February 1, 2012

Liberalism, Conservatism and the Future

By Glenn

At the end of the 19th century, Populist farmers pushed for the Federal government to rein in the abusive practices of banks and railroads.  At the beginning of the 20th century, the Progressive movement actually convinced the Federal government to break up monopolies and protect consumers from unsafe food and drugs.  During the Depression, FDR built a broad “leftist” coalition that stabilized the lives of average Americans and laid the foundation for a middle class society. In the 1960s Liberals pushed the Federal government farther, extending Civil Rights to minorities and women. Liberals also created a safety net for the poor, starting with Social Security and Medicare, and extending a helping hand with welfare.  Liberals have accepted the fact that good government can build a better world.

Modern conservatism, on the other hand, is built upon the idea of the “Lost Cause.”   According to this myth, the South, during the Civil War, was fighting for liberty against Federal tyranny.  This mythology permeates political debates to this day.  Modern conservatism was born, and grew, in the Civil Rights era.  Conservative politicians, first Democrats and later Republicans, resurrected the old language of states’ rights and federal tyranny.  Former President Reagan’s words echoed the lost cause message,  “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  The country would be a better place without that meddlesome Federal government.

Contrary to Southern mythology, the war started when Southern “property owners” saw their ability to exploit free labor slowly slipping away. This letter from a former slave, full of sarcasm and wit, exposes the truth as he writes to his former “master.”  Read his words and ask yourself, “Why do we have to keep fighting the same issues over and over again?”

I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can….I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well….Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again….Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you….At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars….

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Jourdon’s questions are no different than any American would like answered today.  Will I have job and wage security?  Will my family be safe?  Will my children have a good education and the opportunity to build a brighter future?  Liberals answer the Jourdan’s of today with a resounding  yes. We will build a better future.  Together, we made things better; we can do it again.  Conservatives answer no.  America is too poor.  America is too weak  America must delete the 20th century and return to the “glory days” of our founding.  America shouldn’t worry about the least among.  America has to look out for the property owners.

Which will it be America?  Two historical narratives.  Two visions of the future.  Backward or forward?  Do you think Jourdon wanted to go back or was he glad the Federal government intervened?

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