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Newsweek's Christopher Dickey: Tea Parties Are Today's Slave-Owners


Christopher Dickey’s profile at Newsweek says he’s a “distinguished journalist and author” but his latest piece for the magazine comes across as the work of a desperate Daily Kos diarist.

His basic thesis is that the Tea Parties of today are the direct ideological descendants of white slave-owners of the 1860s:

Led by South Carolina (now home to Sen. Jim DeMint), seven of 33 states had already seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy at that point…the secessionists of 1860 are the ideological forebears of the Tea Party movement today.

…there is in American politics today a discourse of such cupidity, bigotry, and self-delusion about the role of government that it would have been familiar to anyone following the rhetoric of the Southern “fire-eaters” pushing the country toward a conflagration 150 years ago.

The rhetoric in 1860, as now, was essentially about throwing off the burden of federal authority, getting rid of the tariffs and taxes Washington imposed, and protecting private property from the depredations of central government. There was one essential difference back then, of course: the private property in question in 1860 was human…

They might have talked about states’ rights and the right to liberty, and many did then, as many do now, but the core freedom defended by those activists of 1860 was the freedom to enslave black people and to spread their racist system of forced labor across the continent.

Dickey has made a direct comparison between slave owners of the 1860s and the Tea Parties of today, but curiously he leaves the most important term in his rhetorical equation blank.

Think of his argument as a sentence that goes like this: In 1860 their talk was really about slavery; today this same talk is really about…what exactly? He never fills in the extended metaphor with anything concrete. He just leaves the specter of slavery and racism hanging there over all of the Americans who find something admirable about the Tea Party.

And really that’s the whole point. Dickey’s comparison allows for one more post-election smear of Americans whose moral calumny is that they are concerned about the unsustainable deficits and federal spending which are the real hallmarks of this administration. The only thing new here is that Dickey is forced to time-travel 150 years to make the same base charge of racism others have been making idly for over a year. Maybe that’s a good sign. It’s finally getting a bit harder to swipe the race card.

The comparison of Tea Partiers to slave owners is despicable. In fact, Dickey’s argument is really a cousin to the argument that says: Hitler was against abortion, therefore Hitler is just like today’s pro-life movement. Well, except for the racism, the millions of dead, and the inhuman forced labor camps, but other than that it’s exactly the same. Dickey may not have violated the letter of Godwin’s law but he has certainly violated its spirit.

But if Dickey’s analysis is risible, his advice for President Obama is a little frightening:

If, in the end, Lincoln did manage to hold the Union together, it was not because of the better angels of human nature, but because he finally found the killer angels among his generals who could, and did, and at enormous cost, crush the secessionists.

We know who the secessionists are in this metaphor, but who are the modern day “killer angels?” Once again, Dickey doesn’t say. Given the carnage of the Civil War, I’m not sure we want to find out.

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