Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reid's Got Nothing On Stephen A. Douglas

Remember that guy who ran against Abe Lincoln in Illinois, sparking one of the most famous debates in American history? Douglas went on to be the Democratic Senator from Illinois, including re-appointment six years later. Much has been made about current Senator Harry Reid (soon to be ex Senator Reid, D-Nevada) having pushed through health care legislation that is "unprecedented" (to borrow a refrain from Barack Obama) in its disregard for the public will. But is that true?

An article by Michael Barone of US News and World Report spurred the old historian in me, and took me back to the time of Douglas. He also points out that Barack Obama is making the other mistake--believing that the passage of government take-over of the entire health care system will "settle the issue once and for all."

Before I switched to medieval history and (oddly) the 20th century American city as my college emphasis for my B.A., I was interested in the pre-Civil War era. So naturally, I was drawn to the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and more importantly for the purposes of this piece, the aftermath of Douglas's election which resulted in the Kansas-Nebraska of 1854. You think that the health care "compromise" is divisive. It's got nothing on Douglas and the Act.

The age-old debate over slavery had supposedly been settled by the Missouri Compromise thirty-four years earlier (the "Corrupt Bargain" which brought John Quincy Adams the presidency and Henry Clay the position of Secretary of State). But that bargain didn't contemplate the future massive growth in territories which would eventually become states. The Compromise prohibited new slave-holding states to the South anywhere north of the old territory of Arkansas. With ever-expanding territories opening to the north and the west, the slave states were demanding that slavery be allowed in all the states. The North was quickly moving towards an absolutist abolitionist position--no slavery anywhere in the United States.

And thus came the Douglas compromise that satisfied nobody, though it was intended to satisfy everyone. Douglas, much like Reid, knew what was best for America, and he was going to shove it down America's throat whether the citizens liked it or not. The Kansas-Nebraska Act provided that new territories (future states) were allowed to choose on their own whether to be slave or free. Very democratic, don't you think? The Congress was heavily Democratic, and was much-divided over the slavery issue. Northern Democrats often opposed slavery, but were not willing to risk losing the South by imposing abolition on them. And though there were fewer Senators at the time, Douglas faced the Reid dilemma. The votes in the Senate were evenly divided between those favoring the bill, and those opposing. In order to pass, Douglas needed one vote--which eventually turned out to be his own (unlike Reid).

So let's see how this victory for Douglas turned out. At the time of passage, the Democrats had won the White House with 254 electoral votes to the new Republican Party's 42. The Senate was nearly evenly divided with the Democrats having the edge. After passage of the bill, the next election cycle produced a minor change in the makeup of the Senate (remember, only one-third of the Senate was selected every two years). But over in the House (which gets a complete cleansing every two years) the Democratic majority was converted by 1858 to a 116 to 83 Republican majority, a 26% gain for the Republicans and a staggering 49% loss for the Democrats (Barone's numbers were slightly off). The Democrats would have to wait another twenty years to have a majority in the House.

Kansas was about to become a state. Under the Missouri Compromise, it could only come into the Union as a free state. But the brilliant Kansas-Nebraska act changed that dynamic completely. In an early precursor to the Civil War, Southerners who supported slavery poured into Kansas to battle anti-slavery Northerners. Soon, the new state became known as "bleeding Kansas." In 1858, Abe Lincoln ran against Douglas, but lost (the Illinois legislature preferred Douglas, and though Lincoln won a majority of the voters, legislatures then still appointed Senators). Two years later, Lincoln ran for President, won, and all hell broke loose.

Yet at the time of passage, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was said to settle for all time, immutably, the issue of slavery. A huge majority of Americans opposed slavery, but the makeup of the electoral college and the appointment of Senators by the legislatures of a (then) basically evenly-divided number of states allowed Senatorial maneuvering to thwart the clear will of the majority. The large numbers of the North were outflanked by the much more sparsely-populated Southern delegations.

Today, the Obama-Reid forces are likewise crowing about their victory with a health care bill that will "fundamentally change America," and which cannot be undone. I suspect that the history-deprived Reid and Obama know little or nothing about the Kansas-Nebraska Act nor has either of them heard the expression "Pyrrhic victory." Douglas was by far a better magician than Reid. Against the clear will of the majority of Americans, he managed to pass a piece of legislation that tried to fool everyone, and succeeded using little more than his own rhetorical talents.

Reid had bribes--and plenty of them. The Nebraska half of Kansas-Nebraska was awarded huge reductions in state costs for Medicaid in exchange for the vote of its Senator. Louisiana was handed somewhere between $300 million and $400 million in federal largess. And yet the question remains: Will this "health reform bill for the ages" even survive the necessary reconciliation between the House and Senate bills? The constituency for the Blue Dog Democrats is furious over the government takeover of all things medical. The left wing base of the Democratic Party is equally furious over the lack of a "public option." Even Democrats who voted for the bill are hesitant over the provisions which may or may not allow for public funds being used for abortions.

Meanwhile, the Republican base, the independents, and the large and growing tea party movement are solidly opposed to almost any form of government health care. And even Democratic-controlled pollsters are showing that the general public is heavily-opposed to government interference in the health care business in anything even faintly resembling its current form. And the lies the Democrats have told about the actual cost of the "reform" have infuriated just about everyone.

There is going to be plenty of metaphorical blood spilled over this bill and any of its potential successors. If the least popular and least democratic bill in decades should pass,it is unlikely to survive in any recognizable form after the 2010-2012 elections. Contrary to popular belief and the desires of the leftocrats, there are multiple methods of undoing whatever ultimately comes out of the Congress this term. That includes a last-minute provision declaring that the decision of a bureaucrat who determines what certain care should cost cannot be overriden by Congress. Talk about unconsitutional delegation of power! That also unlawfully takes inherent power from the legislative branch, and moves it to the executive branch. The short-term damage will be immense, and it will take Herculean efforts to repair that damage. The patient is sick, but nowhere yet near death.

Since there is no longer a Confederacy vs. the Union conflict in the nation, it is highly unlikely that this will cause much spilling of real blood, but it's going to get very nasty out there. The last thing we conservatives need to do is go into despair if some form of socialized medicine is actually enacted. Lincoln lost battle after battle, and yet won the war. We will ultimately succeed as well, and with a little luck and the Good Lord willing, we'll have done it with ballots rather than bullets.


HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--Nice history lesson, and an interesting parallel. I'm sure that Douglas thought he had solved everything, before it blew up in his face.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: Hard to say how he felt. Stories are that after the vote, Douglas went out and got drunk and stayed that way for awhile. No explanation on whether he was celebrating, or preparing for the backlash to come.

StanH said...

“The Constitution/Bill of Rights!” are a binding contract from the Founders to the future. Our challenge, and duty as Americans, is to leave it as we found it, so our children and grandchildren can grow and prosper in the greatest country since the dawning of civilization, the USA! We are now under assault by our own countrymen, and left unchecked will lead to the disillusion of that beautiful document, “The Constitution.” The Democrats are wildly overplaying their hand, and the acrimony is building to a fever pitch in the country. This raw power grab by the left is dangerous, and plain stupid. I fear if the ballot box stops working, as you alluded to, you can watch the news for the modern day equivalent of Bleeding Kansas, Harpers Ferry, Ft. Sumter, Bull Run or the first Battle of Manassas, pending on your perspective. Nothing less than the survival of this great Republic is at risk, and we have Witless Barry the Narcissistic Man Child, standing there with a match on a powder keg, whistling Dixie.

Unknown said...

StanH: These are indeed perilous times. Maybe I just have a lot of faith in the good sense of the American people. They make mistakes, but they do their best to correct them. I just don't see the ballot box disappearing as the primary means of correction. You can only rig just so many ballots, and in the current atmosphere, I don't think those will be nearly enough to stem the conservative tide.

StanH said...

I agree at the moment it’s contained, and the ballot box can still work. But watch for the next “emergency” it will be amnesty. This will beef up the Democrat voting bloc, and it takes care of the 16 million uninsured. Both parties want it, so stopping it will be a miracle with Barry, Harry, and Nancy who have proven for now they could care less what we think. In my mind this could be the catalyst for violence, I hope I’m wrong. Barry is an unabashed leftist idealogue and has lived in a cocoon, and seemingly has no idea of the rage that’s in real America. We’ll see.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Nice parallel! It just goes to show that you can't force something controversial down people's throats by fiat!

In terms of the American people, I'm with you -- I have great faith in my fellow citizens. They've done pretty good so far, with the occasional mistake, and they've always risen to the occasion. I think they'll do that same this time.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Those halcyon days at Cal with my fellow radicals finally paid off in a very unexpected way. LOL

I'm no Pollyanna, but I think this is going to be the shortest-lived socialist government in the history of western civilization (another course they don't teach anymore).

Unknown said...

StanH: I'm not sleeping well at night over this either. But I don't think they'll pick up that many votes. The tax consequences will kick in almost immediately, but they won't see most "benefits" until 2013. The welfare classes are like inattentive children. They only know what they're getting, now.

Most of the benefits for the non-working classes are mere shifts from Medicaid to Medicare, or funny money trade-offs. They won't notice any difference in medical care anyway. They're more likely to notice the increase in gas and fuel prices and shortages from "cap 'n tax" and the regressive sin taxes on cigarettes, booze and fast foods than anything they get out of the health care bill. Votes can go either direction, depending on whose ox is being gored.

Obama's leftist politics and hidden agenda are coming to light for independents and moderate Democrats so fast that I don't think the man is likely even to be renominated. The scraps from the dinner table of the leftist elites are not going to buy enough votes to offset that.

I'm also not as worried as I was recently about amnesty. It's still a looming threat, but we beat if before, and that was before all this disgust with the Obama administration began to manifest itself. Maybe McCain will be on our side this time. Even fools can learn.

Writer X said...

LawHawk, let's hope history repeats itself. I'm hopeful that it will. I don't think most reasonable voters are going to forget the Congress's latest behavior, no matter how much lipstick they use.

Unknown said...

WriterX: Remember that Lincoln said you can dress a pig up for a wedding, but it doesn't fool anyone, and it irritates the pig. Liptstick and/or dress, I think they stepped in it this time. As bad as the health care bill is, wait until they see the immediate effects of cap 'n tax. Watch out for flying parts!

Individualist said...


Interesting comparison. During the time of the Kansas Nebraska act who controlled the press.

Unknown said...

Individualist: There were a few "newspaper barons," but the difference between then and now is that the press was very open and up-front about what their political views were. They editorialized on the news pages, but didn't try to pass it off as "journalism." You didn't buy the Nowhere, Missouri Democrat if you wanted to read something favorable about Abraham Lincoln.

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