Thursday, December 28, 2023

Far Beyond Civil War Denial

If a Democratic Super PAC or a Republican opponent wanted a defining moment for Nikki Haley's candidacy- or even for Nikki Haley herself, it may have come Wednesday night at a town hall event in Berlin, New Hampshire.

The former governor and UN ambassador was asked "What do you think was the cause of the Civil War?" At the tail end of the video below, Jennifer Palmieri on Morning Joe can be heard remarking "This could have been a great moment for Nikki Haley for her to say like "I came from the south, this is what have learned,' and instead it is this panic, "what do you want me to say about slavery?"

Willie Geist responded "yeh, it is that line line 'what do you want me to say about slavery,' at worst sort of defiant, that she was going to refuse to say something there." Haley's apparent moment of indecisiveness arose when

“I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley had said Wednesday in a visit to Berlin — the first of five events in the Granite State as she attempts to close the gap with Republican front-runner Donald Trump ahead of next month’s primary.

The former South Carolina governor then asked the voter who had asked her about the Civil War what he thought the cause was, to which the voter responded, “I’m not running for president.”

“I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are,” Haley added. “I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people,” she added.

The voter criticized her for not mentioning slavery in her answer. “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word slavery,” the voter said.

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Haley asked.

One may be moved to say "whatever it is you actually believe." But she did say something significant, and it was worse: On a local New Hampshire radio show Thursday morning, Haley told host Jack Heath

I  mean, of course the Civil War was about slavery. But what’s the lesson in all of that? That we need to make sure that every person has freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do and be anything they want to be without anyone or government getting in the way. That was the goal of what that was at. Yes, I know it was about slavery. I’m from the South, of course I know it’s about slavery.

So she knows it was about slavery, with the lesson "that we need to make sure that every person has freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do and be anything they want to be without anyone or government getting in the way."

The Civil war was not about freedom of speech or of religion unless Haley is equating the right to hold slaves with the First Amendment. More relevantly, the candidate stressed the "freedom to do and be anything they want to be without anyone in government getting in the way."

If the media and politicians can surmount the controversy over the cause of the Civil War, they might notice that Haley was arguing that the war was fought over an individual's desire to act "without anyone in government getting in the way."

Ironically, Haley is right. In an important sense, the Civil War was fought over the privilege of behaving as the slaveholder wished without government getting in the way.  Cotton and tobacco were king in the south and profits for plantation owners would be enhanced if workers were slaves and not employees paid a wage.  Southern states believed the federal government was going to block expansion of slavery into new states and eventually abolish it. That would be the federal government denying "every person" the "freedom to do and be anything they want to be without anyone or government getting in the way."

Southern states were determined not to let northerners and their government curb their freedom to do as they wish. At that time, the freedom was to own other human beings but, as Haley is well aware, that freedom now is less odious and far more subtle. The "freedom" touted by the candidate includes limiting federal employees to five years at their job which, as David Corn recognizes

would seem to cover TSA officials, federal law enforcement officials, intelligence analysts, food and drug safety officials, National Institues of Health research supervisors, counterterrorism experts, counterintelligence officers, workplace safety regulators, financial regulators, public health officials, border security officials, IRS tax collectors, trade officials, climate change negotiators, and you can fill in the rest.

Of course, someone would run the federal government, which very likely would be lobbyists and the interests, especially powerful corporations, which employ them. That would be consistent with Haley's enthusiasm for increasing oil and gas drilling, cutting income taxes for the wealthy and others, and undermining- uh, er, "reforming"- Social Security and Medicare.

 It's no surprise, then, that as Tim Scott's presidential campaign was imploding, Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity threw its endorsement- with all the resources it can muster- behind Haley's presidential effort. Certainly, Americans for Prosperity would not want its presidential choice to "government getting in the way" of it's interest in the wealthy and corporations. That would prove to be a pesky problem, much as the federal government 150+ years ago would not reinforce the institution of slavery.

Nikki Haley's remark about slavery on Wednesday evening was no accident. It may have been a nod and a wink to her corporate donors or it may have reflected sincere views (presuming she has any) about the role of government in society. Either way, she pointed to the likely role of any Haley Administration in shunning the interests of all but the most powerful Americans.


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