Skin In the Game

At CPAC, a proud white North Carolinian finally stands up for the true victims: slave owners
Douglass

So this got a lot of attention over the weekend, a 30-year-old white guy from North Carolina who said during a panel discussion at CPAC that Frederick Douglass needn't have forgiven his former owner "for giving him shelter and food all those years."

(This was, perhaps, the inevitable consequence of a session titled, "Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist When You Know You're Not One?," which suggests a certain nerve-stricken defensiveness, hosted by an African-American man who appears to believe that the way to deflect such horrid accusations is to name your right-wing organization after a famous African-American person, which leads me to think we'll soon be quoting from the Malcolm X Heritage Foundation and the John Locke-Harriet Tubman Foundation for Sweet Liberty, but one outrage at a time or my head will explode.)

I don't want to draw too much attention to the schmuck in question, who brings to mind Opie after a long OxyContin addiction, and who is pretty thoroughly ridiculous. But I took a peek at his web site, which reveals a certain intelligence at work, even if it's at work digging tunnels through giant piles of crap. He's found a new economic justification for slavery that might just make its way to town boards and legislatures near you before long:

As a proud southerner, I hate the malicious denigration of my ancestors and their society.

You disagree with the institution of southern slavery?  Fine!  All I ask is that, before expecting me to blindly (and naively) accept trendy rhetoric on the topic, that you respect the historical, sociological, and religious complexities of the situation.   For instance, Mr. Smith kept implying that slave labor is absolutely free, and it was to this I was objecting (at least, that’s what I was intending to object to).

It’s true, as the economists who advocate for a subjective theory of value have noted, that the entrepreneur’s risks, technology, and managing ability, are indispensable parts of the business enterprise, and it’s no different for the plantation.  It’s not as if slaves formed their own logistical infrastructure and took financial risks.  So, they were provided with housing, food, medical care, etc.  That’s not even a controversial point.  We all know it’s true.

Unfortunately, truth isn’t very popular in the GOP at the moment.

Did I read that correctly? Slavery was actually a fairly complex moral issue because slaves, after all, did receive services such as food and housing, while their owners had to assume some risk in investing in these beasts of burden. They were just entrepreneurs navigating the business realities of the day, in other words. They had skin in the game. The slaves got a free ride.

Yes, as do livestock and pets. It's an argument so offensive it's self-defeating, right? It certainly should be. But the notion that the Civil War was really about defending states' rights against intrusion by an all-powerful federal government remains a truism for a stunning number of Americans. It's an attractive idea, too, since it feeds nicely into the bedrock conservative view of government as inherently tyrannical, and our CPAC friend's concern that his people — young white people — are being "systematically disenfranchised."

The argument that slavery was just another form of entrepreneurship fits snugly into a worldview already warped in the argument's direction. Oh, it'll never catch on big-time — it's too revolting for a mainstream GOP trying to attract black votes (thus the Frederick Douglass Republicans, and the right wing's continued efforts to co-opt the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

But I wouldn't be stunned to see a candidate or two in some of our newly gerrymandered legislative districts float the theory as a trial balloon in a GOP primary or two, and for this latest chunk of revisionist garbage to start making its way around the back channels of Wingnut America. What do they have to lose? The endorsement of the W.E.B. Du Bois Free Marketeers?

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest