The Lost Shoes of Gettysburg and the Lost Cause of the GOP Shutdown

boehner-shutdownWhen an anonymous Republican Congressman sat down with the Washington Enquirer to explain how the GOP got taken over by the fringe Tea Party faction leading to the government shutdown, he drew a parallel to an oft-repeated origin story about the Battle of Gettysburg. In doing so, he unintentionally revealed some fascinating parallels between the government shutdown and the Civil War, between the myth of the Lost Cause and the myth of political equivalence, and between the fight over emancipation and the fight over health care. The congressman told Byron York:

I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn’t intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it. That’s basically what’s happening now in a political sense. This isn’t exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it’s the fight that’s here.

Notice the analogy that he’s trying to make: Well, it just started so simply, over such a little misunderstanding, over something not even related to the battle itself, over the need for soldiers to find decent footwear… And then it blew out of proportion and became a deadly, unstoppable machine of blood and dead bodies.

But this shoe story is an untrue fabrication spread to propel the overarching myth of the Lost Cause. The Lost Cause myth is the idea that the Civil War was a preventable tragedy for America and that the slave-holding South was really just trying to live peaceably. The Lost Cause myth would argue that as bad as perpetual, generational chattel slavery of millions of black human beings was, it was not worth the death of hundreds of thousands of white people. That the war on black people’s lives, bodies, work, minds, and bodies perpetrated, established, and ruled by lashings, laws, and dogs by white people was not worth white people dying over — according to Lost Causers like Ron Paul.

The Lost Cause myth was fabricated to expand the myth of White Supremacy. White Supremacy, as we talked about here, teaches that White people are better, are smarter, work harder, and deserve more. More wealth, more praise, more responsibility. Brown and black people don’t work as hard, according to this myth; they aren’t as smart or industrious; aren’t as virtuous; aren’t as deserving.

Conservatives particularly use this myth of White Supremacy to push Black and Brown people in the US and abroad to the economic and social breaking point. This is good for White elites for several reasons. First, White Supremacy gives the elite a seemingly never-ending supply of free or very cheap labor (who cares about sweatshops in Malaysia or slave work in for-profit prisons in the US? Turns out, not too many); also, it helps to push the justification for mistreatment of poor white people: no matter how bad off they have it, at least they’re better off than people of color. So poor people the world over are oppressed by White Supremacy, but poor White people join into the White Supremacy narrative because, after all, they don’t want to be in as bad a situation as poor black people. At least there is someone they can look down upon.

How does this all relate to the government shutdown? Conservatives are creating and sustaining myths that justify enslaving and mistreating the poor and people of color — in much the same way as The Lost Cause argues that the Civil War was an act of Northern Aggression against the freedom-loving Southerners. As we’ve demonstrated here, the GOP relies on myths of White Supremacy in order to propel its causes. In this case, particularly, it’s about health care. From the beginning of the Tea Party movement, when the Koch Brothers’ & Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks astro-turfed the scene, the movement was based around the idea that having the government involved in expanding health care is an act against freedom, and used racial fears to engage and energize the base to do the will of the rich in their place.

These are practices going back hundreds of years. The same practices used to conscript poor whites in the South for a war created by the greed of wealthy “property” owners is used now to garner Medicaid recipients against the uninsured.

Rather than focusing on the hundred and fifty year old war against black people that was committed in the Southern US by slave “owners,” Lost Causers like Ron Paul focus on President Abraham Lincoln as an interloping and power-grabbing president — much the same way they present President Barack Obama for extending health care coverage to the working poor and lower middle class (remember the “Let them die!” chants?).

Much like Southern Apologists seek to absolve the Southern Elite and themselves of the guilt and shame of slavery and racism, the GOP, wanting to absolve themselves of the guilt and negative PR of shutting down the government and their attacks on the poor, construct and retell falsities to project innocence upon themselves.

It’s just odd when the innocence myth that is used to protect the Republicans (and, in the process, continue the false equivalency narrative that the media loves; this lie that both parties are equally responsible and immature) from the blame and responsibility of shutting down the government over healthcare is one of those same exact myths used to protect a culture of enslavement. It’s odd because it’s such a moment of lucid honesty.

Health care refusal – which is the theme of much of those same southern states responsible for the Civil War – is a continuation of the legacy of chattel slavery.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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