A history of extremes
By Dylan Matthews
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.
April 2, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
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