Pretty Good Cause, Pretty Bad Argument


Rightwing commentators have a ridiculous thing going on right now. It appears to emanate from the otherwise intelligent and upright Dinesh D’Souza, who is puffing a new propaganda movie — Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.

This ridiculous thing is the idea, now constantly confided as formerly hidden knowledge, that the Democratic Party has always been bad, and the Republican Party has always been good. After all, the Democratic Party supported slavery, and the Republican Party opposed it.

I submit that this notion is just as silly as Michelle Obama’s maunderings (much criticized by the Right) about the significance of the White House having been built by slaves. She might have added that the Louvre was built by a tyrannical monarchy. Or that the pyramids were built by a tyrannical monarchy, in the service of a false religion. We’ve come a long way from then. And so . . . ?

If you don’t know anything about history, don’t insist on informing other people about it.

Now to the rightwing’s use of historical facts, or non-facts, about American political parties. This is the truth: the Democratic Party is almost 200 years old, the Republican Party more than 150. During the long, strange history of those parties, each of them has been colored by almost every conceivable political, social, and religious tendency. In terms of attitudes, ethnicities, gender roles, social classes, political beliefs, religious or anti-religious preoccupations — in short, in terms of everything — their present membership bears no similarity whatever to their original membership, except that almost all of their adherents have two eyes, a large mouth, and a peculiar nose (useful for detecting food, useless for detecting falsehood). Even in 1860, many Democrats opposed slavery, and many — perhaps most — Republicans were disgusting racists. And if you’re toting up ideological goods and evils, the Democratic Party was, for many long years, the party of hard money and low taxes, and the Republicans were the party of high taxes, crony capitalism, and big government projects.

I very much dislike the current Democratic Party of the United States. I consider it the source of much more than half of the political evil of this country. But something that antagonizes me even more than the DP of the USA is the willingness of good people, intelligent people, people whom I feel are on my side, to engage in false arguments and misrepresentations of history. They ought to know better, for God’s sake. Can’t they read?

If you don’t know anything about history, don’t insist on informing other people about it. And if your idea of “history” is nothing more than your idea of good and evil, and therefore of what should and should not have occurred, whether it occurred or not, you shouldn’t even use the word. You’re no better, intellectually, than any of your conceivable opponents. Drunk with your moral fervor, you’re denying yourself, and whatever slack-minded followers take you seriously, the real history by which moral judgments ought to be informed.

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Scott Robinson

Dear Wayland,

One historically ironic thing is that Thomas Jefferson's party, I think was called the Democratic Republican Party. A more relevant piece of history is that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and was a slave holder who had sex with one of his slaves (consensual?). However, his words in the Declaration of Independence were inspiration for that early member of the the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, to stand for the abolition of slavery.

The Democratic Party is the party whose members were against abolition, for segregation, and had many members who were also members of the KKK. This is where the modern irony of the press saying that the Democratic Party is the party of black people comes from. A pretty bad argument that I have to this is that this is the reason why the Democratic Party started all of its war on poverty programs to make black people and other, so called, minorities dependent on the state for their livelihood. The parallels to slavery are amusing. On the plantation, slaves had free housing, free food, and free health care for life. All they had to do was their civic duty by picking the cotton.

I do see how adopting pretty bad arguments stems from my holier than thou tendency in reaction to the preachy arguments presented by others. I often find myself shooting first and asking questions later. This is where that other catch phrase comes from, "Hindsight is 20/20". The problem of condemning current Democrats based on the crimes of their predecessors is that the current members are not guilt of the crimes of their predecessors. Therefore, good arguments focus on the actual crimes that have been committed, but that's only good in the argument for what the punishments will be. This doesn't make for a good argument about what we should do politically for operating our government. If you are wondering, what made me mad was the title of your article, you called it pretty bad and I thought it was a pretty good argument.

Best Wishes,


Do you have a citation for your statement that some or most Republicans in 1860 were disgusting racists.

Wayland Hunter

You might start with "The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement," by Otto Scott, and "We Have the War Upon Us," by William J. Cooper, both very good books in general.

Thomas L. Knapp

Yes, the Democratic Party is bad (and, like the Republican Party, always has been bad).

No, the Democratic Party is really not noticeably worse now than it was in, to non-randomly pick a year, 1968.

Yes, the Clintons are venal and corrupt. They are neither the most venal and corrupt people in history nor especially and uniquely venal and corrupt.

D'Souza's schtick is using [insert Democrat person or organization] Derangement Syndrome to put asses in theater seats. And he's very good at that.

Hey, if it's bad for Democrats, I like it. Although to the extent that it's good for Republicans, I'd call it two steps forward, one step back.

Jon Harrison

On what basis do you conclude that the religion of the ancient Egyptians was "false"? What is false? one might ask with no more embarrassment than Pilate felt when confronting a Jewish carpenter who believed himself to be the son of God.

Religions are true for their believers in their time, and nothing more. If Jesus reappears to begin his 1,000-year reign here on earth, then perhaps we will have to adjust our thinking. As of now and for the foreseeable future all religions are neither true nor false in any objective sense.

Your other points are certainly spot on. The causes behind the strange evolution of political parties, especially here and in Britain, is a subject worthy of a book.

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