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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  • strayaway

    Bad journalism defined: Weave one’s own obsessions, politics, and projections into one’s own interpretation of selected quotes from anonymous sources.

    Then ignore the following: Ron Paul has also pointed out that Britain freed all of its slaves decades before the Civil War by purchasing them and setting them free. From the perspective of the North, had Lincoln done the same, it would have cost only one quarter the amount of money and saved those hundreds of thousands of lives the author here dismisses. From the perspective of the South, there were also lives lost and Sherman’s arsonists wouldn’t have laid waste to much or the South. All this could have been averted had Lincoln, or any previous president, been enough of a leader to effect Britain’s example of how to end slavery.

    • Pipercat

      Nothing like a heaping bowl of logical fallacies to start the morning out right!

      • Charles Vincent

        You might not like it but he is accurate. Jefferson Davis could have also avoided the war by allowing Lincolns request to send aid to the soldiers stationed at Fort Sumter but instead he fired on the Fort which caused the hostilities to start.

      • Pipercat

        War was inevitable. The enormity of scale regarding the ferocity, length and absolute cost of the war, basically lends question to the, “if only” arguments. Like you said with the “SCW” adage, Lincoln could have let the south go just as easily I suppose. Wasn’t going to happen. It really is an is-ought fallacy. Lincoln was going to preserve the union at all costs. This buy the slaves notion is nothing more than pure speculation and since things turned out so badly, I really have to apply Hitchen’s razor regarding this premise. Both sides were ginned up pretty good by 1861. It’s so easy to second guess decisions and their ramifications 150 plus years after the fact.

      • Charles Vincent

        My point was they had options and plenty of them the fact they didn’t explore them is well the same problem we have now there are solutions but democrats want to be prickish and the republicans respond in kind.

        it seems feasible Britian did it and we weren’t far removed from being a British colony. Do you mean Occam’s Razor?

        http://math DOT ucr DOT edu/home/baez/physics/General/occam DOT html

      • Pipercat

        Like I said down the chain, things those days make the machinations of today look like tiddlywinks. That era was so contentious, well, we saw the endgame and the consequences.

        No, Hitchen’s. He came up with it some time before his death. Just a twist on burden of proof fallacy or, as I like to say, throwing the bullshit flag…

    • Already covered these fallacies before, Southern Apologist Strayaway.

      The South was given options like these and continued to refuse them.

      The basic point is that, while the North and Lincoln were not necessarily good or looking for the benefit of the enslaved, the South was already embroiled in a generations-long war against Africans and their descendants unparalleled to much anything else in a supposedly “civil” society.

      • strayaway

        The British did free their slaves without a war. That is a fact, not a fallacy. I am not aware of any Congress or president giving the same option to slave holding states. Realizing that I am sometimes wrong and wanting facts, I’ll be satisfied if you will be so kind as to post a link to back your point up. Which president or congress presented what financial benefits to slave holding individuals or states to purchase and free slaves?

      • Pipercat

        Right, the British solution worked, for the British Empire. The fallacy is the false equivalency you are trying to create between the British Empire and the United States of America. Also, it is up to you to prove this notion is even relevant to the lead up to the civil war and not for the author to disprove it. You made the assertion, now you prove its relevancy. Your second fallacy is called a burden of proof fallacy or Hitchen’s razor.

      • strayaway

        Jasdye hasn’t gotten back with with any evidence yet that his statement, “The South was given options like these and continued to refuse them” was verifiable. Let’s give him some more time. You don’t seem to have any thing to support him with either. Getting back to your comment that although it worked for the British, there was somehow so much difference between Britain and its former colony one generation later that the entire concept is a “fallacy”. Hmmm… then maybe just because Canada has a single payer plan, it is also a false equivalency that such a thing would work in the US. My guess is that such things would work because these nations aren’t much different. I was just asking for some evidence to back up his statement because if I am wrong I would like to know that.

        I’m not saying such a solution would have worked but we do know that Britain’s solution to ending slavery did work and that Americans were aware of that precedent. Jasdye said the South was “given these options and refused them”. I’m intrigued. I want to learn more.

      • wiki Compensated Emancipation, strayaway.

        But here’s the problem with your argument: Black people are not property. Additionally, the American South was much more entrenched in the culture of slavery than Britain ever was even before the Constitution was written. Ultimately, though, your argument privileges the *goodness* of the slave “owning” elite over the worth of the enslaved people.

        That’s pretty reprehensible.

        I also find it funny that American Libertarian Southern Apologists would *never* argue to follow Britain’s model in universal healthcare.

      • strayaway

        Ah, you are partially correct although Lincoln’s effort was a little late in the game and for non-southern states. I will paste this from wikipedia for anyone else interested. “During the Civil War, in 1861, President Lincoln drafted an act to be introduced before the legislature of Delaware, one of the four non-free states that remained loyal,for compensated emancipation. However this was narrowly defeated. Lincoln also was behind national legislation towards the same end, but the southern states, now in full rebellion, ignored the proposals.

        Only in the District of Columbia, which fell under direct Federal auspices, was compensated emancipation enacted. On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. This law prohibited slavery in the District, forcing its 900-odd slaveholders to free their slaves, with the government paying owners an average of about $300 for each. In 1863 state legislation towards compensated emancipation in Maryland failed to pass, as did an attempt to include it in a newly-written Missouri constitution.”

        So Lincoln did make some efforts, which I was unaware of, but not in the southern states, as you claimed, prior to the war. Thank you for that information though. I will think more kindly of President Lincoln for at least trying to achieve some compensation legislation after the Civil War was under way. There were other presidents and congresses before the Civil War equally guilty of not compensating slave owners in order to prevent bloodshed.

        The rest of your last response is pious prattle. My point was, and still is, that compensation worked for the British, and 15 other nations according to Wikipedia, and without the unnecessary hundreds of thousands of deaths which you dismiss.

      • Pipercat

        Fucking amazing, what does a single payer plan have to do with the lead up to the civil war. Another false equivalency and a diversion from your original assertion spelled out in your second paragraph in your original comment. You made the original assertion and now expect us to disprove the thesis. I’ll make an exception this one time and spell it out. The British solution would not have worked since slavery was codified in the Constitution. Even if a President had bought all the slaves, there was no mechanism to prevent the slave owners from buying new slaves. Moreover, the civil war was primarily about State’s powers vs. Federal Powers with slavery mixed in as the primary point of contention. With those two points taken, it took a civil war and three Amendments to the Constitution to end slavery in the United States. This bullshit notion, conjured up by a bunch of quasi-Libertarian mental masturbators, is nothing but a feeble attempt at Soviet style disinformation.

      • strayaway

        A single payer plan has nothing to do with the Civil War. But would you use the same logic (different country, that won’t work here) to discredit single payer? I doubt it. I could come up with lots of other examples if you prefer. My guess is if compensation ended slavery in 16 other countries, it would also have worked here.

        Ss you pointed out, the Constitution was amended to end slavery. It could also have been amended to phase out or end slavery without a war. I’ll stick with my comment that “All this (killing and destruction) could have been averted had Lincoln, or any previous president, been enough of a leader to effect Britain’s example of how to end slavery.” I can’t figure out though why some gets so adamant and defensive about preserving the 9th grade version of American history we were all taught as if it was sacred and not to be questioned. Not everyone revers Columbus either.

      • Pipercat

        Well, you can conveniently omit the years from 1850 till the beginning of the Civil War, but the underlying issues were still festering. There were attempts to mitigate slavery, but all had the opposite effect and inevitably brought about the conflict in less than a generation. What happened, happened and all the speculation about alternative realities are nothing more than semi-intellectual cranial flatulence. Moreover, when you take into account public opinions at the time and how divided the nation was (much worse than today), you will see, quite clearly, that war was inevitable. This “lost cause” notion is a complete fabrication and therefore, a non-sequitur to any argument about anything at all.

    • Lerone Lee

      The writer was correct, the ‘unknown congressman’ did use a bad analogy…………
      For this soul purpose that the fight over the ACA is already established law and it was not a single battle………
      Now if he wanted to compare it to the Civil War as a whole he might have had the right idea,,,,,,,,,might……….
      The reason I say this is because the Civil war was over the import of new slaves, something already established decade before the Confederates fired on Ft. Sumter………
      You see the law that made it illegal to import further slaves was established on 22 March 1794 but would not take effect until the
      4 March 1807……….
      With the British establishing its laws the same year and not decades before the United States…………
      And Sherman used Total Warfare, the same tactic used by other Armies before him, during his time and afterwards………..
      He is no more an arsonist than Quantrill, Mosby’s Raiders, Cole Younger or any other Confederate soldier………..

      Now can we stop comparing the AHCA to slavery and the Civil War and get rid of the sequester and restart the government????????

      • strayaway

        The sequester is also established law. Why are Democrats trying to usurp this established law which they themselves agreed to? I think the idea was that it was messy but would give Congress time to fine tune balancing the budget before the next budget fight. Except for some additional taxation they didn’t succeed of course.

        Here is something I worked out. Please check my math. It might be too late to save our Country from economic catastrophe although raising the debt ceiling might allow the game to be played a bit longer and result in an even more destructive crash. Given that the federal debt is $17T, there are about 120M tax returns, and the average the federal government has paid on what it borrows is 5.8% interest, If the federal borrowing rate EVER even rises to its average, the average US taxpayer will have to pay $8,217 annually just to service. There will be little money to fund many social programs, the military, and everything else. Senator Reid proposed raising the debt ceiling by another $1T ($8,333 per average taxpayer). Our debt slave children will curse the names of Obama and Bush.

      • I don’t think you know how federal debt works, do you? Like most, you assume that it must all be paid off at once, like the international system works like your credit card.

  • Blinknone

    You’re insane, aren’t you?

  • Timothy Horrigan

    The fact that the Confederate Army wasn’t able to simply buy shoes for its troops tells me that the Confederacy must have been on the verge of collapse even before Gettysburg.

  • Spinnaker

    Today’s message: it doesn’t matter what color the slaves are, as long as those in power can profit from their labor. And during the shutdown, the unpaid labor force is government workers.