Return of the Doughfaces

Maine Republican operative Dan Billings says his state party’s new Tea Bagger-tilted platform is “wack job pablum” and “nutcase stuff,” according to the Maine Politics Internet website.

Billings sees egg on the faces of the platform writers, who are “conservative activists backed by ‘tea party’ groups,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

I see dough on their mugs. Okay, I teach history.

“Doughface” was what Yankee Republicans called Yankee Democrats who sided with Southern Democrats in defense of slavery.

“Doughface” also seems to work for Yankee Republicans like the Maine platform scribes. Their screed looks like it was written by the GOP’s neo-Confederate wing.

For years, white supremacist Southerners were big in the Democratic party. Right-wing Southern white folks – many of them descendants of segregationist Dixie Democrats – and their views dominate what used to be the party of Lincoln and Liberty .

Maine is supposed to be one of the last bastions of Republican middle-of-the-roaders. The media loves to describe Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as GOP “moderates.”

Of course, “moderate” is a relative term. Snowe and Collins are to the right of old-time GOP moderates, even their predecessor Sen. Bill Cohen.

Anyway, I might have missed it. But I haven’t seen where Snowe or Collins have criticized the platform, which Maine Politics calls “a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords, and outright conspiracy theories.”

Maine has a primary election next month. The Associated Press reported that “most of Maine ’s Republican gubernatorial candidates are tepid to cool” to the platform. But the news service also said that “none responding to Associated Press queries rejected the statement of party principles outright.”

Most of the platform is the usual Tea Party brew. It calls for abolition of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of Education. It says global warming is a “myth” and “health care is not a right. It is a service.”

In addition, the document denounces abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control and the Employee Free Choice Act. It argues that “’Freedom of Religion’ does not mean ‘freedom from religion.’” The platform stands for “state sovereignty.”

Other planks look like they were pried from the from the John Birch Society of the 1950s. The Birchers never met a conspiracy they didn’t like. They saw Reds under all our beds. They said the United Nations was Red.

The Maine platform rejects the UN’s Treaty on Rights of the Child, the Law of the Sea Treaty and another ancient Bircher bugaboo: “one world government.”

The platform endorses still more Birch Society golden oldies, notably “the Austrian School of Economics.” Its uber right-wing proponents, including loopy libertarian author Ayn Rand, elevated greed to a virtue. Rand, who emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union , wrote books extolling selfishness.

Anyway, before the Civil War, Doughface Democrats and their Southern brethren were always yelping “state sovereignty.” They meant the federal government had no right to stop white people from keeping black people in bondage.

Doughface and Dixie Republicans holler “state sovereignty,” too.  It means opposition to federal action on behalf of minorities, the poor, workers, consumers and the environment.

The Maine platform writers say they are being true to Republican history. They compared “the Tea Party movement” to “the principled revolt that led to the birth of the Republican Party in 1854.” Seldom has history been more tortured.

The founders of the GOP believed the federal government should keep slavery out of the federal territories. Some of them said the federal government should immediately abolish slavery, perhaps through a constitutional amendment.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, in tandem with a Republican-majority Congress, used the military might of the federal government to lead us to victory over the Confederate states, which seceded to protect their slave property against the “Black Republicans” in Washington .

Those Republicans included Vice President Hannibal Hamlin of Maine.

In 1862, the Republican Congress levied the country’s first income tax to help pay for the war. That same year, Lincoln exercised federal authority in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which put slavery on the road to extinction.

After the Civil War, the Republicans added amendments to the constitution that outlawed slavery, made states subject to the Bill of Rights, made African Americans citizens and gave African American men the vote.

Early Republicans also believed the federal government should help boost the economy to benefit business, farmers and workers. They favored tariffs. They supported federal aid and aid for improving road and river transportation and for building a transcontinental railroad. They sponsored a homestead act, which virtually gave away land in the federal territories to anyone who would farm it.

In addition, the Republicans in Congress aided education by approving legislation that helped start land grant colleges and universities.

So the Tea Bagger Republicans are nothing like the Republicans of 1854. Their motto was, “free land, free soil and free men,” and they were for using the federal government to back it up.

The Republicans of the 1850s were democratic revolutionaries. The Tea Baggers are reactionary counterrevolutionaries. Their movement – not coincidentally almost all white — represents some of the worst traits in the body politic, notably racism, sexism, nativism, militarism, jingoism, homophobia, religious bigotry and greed.

I’m a union-card-carrying, Hubert Humphrey Democrat. But many of my heroes in history are early Republicans, notably Lincoln, the greatest son of my native Kentucky .

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital,” Lincoln said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Meanwhile, I’m wondering how far the GOP will ultimately stray from its roots as the party of Lincoln and Hamlin.

To be sure, Doughfaces are not just back in Maine . Their ranks include GOP leading lights such as Reps. Michele Bachman of Minnesota , Peter King of New York and John Boehner of Ohio .

The Great Emancipator must be spinning in his Springfield , Ill. , tomb at these “state sovereignty” Republicans. No doubt, the Maine platform would disturb Hamlin’s eternal rest Down East in Bangor.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on May 22, 2010
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.