Dumb quote of the day: "Not sure if George Will is stupid or just troll" edition

>> Wednesday, October 09, 2013

I kid, I kid: I'm pretty sure he's just stupid:

In an interview with NPR's "Morning Edition," host Steve Inskeep asked Will about President Barack Obama's argument that Republicans are short-circuiting the system by using government funding and the debt ceiling as leverage to dismantle Obamacare, rather than repealing the law outright.

"How does this short-circuit the system?" Will said. "I hear Democrats say, 'The Affordable Care Act is the law,' as though we're supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."
- Catherine Thompson, "George Will Compares Obamacare To
Talking Points Memo, October 9th, 2013.

It's possible I've been lawyering too long, or it may have something to do with having actually learned a tiny amount of history back when I majored in it in college: what's really offensive about the comparison between the Affordable Care Act and the Fugitive Slave Act (presumably George Will means the last one, of 1850) and "Separate But Equal" isn't the deliberately demeaning comparison between providing affordable health insurance to Americans (something the Republicans seem to find offensive these days, despite it originally being their idea) and American institutionalized racism (something most Americans these days find offensive), but rather the intellectual bankruptcy of the comparison.

After all, the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 was passed by a majority in Congress, wound its way through various state and Federal courthouses during the decade of the 1850s as its enforceability was tested (during which time period it largely was enforceable), and then "something" happened in 1861 that made the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 selectively and effectively unenforceable until the Act was fully repealed by Congress in 1864.  (Escaped slaves from the Confederacy were deemed war contraband that shouldn't/couldn't be returned to hostile soil--which effectively freed them even though the Fugitive Slave Act was technically in full effect.)  To the extent you can legally compare the ACA and Fugitive Slave Act: both were passed by Congress, both have been litigated (and largely found to be Constitutional), and both were challenged by groups of Americans advocating civil disobedience at the risk of suffering criminal penalties (Republicans advocating that young people pay the tax penalties and state governors announcing non-participation in the case of the ACA; abolitionists and members of the Underground Railroad in the case of the Fugitive Slave Act); eventually the Fugitive Slave Act was effectively nullified by the American Civil War and subsequently repealed by Congress, neither of which has yet happened to the ACA (though I suppose either could, although a Civil War over it appears to be not-very-probable-at-all).  What you didn't have with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, for better or worse, was a minority faction within Congress actively trying to nullify it after it successfully passed and after it survived litigation, and before it could be actually repealed by the usual and formal procedures for repealing an act of Congress.

Perhaps somebody should have tried dubious procedural shenanigans and political hostage-taking to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850--except the reason the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the first place was part of a compromise between nearly coequal political factions attempting (unsuccessfully, in the end) to avert a Constitutional crisis that would sever the Republic.  The Fugitive Slave Act's raison d'être wasn't actually to preserve slavery: it was to preserve the United States by forcing Free States to (reluctantly) recognize a property right recognized in the Slave States, meanwhile deferring questions regarding the conditions of statehood in the newly-acquired Western Territories (which corresponded to deferring the question of whether Congress would eventually outlaw slavery altogether once Representatives and Senators from those new states arrived in Washington D.C. and changed the legislature's demographics).

Point being: never mind the debatable moral comparison between forcing people to purchase health insurance versus forcing people to remain in chattel servitude: legally and historically it's simply a stupid comparison.  It's a trolling comparison in that it's meant to appeal to the modern visceral repugnance towards chattel slavery, but it's a dumb comparison in that it's like comparing an Apple Computer to William Of Orange.  You might have some reason for disliking both a machine and a 16th Century Dutch Noble, but the two things are completely separate species of thing and you can't just lump them in together and make the least bit of sense.

It gets worse if you try to compare the ACA to the "Separate But Equal" doctrine, which wasn't even a "law" as such, but simply a Constitutional doctrine that entered American common law via a U.S. Supreme Court Case that was eventually reversed.

I think there are two points I'm trying to make, actually.

The first would be that even though the Fugitive Slave Act was, from a moral point of view, really, really bad, it made a certain (unfortunate) kind of sense from a policy standpoint (i.e. it was supposed to preserve the Union), and that was a fact that even a lot of people who were opposed to the Fugitive Slave Act understood and acted upon accordingly.  There were illegal, violent attempts to change American policy by force (and I write this sentence from the perspective of one who thinks John Brown was kind of heroic and his efforts as justified as any kind of violent insurrection could be); but nothing so chickenshit as what the teabaggers are doing with the government shutdown (if they really think the ACA is on the same moral plane as chattel slavery and its attendant abuses to human dignity and common decency, perhaps they should go raid a United States armory).  By-and-large, though, abolitionists took their losses, licked their wounds, and went on to fight the good fight through the courts and good example.  You know, the chief beneficiaries of the Fugitive Slave Act decided to pursue violent, extralegal, revolutionary means to avoid the consequences a prospective Constitutional loss, and that's how the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 met what was either an early or belated end, depending on what you think would have happened 1861-1864 without a rebellion against the democratically-constituted government of the United States.1

This point being, if I'm not clear yet, that even in the political turmoil of 1846-1861, everybody except the most extreme extremists mostly played by the rules, which is not what the Republicans of 2013 seem ready to do.

And the second point being that George Will is purportedly one of the smart guys on the other side.  No, I mean, I know this would hardly be the first time he's made a vapidly facile, partisan statement or has engaged in intellectual dishonesty or just generally been an asshat.  Still, he's supposed to be one of the smart ones, relatively respectable and relatively mainstream, the kind of guy who is supposedly a thinker and opinion-leader.  And this kind of dumb argument is the best he can do?  Or he just doesn't care about The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the complicated events leading up to the American Civil War to make intellectually honest statements?  Let's stipulate that he hates the ACA for whatever reason, let's even suppose he has some kind of legitimate reason: when he makes statements like that, he diminishes American history, he irons out the awful complexities of 19th Century politics and the pain of the most catastrophic, violent transformation in our history and the century-plus-long horrors and indignities of the aftermath.  People who look to George Will for information, who look to him for guidance and wisdom and education, are disinformed and made stupid by unwrinkled statements like that one.  Someone in Congress who refuses to vote on a clean continuing budget resolution unless the ACA is repealed may be engaging in a kind of political terrorism that hurts his fellow citizens, but he isn't actively making millions of Americans stupider with his mindless utterances; in a weird way, even as he's making things bad for his country at the moment, he isn't making his country worse, over the duration.
It takes a George Will for that.

POSTSCRIPTOr not just a George Will: apparently this is a right-wing talking point, as Representative William O'Brien of New Hampshire told the Manchester Union Leader:

"Just as the Fugitive Slave Act was an overreach by the federal government, so too we understand that Obamacare is an assault on the rights of individuals."

Um... yeah.  I'm not sure if O'Brien is parroting Will, or Will is parroting O'Brien, or if there's some kind of Cliff's Notes Of Stupid both men are cribbing from this week.  But their facts are still completely wrong.

First of all, the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 was simply making Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution enforceable:

The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.

A person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.

No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.

The Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 wasn't Federal "overreach".  Not in the slightest.  It punished Federal officials who failed to enforce the Constitution, enhanced criminal penalties for private citizens who tried to deny their fellow Americans of their Constitutionally-protected personal property rights, and rewarded those who vigorously enforced these and existing laws.  It also made it easier for Federal officials to arrest someone on suspicion of being an escaped slave, which I guess could arguably be a violation of one's Fourth Amendment rights, although I'm obligated to roll my eyes about a political party that's apparently okay with shaking down suspected "illegal immigrants" for I.D. getting belatedly upset about shaking down suspected escaped slaves.  In any case, there's certainly a legal argument for the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 being obligatory, dubious shakedown provisions included.

Slavery was morally evil, not just wrong: but it was also legal and Constitutional for the first four-score-and-seven years of the United States' existence (and, obviously, it was legal in Colonial America even prior to that).  Regardless of whether the ACA is Constitutional (and the Supreme Court has said it is), there's no "overreach" in the Federal Government passing laws that enforce its laws.  There may be a problem with the underlying laws--eventually Article IV, section II was (partially) repealed by Constitutional Amendment--but that's something else.

Along with all the history that I tried to get at in the preceding section.  It's also not overreach for Congress to pass a law protecting the property rights recognized by the Constitution over the hypothetical rights of persons not properly recognized by the Constitution as people at that point in American history for the sake of protecting the integrity of the entire country itself and for the Constitution that defines this country as a thing that exists.  It may be a Satanic bargain with purest evil, and an ugly, regrettable decision in hindsight (or even in the clearer vision of slavery's enemies at the time), but it isn't "overreach".

Seriously, sometimes you wonder if these people have ever even read a book.  Or attended the fourth grade of elementary school.

1I think this means that if the comparison between the ACA and Fugitive Slave Act had any validity at all, you'd expect the Democrats to demand that the ACA be enforced lest, I dunno, maybe an angry mob of New Yorkers goes and shoots the hell out of West Point before declaring themselves an independent country.  Gods, what a stupid comparison.


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