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The Marriage of Libertarians and Racists

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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Source: Consortium News


Conservative pundit and publisher William F. Buckley Jr.

In the U.S. news media, there is often a distinction made between the racist Right, which emerged from the struggle to maintain slavery and segregation, and the "small-government" Right, which supposedly represents a respectable conservatism focused on the libertarian ideals of personal freedom and free-market principles.

But the reality is that both of these major branches of the American Right grew from the same political trunk, i.e., the South's fear that a strong federal government would intrude on the practices of slavery and, later, segregation. And, throughout U.S. history, those two branches of the Right have been mutually supportive.

Similarly, on Tuesday, the right-wing majority of the U.S. Supreme Court embraced the freedom of states and communities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to change their voting rules without having to get clearance from federal authorities as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and renewed in 2006) had required. Thus, prominent leaders of the "libertarian" Right -- the likes of William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Ron and Rand Paul -- have opposed major legislative efforts to combat Southern segregation, typically citing the "liberty" of a white restaurant owner to bar black patrons as trumping the right of the patrons to be treated fairly.

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The right of these districts to set their own standards topped the power of Congress to require that the principle of one person, one vote, be respected for black and brown people, according to the Court's five right-wing justices. Thus, the libertarianism behind "small government" principles again supported the goal of white supremacy.

The reality of these two wings of the Right flapping together in coordination has existed since the Founding of the Republic when Southern opponents of the Constitution's proposed concentration of national power in the federal government argued that the shift away from state sovereignty -- as contained in the Articles of Confederation -- would inevitably doom slavery.

In the Virginia ratification convention of 1788, opponents of the Constitution -- Patrick Henry and George Mason -- pressed the case that Virginia's lucrative investment in slavery would be put at risk by a powerful central government that they claimed would eventually come under Northern dominance. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Source of Anti-Government Extremism."]

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Jefferson's Racism

Though the Anti-Federalists lost the fight over the Constitution's ratification, they continued to oppose President George Washington's vision of a vibrant federal government building the young nation and protecting its fragile independence.

After Thomas Jefferson returned from France in 1789, the Anti-Federalists found their charismatic political leader. Along with his intellectual prowess, Jefferson was not above engaging in secretive personal attacks on Washington's key lieutenants, particularly Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. Jefferson ultimately organized his faction into the Democratic-Republican Party.

Despite his elegant words about freedom and equality, Jefferson was at his core a racist hypocrite who believed in white supremacy and rejected ever incorporating emancipated blacks into American society. Like Henry and Mason, Jefferson recognized the threat that a strong central government posed to his beloved Virginia and its lucrative institution of slavery.

So, Jefferson fiercely opposed the Federalist program that sought to promote the country's development through everything from a national bank to a professional military to a system of roads and canals.

The primary distinction between Washington and Jefferson was that -- although both were Virginian slaveholders -- Washington was arguably the First American while Jefferson was a Virginian first, rooted deeply in its soil and traditions.

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Washington understood the new country as it was born through the Revolution's motto of "Join, or Die." He led the Continental Army in battles from Massachusetts to New York through New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Virginia. He knew the perspectives of the various regions and grasped the potential (and the problems) of the young nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, Washington also experienced the gross ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation, which governed the country from 1777 to 1787 and which made the 13 states "sovereign" and "independent." He had seen his troops go hungry because states reneged on pledges of support.

After Washington's army defeated the British in 1781, he watched in dismay as the squabbling among the states continued. Not only did Washington perceive how the Articles were holding back the nation's economic development but how they were endangering its fragile independence, as European powers played one region against another.

When Shays' Rebellion broke out in western Massachusetts in 1786, Washington was particularly concerned that the disorder might serve the interests of the British, who had only recently accepted the existence of the United States. Washington kept in touch with his Revolutionary War associates in Massachusetts, such as Gen. Henry Knox and Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

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http://www.consortiumnews.com

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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