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“Somebody Is Running Against Hillary Clinton. To the Hackmobile!”


Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, at his speech at Liberty University, made the rather banal point that the U.S. is a “nation which in many ways was created, and I’m sorry to have to say this, from way back on racist principles, that’s a fact.” Sanders is also polling well against Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. Enter Sean Wilentz, hack pundit:

THE Civil War began over a simple question: Did the Constitution of the United States recognize slavery — property in humans — in national law? Southern slaveholders, inspired by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, charged that it did and that the Constitution was proslavery; Northern Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, and joined by abolitionists including Frederick Douglass, resolutely denied it. After Lincoln’s election to the presidency, 11 Southern states seceded to protect what the South Carolina secessionists called their constitutional “right of property in slaves.”

The war settled this central question on the side of Lincoln and Douglass. Yet the myth that the United States was founded on racial slavery persists, notably among scholars and activists on the left who are rightly angry at America’s racist past. The myth, ironically, has led advocates for social justice to reject Lincoln’s and Douglass’s view of the Constitution in favor of Calhoun’s. And now the myth threatens to poison the current presidential campaign. The United States, Bernie Sanders has charged, “in many ways was created, and I’m sorry to have to say this, from way back, on racist principles, that’s a fact.”

But as far as the nation’s founding is concerned, it is not a fact, as Lincoln and Douglass explained. It is one of the most destructive falsehoods in all of American history.

Yes, slavery was a powerful institution in 1787. Yes, most white Americans presumed African inferiority. And in 1787, proslavery delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia fought to inscribe the principle of property in humans in the Constitution. But on this matter the slaveholders were crushed.

Wilentz’s strategy here is to make a narrow claim — the Constitution did not make slavery a federal institution — that is technically defensible but not actually responsive to Sanders’s point. What’s relevant to Sanders’s argument is whether the Constitution protected the institution of slavery in the states, and the answer to this question is quite clearly “yes.” In addition to the protections that Wilentz acknowledges and handwaves away because proslavery framers got only some and not all of what they wanted — the 3/5ths clause, the Fugitive Slave clause, the prohibition on bans on the international slave trade until 1808 — both sides assumed that the electoral college and House or Representatives, augmented by the 3/5th clause, would protect slavery in the states. It is true, as Wilentz says, that the Senate ultimately became a crucial bulwark of the slave power — but this is because both sides were wrong in predicting sectional population growth. The Constitution explicitly and implicitly protected slavery in the states in multiple ways. It didn’t make slavery national, but Sanders isn’t claiming otherwise.

In addition, Wilentz’s characterization of Lincoln is very misleading. As most of you know, Lincoln accepted that the federal government could not interfere with slavery in the states (as opposed to the territories), a principle he maintained even in the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s views support Sanders rather than undermining him. Lincoln was fond of assertions that the Constitution was fundamentally antislavery, but this politically useful rhetoric is not serious history. The Civil War Amendments transformed American constitutionalism; they didn’t, as Wilentz implies, redundantly state principles that were already in the Constitution.

And, of course, Sanders isn’t just talking about slavery but white supremacy. And when you look at evidence like citizenship laws, the franchise, the formal and informal disabilities placed on free blacks throughout the country, etc. etc. his point is undeniable. And, of course, we really should mention Wilentz’s man Andrew Jackson here.

Why Wilentz continues to destroy his reputation to be Hillary Clinton’s op-ed enforcer is beyond me.

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  • Crusty

    What does this have to do with Hillary Clinton? If someone comments on something Bernie Sanders said it is to aid Hillary Clinton?

    • Scott Lemieux

      You may want to click on that last hyperlink. Wilentz has an extensive history of writing embarrassing crap about anyone he sees as a threat to Hillary Clinton.

      • cpinva

        why he does this I have no idea, I feel pretty certain Ms. Clinton is quite capable of defending herself.

    • Hogan
    • socraticsilence

      Well considering he spent large portions of 2008 attempting to take an ax to Barack Obama (the fact that said attempts generally resulted in planting said ax instead in Wilentz own overly inflated reputation is immaterial) makes him suspect.

      It’s like asking “what does Iraq have to do with Bill Kristol’s claims about Iran”.

  • joe from Lowell

    It’s probably also worth noting that Lincoln and Douglas thought the Constitution had to be amended in order to root out the institution of slavery.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I did!

      • joe from Lowell

        I wanted to make the connection with Wilentz’ own individual examples entirely explicit.

        “I happen to have Mr. Douglas right here,” that sort of thing.

    • Marc

      As it was!

    • random

      I think later events shows they were both wrong about that. If they’d amended the Constitution, the slave states probably would have tried to secede, which they ended up doing anyway. It probably took nothing short of an actual war to root out slavery.

      • joe from Lowell

        It ended up taking both. After the war, they still had to pass the amendments in order for the Constitution to not countenance slavery.

        • random

          Point being, Lincoln and Douglas were optimists.

          • DAS

            I can imagine the following exchange

            Pollyanna Pundit: Abie, Stevie … why are you two so pessimistic?

            Lincoln and Douglas: we’re actually laying out a best case scenario. If our worse case scenario comes to pass, you’ll be calling us f*&%ing optimists!

      • Latverian Diplomat

        Amending the Constitution to end slavery was not a real proposition before the war. The South may not have had enough electoral votes to prevent a Lincoln presidency, they still had enough votes in the Senate to easily block such amendments.

        It’s important to remember just what a bad overreaction secession was. The institution of slavery was in no immediate danger from a pre-war Lincoln who was president of a union that included the South.

        • random

          I know. But if they had somehow amended the Constitution to outlaw slavery, the slave states would have just seceded.

      • cpinva

        “If they’d amended the Constitution, the slave states probably would have tried to seceded

        fixed that for ya. the only thing that might have kept the slave states from seceding is Lincoln not being elected, and I’m not 100% certain of that. those states saw the writing on the wall. with new, free states, coming into the union, the slave states would soon enough be outmuscled in congress and the courts, abolition would follow. that particular time was probably their best shot to separate themselves from the rest of the country.

        the northern states already were industrializing, their free population expanding rapidly with waves of immigrants. modern weaponry and the capacity to field even larger armies would quickly eliminate any advantages the south might have had in 1861. as it was, had Grant been promoted sooner, the war might have only lasted 2 years, long enough for him to totally decimate the confederate army.

        • CJColucci

          Rhett Butler said pretty much the same thing.

        • Rob in CT

          that particular time was probably their best shot to separate themselves from the rest of the country.

          I forget where I saw it, but once read a short analysis that concluded that they were late by 10 years. If, instead of going for the Compromise of 1850, they initiated the break then, they really might have won. The North’s industrialization wasn’t as far along… RRs were less of a thing (making Northern troop & supply movement much harder), and the free population disparity wasn’t as bad.

          That strikes me as right. The Old South really had a chance, but they missed it.

          had Grant been promoted sooner, the war might have only lasted 2 years, long enough for him to totally decimate the confederate army.

          I love me some US Grant, but I doubt this. He was solid – better than many others – but it took time for the Union armies to figure some things out and I doubt he’d have sped it up by that much. You’re saying the war would’ve been cut in half.

    • Sly

      It was famous kook Lysander Spooner who argued that the Constitution was an inherent anti-slavery document. And though he did manage to convince some abolitionists of the merits of his argument, notably Frederick Douglass, they were in the minority of those committed to the cause of anti-slavery, of whom Lincoln was an on-again-off-again-on-again member and ally.

      And its worth noting that Spooner wound up supporting the Confederacy in the end, because in his view an inherent right to secede trumped an inherent right not to be a slave, and that the whole war thing could be avoided through the unmitigated genius of compensated emancipation. This parsing of liberty, of course, made him a hero to Libertarians and other species of buffoon a century later.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Spooner fan Randy Barnett approves of Wilentz’s column, natch.

      • cpinva

        “they were in the minority of those committed to the cause of anti-slavery, of whom Lincoln was an on-again-off-again-on-again member and ally.”

        Lincoln was decidedly anti-slavery, but he was even more decidedly pro-union, and he made that painfully clear multiple times. in the interests of full disclosure, Lincoln also felt that blacks & whites couldn’t peacefully share the same continent, and that the best thing was for the freed slaves to return to their home continent (which, by that time, none of them had ever seen). then, everyone would live happily not together ever after. or something like that.

        • mark

          Another way to put it was that Lincoln was always anti-slavery but was not an abolitionist, which was a fringe movement. Would have been happy if slavery was abolished but treated it as a purely theoretical possibility in his lifetime. Until near the end of his life, at which point his views on abolition, black/white cohabitation, black competence and even black suffrage underwent a remarkable change. Presumably due to interacting with actual black people during the civil war.

          I would recommend Foner’s Fiery Trial on the evolution of Lincoln’s thinking. I did tend to view Lincoln as having “an opinion” on slavery but of course he had a 40 year public career and had many opinions–though all of the, as you say, in the “Anti-” camp.

  • I read this with my jaw on the floor. I know the NYT prints a lot of drivel on its op ed page but this was ridiculous even for them.

    • Latverian Diplomat

      When you have to “balance” Maureen Dowd, it takes you to some dark places. :-)

      • cpinva

        they could “balance” ms. dowd on the top of the empire state building. I believe most thinking people would be in agreement with that solution.

  • sleepyirv

    To me Wilentz (and a lot of his critics on Twitter, though not Scott here) are trying to wish a way a very longstanding debate that can be seen between Douglass and Garrison, Lincoln and Calhoun, MLK and Malcolm X to whether the Constitution is inherently a racist document or with racist “tumors” that can be removed with the debate evolving into whether the legal system is inherently racist or with racist features that can be removed by new statutes or court decisions.

    The length of the debate should point that, at the very least, this is still an open question. Wilentz’s critique of Sanders is both a caricature of what Sanders actually said and disingenuous to those who do find our legal system unfixable without radical changes.

    • DrDick

      I think a much more salient point is that Sanders was not specifically referring to the Constitution, but the larger social institutions of the time. Slavery was well established and widely accepted. Only white male property owners had the franchise. The whole enterprise was grounded in the slaughter and forcible dispossession of the Native inhabitants.

  • mbxxxxxx

    Are we to just ignore the experience of the Native Americans in westward expansion? Our treatment of Chinese immigrants in the West? No racism there, I guess. Or maybe that doesn’t count as part of the “founding of the country.”

    • Steve LaBonne

      This great nation was not founded on racism. How dare anybody say that? The truth is that it was founded on racism / slavery AND genocide AND theft. Our forebears were not some kind of pikers who were able to commit only one kind of crime!

      • postmodulator

        Even here, American exceptionalism is a mistake. Every piece of dry land on the planet was stolen from somebody at the point of some weapon.

        • SFAW

          Every piece of dry land on the planet was stolen from somebody at the point of some weapon.

          Humans and others alike

        • Steve LaBonne

          Of course. But there is little danger that we will come to see ourselves as uniquely bad.

        • America’a exceptional because we couldn’t help ourselves. “Don’t blame me, it was my Manifest Destiny.”

          • Hogan

            “God gave us this land” is not all that exceptional.

      • Ahuitzotl

        no, no, it wasnt racism – they were prepared to slaughter -anyone- in the way.

        • rm

          It’s more like, anyone in the way is automatically non-white and available for slaughter.

    • Jackov

      In the early colonies, Native Americans were often enslaved with the Carolinians taking the additional step of shipping thousands to their deaths on plantations in the West Indies.

    • Derelict

      Indeed. Wilentz restricting the focus to only slavery elides the entirety of this hemisphere’s history. From Columbus enslaving the Carribe Indians to the slaughter of the Aztecs to the germ warfare against the New England tribes, the lethal racism inherent in Europeans establishing their claim to these lands is both staggering and undeniable. Sanders’s claim needs no further justification, and Wilentz is just a sorry apologetic for Hillary.

  • Scizzy

    The really interesting thing about Wilentz is that he hasn’t been able to compartmentalize his hacky political writing to keep it away from his once impressive scholarship. As his op-eds get flimsier, so does his historical work. The fall off from Chants Democratic has been very, very steep.

    • Jackov

      While the Grammy nomination obviously marked Wilentz as a total sell out, The Rise of American Democracy was published 20 years after Chants Democratic.

    • dilan

      This is a common problem with public intellectuals. Basically, you can find outlets to publish your stuff even when you aren’t talking about things you have any expertise in. So there’s a great temptation to write about hot political issues you have no expertise in.

      In the wake of Monica Lewinsky episode, a number of scholars wrote pieces on perjury and obstruction of justice law despite having zero experience or expertise on those issues. After Bush v. Gore, a ton of scholars wrote stuff about election law, which is an EXTREMELY specialized discipline (there’s a reason Rick Hasen is so good). And when the Moops invaded Spain, a whole bunch of people who had never uttered a peep on theories of statutory interpretation suddenly fashioned themselves as experts on it.

      It’s just too much fun to write about the hot political issues. Even good scholars can’t resist it sometimes.

      • Brien Jackson

        Bush v. Gore really had fuck all to do with election law, but whatevs.

        • dilan


          Here are some of the numerous election law issues in Bush v. Gore:

          1. Did the Florida Supreme Court’s action in interpreting its law to call for additional recounts constitute a “change in election law after the election” prohibited by MacPherson v. Blacker?

          2. Does the Constitution guarantee the a constitutional right to vote? (Careful if you think you know the answer to this question.)

          3. Were the recount procedures ordered by Florida courts likely to result in a definitive count in sufficient time to meet the “safe harbor” provision under federal law?

          4. What are the requirements of the equal protection clause with respect to the counting of votes and a state’s supervision of a presidential election. (Again, if you think this is a simple question, read the numerous Supreme Court decisions regarding equal treatment of votes, vote dilution, etc. This is tremendously complex.)

          I know just enough about all these things to know I am not near an expert. Indeed, there’s actually only a handful of people in America who can really speak to these issues with true expertise. And yet HUNDREDS of fricking name constitutional scholar and political science types were speaking and writing definitively about them, without even acknowledging that they were speaking outside their area of expertise.

          (And yes, I think Bush v. Gore was wrongly decided. But my opinion isn’t worth nearly as much as that of an expert.)

          • Brien Jackson

            That’s all nice, but the central issue in Bush vs. Gore was that the majority based the decision on an interpretation of the 14th amendment that the justices in question have literally applied in no other case before or sense. This was largely because there was basically no grounds for the case on any of the other points.

            • And I believe the Court said as much itself in warning that the decision had no precedential value. They could have dealt with any or all of these important issues but explicitly chose not to.

            • dilan

              Brien, the thing is, it isn’t as though “expert” commentators limited themselves to that one issue. They also opined on a ton of election law stuff.

          • njorl

            I think the greater point is that Bush v Gore was not about election law, it was an election.

            • Lee Rudolph

              But not one constrained by law.

              • UserGoogol

                It was constrained by law to a point. I mean, the Supreme Court couldn’t have easily ruled that Pat Buchanan gets to be president. They had been given a legal opportunity to pick a president and they found an extremely strained way to decide how they wanted to decide.

    • blue meme

      I think the interesting part is that the NYT saw fit to run such silliness at all. It is as if they decided that the way to atone for the atrocious HRC email hit piece was to print something equally stupid that takes a whack at her opponent.

      I guess “two wrongs make a right” is the best you can hope for in a newsroom so chock full o’ schmucks.

      • Warren Terra

        I think that, in general, the NYT is happy to run hackwork of the sort that builds the contest they want: an essentially personal contest between their preferred establishment figures. They don’t want substantive debate on the issues, because that bores some people and inflames others, but titillates no-one. They don’t want to fluff the whackjobs or the no-hopers, because that’s not who the Gray Lady is. The result is, they’re happiest when publishing spicy, content-free stories or op-eds about Clinton or Jeb!

        • blue meme

          I guess that makes sense. If the winnowing process gives credit for positive answers to questions like, “does publishing this OpEd help dumb down the debate, thereby making life easier for vacuous pundits such as our very own MoDo and BoBo?”, but not questions like “is this OpEd factually correct and logically sound?”… well, this is about what you would expect to get.

  • matt w

    Have I mentioned that I love that Bernie Sanders pose because it makes him look like the guy on the left in the Frontier Psychiatrist video?

    Anyway: Wilentz sure is a hack!

  • alex284

    “Yet the myth that the United States was founded on racial slavery persists…”

    GAAAAAH. I don’t know how someone can look at US history and say, “Oh, slavery? That little hiccup? I don’t think anyone cared too much about it.”

    Anyway, I’m not about to click through and waste one of my free NYT articles on this garbage, but does Wilentz deal with the fact that if the Constitution really was totally anti-slavery, then why did it need to be amended to prohibit slavery?

    • Steve LaBonne

      Wilentz is trying to work his way into the Niall Ferguson level of hacktacularness. He’s doing a pretty good job.

      • Lev

        Yeah, that’s a pretty damn good comparison.

    • Warren Terra

      I don’t know how someone can look at US history and say, “Oh, slavery? That little hiccup? I don’t think anyone cared too much about it.”

      Not to mention the natives, who were treated more like vermin than like slaves.

      • CJColucci

        I’ve long thought the first half of the usual US history survey class (generally ending around 1877) should be called: “Stolen Land and Stolen Labor.”

  • Warren Terra

    As LGM has repeatedly noticed, Wilentz has a rich history of disgracing himself in pursuit of ingratiating himself with the Clintons.

    … once again, the most worrisome thing about Sec. Clinton is not her own capabilities or competence, which seem impressive, but the horrible people that glom onto her, and whom she seems to have trouble rejecting; see also Mark Penn, Lanny Davis, Sid Blumenthal …

    • Steve LaBonne

      What’s impressive? Anybody should be able to see by now that she was not a patch on Kerry as SoS. And there was nothing distinguished about her Senate tenure, unless you count the distinguished cravenness displayed by her AUMF vote. She is an empty pantsuit.

      • Aaron Morrow

        DW-Nominate puts her around 11th/12th most liberal Senator during her career. Say what you will, but more of her votes were in the right place than most Senate Democrats.

        Also, the stories of her representing the liberal wing of the Clinton administration actually started in the 1990s.

        For some real empty suits, I give you The Field of O’Malley, Chafee, and FN Webb.

        • ajp

          You know, I lived in DC for most of O’Malley’s tenure so I’ll go to bat for him here. He really does not deserve to be classified with Chafee and Webb. He deserves a lot of the shit that David Simon has flung at him, but really, I’ll defend him as an average mainstream Democrat, at least a notch or two above “empty suit.”

          I do find him incredibly boring though and it’s no surprise to me that he hasn’t gained any traction. I’ve made the joke before that he makes Michael Dukakis look like a speed freak and I stand by that.

        • Schadenboner

          I rather object to including O’Malley on this list. He has done important work in ensuring voting rights, and has great policy ideas on the issue.

          I wouldn’t object if you included him in a list of (e.g.) “Generic white eastern liberals”, but an empty suit he isn’t.

          It’s just damned bad luck he has to compete against Hillary fucking Clinton, and that Bernie has, to whatever slight degree, caught fire.

          • Becker

            O’Malley was on Diane Rehm yesterday. I didn’t know it was him when I tuned in, and, not even knowing the sound of his voice, listened with agreement, especially when he unhesitatingly called Trump a racist. No waffling or hedgind. Straight-up called him a racist. That was neat.

          • Brien Jackson

            O’Malley also sacrificed plenty of poor, black, Baltimoreans on the altar of his desire to be Governor.

          • JonH

            O’Malley looked particularly good in contrast to the former, now-convicted, vaginal-probing governor of Virgina.

        • Murc

          For some real empty suits, I give you The Field of O’Malley, Chafee, and FN Webb.

          I think you may be conflating “drawing dead” with “empty suit.”

          In a year without Hillary Clinton, O’Malley would be a real contender. This is not that year. But whatever his faults, he is not an empty suit.

          • Brien Jackson

            He doesn’t belong in a class with Webb and Chafee, who are running essentially as non-Democrats, but I don’t see a world where O’Malley is ever a legit contender.

      • random

        Not to take anything away from Kerry, but he’s likely reaping the benefit of a slew of sanctions that were imposed on Iran before he was SoS.

        • joe from Lowell

          And in a broader sense: she got stuck with a salvage job. She inherited a car that was up on blocks and got it running in top form. John Kerry is a great driver, yes, but he wouldn’t have been going much of anywhere if he’d taken over State in 2009, either.

          Also, she worked with the Morsi government to negotiate the peace deal in the Gaza War.

      • Jackov

        Taking over State after 8 years of Bush/Cheney was certainly a cake walk for Clinton.

        • Warren Terra

          I think you could take this in either direction: on the one hand, Bush/Cheney left us in our weakest and worst diplomatic condition since the modern era, leaving Clinton with a lot of work to do; on the other hand, the world was grateful to her just for not being one of theirs, an automatic inflation of her international status. See also Obama’s Nobel Prize – I have the greatest respect for Obama, I think he’s easily the best President since LBJ and probably since FDR, and I think it’s arguable that by January 20 2017 he will have earned that medal – but it’s equally clear that he hadn’t yet earned it in October 2009, and was receiving it largely for the contrast he struck with Bush/Cheney.

          • matt w

            As someone (I think John J. Emerson) said, Obama got the Nobel for not being George W. Bush, but not being George W. Bush was in fact the greatest contribution anyone made to world peace that year.

            • joe from Lowell

              As much more informed said, Obama got the Nobel for the same reason that most Nobel winners get it: because the committee wanted to bolster his ongoing work.

              The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009
              The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations.

              A year later, Obama and Putin signed the New START accords. A few years later, he and Rouhani signed the Iranian nuclear accord.

              I wonder, did Malala Yousefzai make the greatest contribution to world peace in 2014? How about Liu Xiabo in 2010? And then there’s the model of Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. I needn’t tell you what year they won, because we’re all familiar with their massive contributions to world peace and when they occured.

            • UserGoogol

              I think the President of the United States, by virtue of his uniquely powerful position in global politics, is inevitably going to be a frontrunner as the person who did the most to either promote or prevent world peace in any given year.

      • ajp

        I mean, there was nothing distinguished about Obama’s Senate tenure either, although to be fair he didn’t serve as long. She only served one full term though-unless you’re an LBJ I don’t think you’re realistically going to be able to do so much in a single full term.

        Though I do remember we (as in the commentariat generally, not you and me specifically) were talking about Kerry 04 versus Clinton 08 and the relative salience of the AUMF vote in their campaigns. But not only do I think that 04 and 08 were two very different elections, it seems to me that Kerry is thus far underrated as SoS compared to Clinton. Now, I know you can say “Well, Kerry is still in office” but people were talking up Clinton as “Zomg best Secretary of State evar” while she was still there. Not that I think she was bad, especially given how low a bar being a decent SoS was in the wake of Dumbya, but it seems to me that there was an obnoxious and concerted PR effort to really talk up how great a Secretary of State she was almost from the getgo. No principled person could disagree that Kerry is at least as good as Clinton-I think he’ll go down as one of the best of all time, but at the very least there’s no principled argument for Clinton being better. And yet I have heard nothing outside of a couple of blogs about how great Kerry has been.

        • dilan

          There’s a lot of stuff that Kerry did that certainly look like things that Hillary would not have been so bold on. I’m not saying she was an impediment to better relations with Cuba, the Iran deal, the careful and balanced politicking with respect to ISIL and various rebel groups, the measured response to Putin on the Ukraine, etc., but certainly her tendencies have always been closer to the hawkish “anyone in the world who isn’t doing exactly what the US wants should face the full wrath of the US government” view of the world.

          And notably, just the other day, she ripped into Obama’s foreign policies as insufficiently hawkish.

          The cliffs version of it is I think she was a mediocre Secretary of State– something like Albright, better than Condi Rice, not nearly as good as Christopher– and I think Kerry is a very good one.

          • ajp

            I agree. But from, say, 2010 on Clinton being a “great” Secretary of State has just been one of those things that Everyone Knows and good democrats don’t dispute. Like, it’s a talking point that I keep hearing, content-free, from all the Clinton supporters I know. And I say this as someone pretty much resigned to the fact that she’ll be the nominee, not trying to cut her down in favor of Sanders or O’Malley.

            That dubious narrative has sort of disappeared into the background and become an unspoken and indisputable premise from which to start. I don’t think Clinton’s tenure at State disqualifies her as a serious candidate or anything, but it would be nice if people could stand on their own merits instead of inflated bullshit. Though I suppose I might as well as complain about the sun rising.

            Christopher gets major demerits from 2000 but yes.

          • socraticsilence

            I will say that on both Cuba and ISIL– for the former there is literally nothing in her career that would make one think she would take the risk of offending Florida voters in order to establish relations with Cuba. As for ISIL she’s on record for wanting to Arm rebel groups in Syria, it was one of the bigger public breaks from Obama Adminstration policy she was closer to McCain’s position than Kerry/Obama.

          • Bruce B.

            One may be told many things, and in fact one is. But is one provided with anything substantial in support?

            (That is to say, I keep finding that a lot of things I used to believe were to Clinton’s discredit turn out not to have happened.)

      • joe from Lowell

        What’s impressive? Anybody should be able to see by now that she was not a patch on Kerry as SoS.

        That’s a pretty high bar, Steve. John Kerry is the best Secretary of State since George Marshall.

        You’re right, Hillary wasn’t as good as he is. Nobody is. John Kerry, the big goober, is the man.

      • empty pantsuit

        Is that really necessary?

  • random
  • Schadenboner

    Yet the myth that the United States was founded on racial slavery persists, notably among scholars and activists on the left who are rightly angry at America’s racist past. The myth, ironically, has led advocates for social justice to reject Lincoln’s and Douglass’s view of the Constitution in favor of Calhoun’s.

    I am so goddamn confused by this paragraph. Slavery, like it or not, protected by the constitution. The 13th Amendment was required to (in my view) correct this situation.

    That’s how Amendments work. That’s why they’re called amendments, they change (or “amend”) the core document, that being the constitution.

    Protection for free speech isn’t in the Constitution? *POOF* First Amendment, now it is!
    Women can’t vote? *POOF* Nineteenth!

    • Warren Terra

      See what Lemieux said:

      Wilentz’s strategy here is to make a narrow claim — the Constitution did not make slavery a federal institution — that is technically defensible

      So, Wilentz’s argument is that the Constitution may have recognized Slavery, may even have protected it where it existed, but did not mandate it as a federal institution.

      Even that, I’d maybe argue with, on the grounds that Dredd Scott and other Supreme Court decisions regarding fugitive slaves did a lot to federalize the status of slaves (though a lot of this was based on the Fugitive Slave Act rather than on the Constitution, and other court decisions made it clear that while a slave fleeing into free territory was not thereby freed, a slaveowner couldn’t move their slaves to free territory and keep them in bondage)

      • Schadenboner

        At very least the Dredd Scott made the policy on whether slaves were property pretty clear. That is to say, the Federal government wasn’t going to say that slaves were property, but wasn’t going to say they weren’t property (and, more critically, that with the FSA that it would prevent free states from saying they weren’t).

        I would say that this distinction is somewhat more slight that the designation “academic” usually suggests.

      • Aaron Morrow

        Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution is literally known as the Fugitive Slave Cause, and the power of various fugitive slave laws are derived from it. Given that the Constitution mandated that slavery be maintained in states that had previously banned it, it’s hard to see how Wilentz position holds without ignoring some of the evidence.

  • Nick056

    This type of stuff is why Howe’s book won a Pulitzer Prize and Wilentz’s didn’t. (Not that the Pulitzer is always a mark of quality: Jon Meachum has one.)

    There’s an interesting piece to be written on the rhetorical and legal arguments about slavery and racism that can lead people to mine contradictory lessons from the same Constitution and other framing documents — the Federalist, etc. — in order to advance somewhat similar politics. Bill Clinton, for instance, is a man in the mold of the “no real racist principle embedded in the founding literature” type, in my view, and his opinion is probably advanced in good faith. Bernie is just the opposite, also in good faith. And while they are both “liberals” on race, and while Bernie infamously has trouble talking about race in the right way, those points of emphasis lead them to more or less radical proposals and viewpoints.

    But Wilentz’s didn’t write that piece. He just said, “b’uh Lincoln’s expedient rhetoric shows our founding principles weren’t racist.” Notice how, say, Foner, doesn’t make that case ..

    • Manny Kant

      Howe’s book always struck me as just as weirdly partisan on behalf of the Whigs as Wilentz has been on behalf of the Democrats. Why does a history of the Jacksonian Era have to take either of these incredibly flawed parties as being some sort of model to emulate?

      • Scott Lemieux

        I can’t agree with the equivalence. What Hath God Wrought is a vastly better book than The Rise of American Democracy.

        • Manny Kant

          “Just as weirdly partisan” was probably too strong. I will, however, stand by my sense that Howe’s clear preference for the party favored by major slaveholders, factory owners, evangelical protestants, and nativists is nearly as uncalled for as Wilentz’s silly Jacksonian fixation.

  • msobel

    The wikipedia page is also revisionist

    As in the other references in the Constitution dealing with slavery, the words “slave” and “slavery” are not specifically used in this clause. Historian Donald Fehrenbach believes that throughout the Constitution there was the intent to make it clear that slavery existed only under state law, not federal law. On this instance, Fehrenbacher concludes:

    Most revealing in this respect was a last-minute change in the fugitive-clause whereby the phrase “legally held to service or labour in one state” was changed to read “held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof.” The revision made it impossible to infer from the passage that the Constitution itself legally sanctioned slavery.[6]

    • Manny Kant

      I don’t think Wilentz’s point is necessarily technically wrong. It’s more that, I mean, it’s focusing on a legal technicality that doesn’t really vitiate Sanders’s larger point, and which doesn’t seem to be of sufficient interest to warrant a New York Times op-ed.

  • LeeEsq

    Listen, Scott. The conservatives and ostensibly moderate opinion writers get good money from their hackery. I don’t see why ostensibly liberal writers should be denied the same benefit. We got a good thing going on with this hackery racket and you really shouldn’t disturb it. (Sarcasm).

  • socraticsilence

    So to Prof. Wilentz the 13th Amendment was a lot like those laws hack legislatures pass banning Sharia law? Pointless grandstanding on something already covered?

    Because if the Civil War in and of itself “settled this central question” then taking the not inconsiderable step of passing a constitutional amendment seems odd.

  • Owlbear1

    The Constitution: Not Racist, just written so as not to offend Slave Owners.

  • Kazanir

    What’s most hilarious and reprehensible about this is that the actual point Wilentz has (although he doesn’t realize it) only ends up supporting Sander’s assertion. He’s correct that some of the founders were successful at crafting compromises and rearguard actions that prevented slavery from being positively enshrined in the Constitution as such. But the fact that these compromises and rearguard actions were necessary in the first place gives more credence to the argument that the nation had a foundation composed in large part of the racist principles that some of the Founders fought against.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Right. The Constitution was deliberately crafted so as to not be unambiguously proslavery or antislavery, because it was a compromise between supporters and opponents of slavery. But this is entirely consistent with Sanders’s point!

  • Excuse me, but if Article IV specifically states “person held into service”, doesn’t it not only acknowledge slavery, not only condone it, but actually encourage it?

  • Jeane Kirkpatrick

    We must find some way to tag Sanders with “Blame America first.”

  • Todd

    A Republican debate aside: To the CNN quickfire question: What woman would you choose to replace Hamilton on the $10 bill?

    5 of the candidates either couldn’t pick an American, or picked a family member, or refused to change the Hamilton picture outright.


    • jim, some guy in iowa

      there were like 11 of these dweebs going at it, right? who did the others say?

      • Todd

        Carson said his mother, Huckabee his wife. Jeb proposed Margaret Thatcher. Kasich thought Mother Teresa would be a good idea. Several (maybe three? voted for Rosa Parks). Walker managed to pronounce the name of Clara Barton. Christie opted for one of the female Adams’s (Abigail?), because of the family’s overall founderly goodness. Rand felt Susan B. Anthony deserved more than an unpopular coin, and gave her the nod.

        Fiorina refused to change any bill portrait because women are already a majority of country, or something. Cruz refused to change Hamilton because of founderliness, but would swap out Jackson on the $20. Also, Trump nominated his daughter before saying he thought Rosa Parks sounded like a good idea someone to his right had earlier.

        • Warren Terra

          Jesus most of those answers suck. I mean, I genuinely struggle to come up with a good answer I think will have universal appeal (ie I don’t think, say, Fanny Lou Hamer would be quite the right note, awesome though she was), but “My Mom” “My Wife”?! He’s running to be President of th’damn country, not to host his extended family’s Thanksgiving. Maggie Thatcher is arguably worse – not American; a terrible human being; a terrible mother, come to that. And Mother Theresa has all the same faults, except (ironically) not a mother. Abigail Adams is a terrible answer.

          The only ones that aren’t a joke are Rand Paul’s answer – decent, though unimaginative – and Clara Barton. And I’d still argue that Clara Barton isn’t a great answer.

          • tsam

            Harriet Tubman is a good one, though.

          • sharculese

            The only ones that aren’t a joke are Rand Paul’s answer – decent, though unimaginative –

            I actually think he had a pretty great response. Frothing anti-choicers will read it as a nod to them, and normals won’t get the subtext. In a race where subtlety is anathema, Rand Paul may have managed an actual dog whistle.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          thanks. I have to admit a certain amount of pleasant surprise at both Walker’s and Paul’s choices. I suspect Huckabee and Carson of deliberately not taking the question seriously, though. Sounds like Jeb still has trouble understanding what the *fuck* is going around him. Weird

          • sharculese

            pleasant surprise at … Paul’s [choice].

            Don’t. It’s signalling. SBA is, based on dubious evidence, the totem for the idea that you can be feminist and anti-choice, and Paul is immersed enough in that world to know that.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              ah, not aware of that. thanks

            • Malaclypse

              I never knew that – thanks!

        • mds

          Cruz refused to change Hamilton because of founderliness, but would swap out Jackson on the $20.

          Holy shit. As Rick Perry says, even a stopped clock is right once a day.

          Rand felt Susan B. Anthony deserved more than an unpopular coin, and gave her the nod.

          That’s an interesting one, too. Apparently, women should be equally unable to directly vote for US senators (since Rand has previously been anti-17th-Amendment-curious).

          Rosa Parks is ironic(?), of course, given that she was a living, breathing equivalent of a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. And we see that several of them couldn’t take the question even remotely seriously. Fewer than I would have guessed, though. Is there hope for the GOP already? [SPOILER: No.]

        • Murc

          Cruz refused to change Hamilton because of founderliness, but would swap out Jackson on the $20

          Good god, I agree with Cruz on something.

          If anyone deserves to be on some money, it is Alexander Hamilton. If anyone doesn’t, it is Jackson.

          • IM

            Yes a miracle: I agree the first time with Cruz on anything. Hamilton is a underrated founding father. And Jackson deserves to vanish quickly.

          • Malaclypse

            Good god, I agree with Cruz on something.

            I know, right? All that is solid melts into air…

          • Katya

            This was our reaction watching the debate, too. I was like, I can’t stand Cruz, but he’s 100 percent right about this. Hamilton really, really should be on the money. Jackson really, really shouldn’t.

        • random

          What no Dolly Madison?

          • Warren Terra

            She was supposed to have shown grace under fire.

    • Warren Terra

      Hamilton? On the ten? Hamilton deserves a place on currency, and the ten is a joke, far less commonly used than the one, five, or twenty. If there’s going to be only one woman on actually circulating US currency (to rule out the almost-never-seen $1 coin, or absurdly large bills), surely it’s time to displace that old butcher, Andy Jackson?

      Also: I’d think the cute Conservative answer would be to get Lady Liberty back on the coin. Heck, Rand Paul could appeal to her position on gold coins of the 19th century.

      • Murc

        Hamilton deserves a place on currency, and the ten is a joke, far less commonly used than the one, five, or twenty.

        This actually seems likely to change within my lifetime. I’m not young, but I’m not old either, and just because of inflation I’ve seen a lot of things go from “a five will buy you this and get you a bit of change” to “you need five and a bit to buy this.” Eventually that will flip over to “a ten will buy you this and get you a bit of change.”

        This is, of course, inasmuch as I’m still using cash at all.

    • JonH

      Hamilton? Where’d that come from. Are you sure they didn’t say Jackson on the $20?

      • Murc

        Hamilton often comes up because he doesn’t have a strong modern constituency, actually.

        You can’t get rid of Washington, Lincoln, or Jefferson, so that’s the penny, the nickle, the regular flavor quarter, the one, and the five out. FDR is on the dime, and aside from him very much deserving that specific coin (the reasons for which not a lot of people know about) people are leery about getting rid of the greatest democratic president and a legitimate contender for greatest all time. Jackson has the same issue, he’s the only democrat on a regularly circulating bill. (Above twenty and above quarters are sort of regarded as “gimmick” currency.) So a lot of people go “well, okay. Hamilton.”

        • EliHawk

          Also, Hamilton comes up because it’s the $10’s turn for a redesign. When the Treasury redesigns bills it’s almost always to thwart counterfitters, and like most bureaucracies, it takes years to do this kind of thing. There’s a big redesign coming on in the next few years, and the $10 is the first one out (which won’t happen until 2020). If you waited for the $20, it’d take several more years even after that.

        • Manny Kant

          Hamilton comes up because the Treasury has not recently spent a bunch of money creating a new version of the $10, but they have with the $20.

    • wengler

      Emma Goldman.

    • Harriet Tubman!

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      “5 of the candidates either couldn’t pick an American, or picked a family member, or refused to change the Hamilton picture outright.”

      And yet NONE of them was willing to step up and name Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods.

      “you can’t have a living person on a banknote” you might say. There are *solutions* for that.

  • Nichole

    Looking back to the comments toward the top of this section about the founderliness of slavery that was over 100 years old in the British colonies on the North American seaboard one comes to see the torture, enslavement and murders of the native population in the light of John Lamb Lash’s, “Not In His Image” and Tzvetan Todorov’s, “The Conquest Of America.”

    The natives discovered and treated as the ancestors of the conquorers had been treated in Transalpine Europe by the Romans and then the Christian colonizers of the Slavs and other plains and forest folk. The conquests all appear to be on the order of genocide and indoctrination with their major differences being due to technological sophistication and ideological fervor.

    A very nasty business. But, I’d reckon that Manifest Destiny always is since it’s never based on rationality or historical analysis. We seem to always prefer revolting orgies of atavistic reaction to rationality or empathic understanding.

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  • Paedio

    While Sanders’ comment is fundamentally correct, if he had said “economically created” it would have been unassailably so.

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