Civil War

Is Roe v. Wade our Dred Scott?

Earlier this week I wondered if there were a central axis to the cold Civil War we have in America. In the years leading up to the actual Civil War, all public debate revolved around the question of slavery. You couldn’t fully participate in the world beyond your door without calling yourself either abolitionist or pro-slavery.

When the Supreme Court, lead by the pro-slavery Chief Justice Roger B. Tawney, ruled in Dred Scott in 1857 that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” the country was torn in half. Instead of settling the question of slavery, as Tawney intended, we moved closer to war. In response, Republicans in Congress added another justice to tip the Supreme Court in favor of abolition.

In an editorial for the Post (which was summarized in The Week), Michael Barone posits that Roe v. Wade is the hidden fault line in our current politics. Barone’s editorial isn’t about the rightness or wrongness of abortion, but about the way that the issue has shaped electoral politics for 30 years, putting both Republicans and Democrats on ideological islands, unable to find common ground on anything, even when their beliefs or expediency in serving the public good might dictate it.

Is the abortion debate the source of the vast reserves of emotional energy that have been heaped on the Kavanaugh Affair by both sides?

Even if you believe that Kavanaugh’s offenses or the shadow of doubt cast on him render him unfit for the Supreme Court, or if you believe that his confirmation is a deliberate punishment of feminists by reactionaries, it is still worth considering how the abortion debate has invisibly fueled this controversy. It is like the sleeping dragon buried beneath the castle of contemporary politics. We don’t talk about it. We don’t dig it up. But we can feel its heat.

What do you think is the central axis of our politics?

P.S. – I almost didn’t post this, for fear of being misunderstood. Let me be clear: I am *not* calling for a repeal of Roe v. Wade. I am *not making a moral correlation between the wrongness of Dred Scott and the rightness or wrongness of Roe v. Wade. I am making a historical analogy that I hope will help us solve something that puzzles me about our politics, i.e. the source of the hatred and the co-existing unrealities that I see fueling it daily. 

Proof That We Haven’t Lost All Our Civility

I often point to 19th Century writing and speaking as proof that we are living through a low point in American politics, rhetorically. It’s true that ever since the rise of television our public discussions have grown shorter, shallower, and coarser.

But while the 19th Century may have been a high point for rhetorical beauty, our own age might outrank it for civility, as recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, points out. Shootings, beatings, duels, and fist fights on the floor of Congress or near it were not isolated occurrences in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Members of polite society even thrilled to observe violence on the floor of the house and senate from the observation galleries, the same way they sometimes took a blanket and a picnic basket to observe the battles of the Civil War.

While we endure the threat of daily violence in most of our public spaces, we can at least be grateful that it hasn’t yet spread to spaces where our laws are debated.