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A history of extremes

By Dylan Matthews

Ta-Nehisi Coates nicely cuts down Chuck Lane's suggestion that there was an "attitudinal equivalence" between abolitionists and slavery-defenders before the Civil War:

Lane is referencing, in rather disrespectful fashion, the awesome Shadrach Minkins. A Norfolk-area slave, Minkins' unthinking extremism deluded him into believing that he was a human being. Upon this radical realization, the hot-headed Minkins fled North and took up with a band of ex-slaves and abolitionists who also had thoughtlessly decided that blacks were people.

Lane is trying to cover himself by noting that he's comparing attitude, not morals. This only works in the most absurdly narrow sense -- both abolitionists and fire-eaters believed that aspects of the federal law should be resisted. But this is like saying that both Roosevelt and Hitler had resigned themselves to mass killings.

Two other things. Lane's comments on the Civil War come in a post about tea parties and the debate over health-care reform. Inasmuch as the comparison is intended to draw an equivalence between the fervor of the grass roots on either side of the health-care debate, it's beyond misleading. In the run-up to passage, you didn't see the bill's supporters or single-payer advocates sending death threats to congressmen or throwing bricks into district offices. The right, or rather extremist segments of the right, has claimed a monopoly on the use of violence as a tool in this debate, and Lane is remiss in not acknowledging the asymmetry.

What's more, the Civil War case is actually a perfect example of why focusing on tactics and attitudes misses the point. The antislavery movement wasn't right because it was less extreme in its methods, it was right because abolishing slavery was a just cause. Lane's discussion of health-care reform fails to acknowledge that the law as passed will, by almost any standard, lead to a considerable reduction in human misery. Acting as though one can evaluate the law and its consequences without taking that into account is beyond bizarre.

-- Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Multiplatform Editor  |  April 2, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
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Well put! I hope you find employment that uses you to the fullest after WaPo fires you for being capable of coherent thought.

Posted by: theamazingjex | April 2, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

What Presidential Proclamation freed the Norfolk slaves? Would it have been a terrible sin for a President to add a clause maintaining slavery in Norfolk to a Proclamation which freed all other slaves? Arguably, such Norfolk slaves were indeed needed to unload ships owned by Massachusetts investors (including some Harvard professors); however, I'm of a belief that right is right and wrong is wrong -- if slavery is bad, it is as bad for a wealthy Harvard professor as it is for a working-class North Carolinian.

As a follow-up question, when one speaks of the morality of Medicaid, is it moral for two neighbors, one living north of Key Bridge to (like the average DC Medicaid recipient) receive $8,695.26 per year in benefits and his cousin one foot south of Key Bridge (like the average VA Medicaid recipient) to receive only $5,085.01 per year in benefits?

Some moralistic arguments simply hold no weight: Lincoln preserved slavery in Norfolk to appease a group of Harvard professors who had invested in shipping -- he needed their words to underscore his positions. Likewise, a booty of $8.8 Billion (yes, billion) dollars will over ten years be divided between 10 states (plus DC) to fund "generous" [quoting the PPACA] benefits for those who voted in favor of the Presidential position.

At present 37.73% of the population of the United States is, though its duly elected representatives, actively suing the Executive Branch, with other states soon to join. Historically, is this percentage significant?

Posted by: rmgregory | April 2, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I actually am writing dissertation on Boston abolitionism, and the Minkins rescue looms large. Suffice to say, Lane's take on it is terrible.
One relevant fact, which even Coates missed was that the "crowd" that freed Minkins was in fact composed and led by free blacks. They were engaged in self-protection. To call that "ideological" or extremism, is absurd.

Posted by: pwirzbi1 | April 2, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

LOL, if I were the average Virginian I would be very pleased that I needed only $5,085.01 in benefits relative to my average neighbor in DC who needed $8,695.26 in benefits, because odds are he's much sicker than I am!

Last year I spent nothing on healthcare, and I would never for a single moment consider trading places with my cancer-ridden neighbor who received well over $100,000 in healthcare benefits this year. I do not envy her the benefits of chemotherapy medications, or the benefit of the custom-made prosthetic limb she received after her diseased one was hacked off.

The benefits will go to those whose representatives voted for health reform and those who voted against it--unless for some reason their state does not want to take billions of dollars in healthcare subsidies.

The benefits, however, will NOT be evenly distributed. But it's not politics that will decide where they go. They will go disproportionately to the sick and to the poor and to the middle class. And their cost will be borne disproportionately by the wealthy.

I think it's immoral to envy the sick because they are getting medicine.

Posted by: theorajones1 | April 2, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Charles lane is a mediocre hack.

Posted by: mrmoogie | April 2, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

theorajones1: Do the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare have any data to support your position? I was looking at reports (2007, 208, 2009) and would welcome any references you might offer: absent such references, I am forced to assume that Medicaid is a benefit offered to those who support a particular partisan position.

Posted by: rmgregory | April 2, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse


Great post.

Matthew Yglesias made a related point at his blog today about the irony of the fact that to the extent that the ACA is redistributive, it will tend to guide resources disproportinately into the red states.

"Not by design, obviously, but simply because it’s in the nature of the program to transfer resources away from rich people and toward non-seniors with below-average incomes. And the geography of income in America is such that most of the people with below-average incomes are living in the more conservative states."

( )

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 2, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

More Dylan Matthews please! Policy analysis divorced from moral passion is just words.

Posted by: janinsanfran | April 2, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Just because you didn't "see anything" doesn't mean it didn't happen.

In fact, there are a group of Leftwing fanatics sending threatening letters to Republican governors right now. They are very much like the Obama donor who tried to murder Representative Cantor last week, or the registered Democrat tax protestor who divebombed an IRS office in Texas, or the registered Democrat who tried to shoot up a faculty committee in Alabama, or the
"Bush hating" democrat voter who shot and killed a man at the Holocaust Museum.

The message has been "fear the Left" else you may be killed.

That message has never changed.

It's quite tiresome.

Posted by: muawiyah | April 2, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

"The message has been "fear the Left" else you may be killed."

Hogwash. As are all of your lies. To pick one example:

"...the Obama donor who tried to murder Representative Cantor last week..."

The man did not try to murder Cantor. He was arrested for making a threatening statment in a video he posted on YouTube. He has also made threatening statements in similar videos directed at Democrats (including Obama and Pelosi), and he was previously arrested after an argument in which he threatened to have the Angel Gabriel kill his roommate. He is simply a complete lunatic, not a political terrorist with a left-wing agenda.

Likewise the Governors being threatened by "the Guardians of the Free Republics" (NOT a left wing organization) are in BOTH political parties, there was no political context whatsoever for the faculty meeting shooting incident, etc. etc.

Here's a tip: You don't convince anyone of anything when you manufacture your own facts.

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 2, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Now wait a minute, what about the death threats against Republican Congressman Eric Cantor, or the shots fired at his office in Richmond?

Claiming that Republicans have a "monopoly on violence" is misleading and shows that whatever point you have to make is colored by the news that you choose to pay attention to.

Posted by: awscot | April 3, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

"Now wait a minute, what about the death threats against Republican Congressman Eric Cantor, or the shots fired at his office in Richmond?"

Oh brother. You are either misinformed or you are purposely misinforming.

See my previous comment about the Cantor "death threats."

As for the "shots fired at" the Cantor office, you are giving factual information. The Richmond Police department found that some Virginia drunk had fired a gun into the air at 1 am, and on its downward arc it broke the window but did not even go past the blinds.

After holding his press conference about the incident, Cantor later had to sheepishly admit that he had not gotten the results of the police investigation before holding his press conference, and he freely agreed that the broken window was a completely random happening.

Again, if you just make stuff up you won't change anyone's mind.

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 3, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Thank God this bill has passed and we liberals can come clean with how great this bill will be!!!

Fact is Insurance Companies simply did not have enough guts to deny medical care to the extend necessary to salvage our nation's future---OBAMA & THE FED WILL:

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | April 4, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

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