Lincoln said, states have no right to do wrong."

Coincidentally, I just wrote about Lincoln's First Inaugural today, noting that Lincoln not only affirmed the Southern states' right to maintain slavery undisturbed, but said that he would not object to a Constitutional amendment codifying that right.  So I looked up Santorum's cite, which is from the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  Lincoln did suggest that in an ultimate sense, the states have no right do to wrong, insofar as no one has a right to do wrong (the actual quote was with reference to Douglas: "he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong." Full context below.)  But in the very same passage, he first affirmed the Southern states' legal right under the Constitution to maintain slavery, and asserted that Republicans would not interfere with that right.


Below is the full passage, with the relevant portions about Southern states' rights and ultimate, moral "right" in boldface.  With regard to the "no right to do wrong" phrasing, Lincoln accuses Douglas of evading the question of whether slavery is morally wrong, and therefore blithely suggesting that every person or entity that wants to permit it has a "right" to do so.  Again, there is a contrast between states' rights under the Constitution and moral "right"-- a perhaps untenable distinction that Lincoln essentially maintained until slavery was abolished even in the loyal border states.

From the Lincoln-Douglas debates:
LINCOLN:
"We have in this nation this element of domestic slavery. It is a matters of absolute certainty that it is a disturbing element. It is the opinion of all the great men who have expressed an opinion upon it, that it is a dangerous element. We keep up a controversy in regards to it. That controversy necessarily springs from difference of opinion, and if we can learn exactly--can reduce to the lowest elements--what that difference of opinion is, we perhaps shall be better prepared for discussing the different systems of policy that we would propose in regard to that disturbing element. I suggest that the difference of opinion, reduced to its lowest terms, is no other than the difference between the men who think slavery a wrong and those who do not think it wrong. The Republican party think it wrong--we think it is a moral, a social and a political wrong. We think it a wrong not confining itself merely to the persons or the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong in its tendency, to say the least, that extends itself to the existence of the whole nation. Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, in so far as we can prevent its growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it. We have a due regard to the actual presence of it amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and all the Constitutional obligations thrown about it. I suppose that in reference both to its actual, existence in the nation, and to our Constitutional obligations, we have no right at all to disturb it in the States where it exists, and we profess that we have no more inclination to disturb it than we have the right to do it. We go further than that; we don't propose to disturb it where, in one instance, we think the Constitution would permit us. We think the Constitution would permit us to disturb it in the District of Columbia. Still we do not propose to do that, unless it should be in terms which I don't suppose the nation is very likely soon to agree to--the terms of making the emancipation gradual and compensating the unwilling owners. . . .

"I will say now that there is a sentiment in the country contrary to me--a sentiment which holds that slavery is not wrong, and therefore it goes for the policy that does not propose dealing with it as a wrong. That policy is the Democratic policy, and that sentiment is the Democratic sentiment. If there be a doubt in the mind of any one of this vast audience that this is really the central idea of the Democratic party, in relation to this subject, I ask him to bear with me while I state a few things tending, as I think, to prove that proposition. In the first place, the leading man -- I think I may do my friend Judge Douglas the honor of calling him such -- advocating the present Democratic policy, never himself says it is wrong. He has the high distinction, so far as I know, of never having said slavery is either right or wrong. Almost everybody else says one or the other, but the judge never does."

"If there be a man in the Democratic party who thinks it is wrong, and yet clings to that party, I suggest to him in the first place that his leader don’t talk as he does, for he never says that it is wrong. In the second place, I suggest to him that if he will examine the policy proposed to be carried forward, he will find that he carefully excludes the idea that there is any thing wrong in it. If you will examine the arguments that are made on it, you will find that every one carefully excludes the idea that there is any thing wrong in slavery. Perhaps that Democrat who says he is as much opposed to slavery as I am, will tell me that I am wrong about this. I wish him to examine his own course in regard to this matter a moment, and then see if his opinion will not be changed a little. You say it is wrong; but don't you constantly object to any body else saying so? Do you not constantly argue that this is not the right place to oppose it? You say it must not be opposed in the free States, because slavery is not here; it must not be opposed in the slave States, because it is there; it must not be opposed in politics, because that will make a fuss; it must not be opposed in the pulpit, because it is not religion. Then where is the place to oppose it? [The Democrats seem to think that] there is no suitable place to oppose it. . . .

So I say again, that in regard to the arguments that are made, when Judge Douglas says he 'don’t care whether slavery is voted up or voted down,' whether he means that as an individual expression of sentiment, or only as a sort of statement of his views on national policy, it is alike true to say that he can thus argue logically if he don't see any thing wrong in it; but he cannot say so logically if he admits it is wrong. He cannot say that he would as soon see a wrong voted up as voted down. When Judge Douglas says that whoever or whatever community wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical if there is nothing wrong with the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong. When he says that slave property and horse and hog property are, alike, to be allowed to go into the Territories, upon the principles of equality, he is reasoning truly, if there is no difference between them as property; but if the one is property, held rightfully, and the other is wrong, then there is no equality between the right and wrong; so that, turn it in any way you can, in all the arguments sustaining the Democratic policy, and in that policy itself, there is a careful studied exclusion of the idea that there is anything wrong in slavery.

Let us understand this. I am not, just here, trying to prove that we are right and they are wrong. I have been stating where we and they stand, and trying to show what is the real difference between us; and I now say that whenever we can get the question distinctly stated of whether slavery is right or wrong-can get all these men who believe that slavery is in some of these respects wrong, to stand and act with us in treating it as a wrong-then, and not till then, I think we will, in some way, come to an end of this slavery agitation."
To be fair, if you believe that Lincoln would accept Santorum's assertion that an individual mandate is morally wrong, then you could also infer from this passage that Lincoln would think it wrong for a governor to promote such a law. But that's no excuse for suggesting that  Lincoln would oppose a state's legal right to do something that he personally regarded as wrong, if people and elected officials in the state thought otherwise.

Obviously too, when he proposed and eventually signed his bill extending near-universal healthcare coverage, Romney did not think the individual mandate morally wrong -- in fact, he defended it in moral terms, as a means of preventing free riders from getting expensive healthcare at taxpayers' expense.  But of course now, for the United States as a whole, it's an abomination. That's moral clarity for you.

1 comment:

  1. To me, the whole premise of Santorum misquoting Lincoln is not a big deal. Politicians put their own spins on whatever information they get and then pump it out to the populace as truth. Santorum's slip-up does not lie close on the misinterpretation scale to when Bachmann praised a town as the birthplace of John Wayne, whilst it was actually home of John Wayne Gacy. I think that if Lincoln was around today, he would have been in support of Romney's health care plan. Isn't letting the poor suffer because they don't have the finances to pay for insurance a wrong?

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