The Monday Morning Teaser

Everybody I know is coming out of the great new movie Lincoln with cognitive dissonance: In 1864 the Democrats are the party of slavery and the Republicans the party of emancipation and racial justice. So how do we get from there to the parties we know today?

The answer will be in today’s article “A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System”. Short version: Like any evolution, it takes a long time, with a period of punctuated equilibrium from LBJ to Reagan.

What was everybody talking about this week? Mostly the same stuff as last week: fiscal cliff, aftermath of the election, and Republicans trying to manufacture a scandal out of Benghazi. Also: a conservative live-blog of election night produces a fascinating record of life inside the bubble, and maybe we’ll even manage to reform the filibuster a little.

“Short History” is the kind of article I can futz with endlessly before pushing the button, so it’s hard to predict exactly when it will appear. Today. Definitely today.

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  • severalfourmany  On December 3, 2012 at 10:50 am

    On the cognitive dissonance in the movie Lincoln:
    The way we think about these events has changed a great deal over the last century and a half. You get much less cognitive dissonance from reading the diaries and newspapers of the time and perhaps even find some familiar stories.

    Today we look back and think in terms of the dichotomy slavery/no slavery and assign the “no slavery” position to Lincoln and the Republicans and the “slavery” position to everyone else. In the diaries and newspapers of the time the issue was rather “how do we deal with extremely difficult and divisive issues in a democracy (in this case, slavery)?” While slavery was the cause of the problem, the problem was non-authoritarian conflict resolution, particularly, is succession a violation of, or a perfectly legal and legitimate option in a democracy?

    Viewed in this way the Republicans are the party of extremists, religious fanatics, and political opportunists and the Democrats are the party of rational debate, consensus and compromise. Early in the war, the Democrats dominated the military. The policy was one of slow, gentle pressure with low casualties and respect for civilian property. Later, as Republicans replaced the moderate Democrats in the military, we see examples of their extremism: extremely high casualty rates, massive and intentional destruction of civilian property and emancipation. There are even signs of this in the movie. The Democrats are looking for a negotiated settlement while the Republicans have suspended habeas corpus and enforced Emancipation by executive proclamation without regard for legislative procedure.

    With Lincoln’s assassination at the end of the war, public sentiment changes dramatically. He is no longer a political opportunist and divisive extremist but he becomes the martyr for freedom and democracy that we know today.

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