July 06, 2008

The dreariness of civil rights and progressive taxation

I despair for newspapers. Even when they mean well, even when they try to do real research and reporting, their blinders are billboard sized and they show the same disregard for the news of the past as they do for the present. Here's what mars an otherwise passably interesting account of the election of 1892:

[Independent candidate James B.] Weaver's pledge in Omaha injected an element of drama into what was shaping up as a tedious rerun of the campaign of 1888. With Harrison paired against Cleveland, yet another election fought over the dreary terrain of tariffs, the tired Civil War symbolism of "waving the bloody shirt" and states' rights appeared inevitable. The cynicism engendered by the prospect of another contest between Cleveland and Harrison was so pervasive, one observer joked, "either party would have been glad to defeat the other if it could do so without electing its own candidate."

The bloody shirt, of course, was the bloody shirt of the Civil War--a canard if there ever was one. When Radical Republicans talked about equal rights for former slaves, they were accused of waving the bloody shirt. Robert B. Mitchell, the story's author, seems to know this well enough -- he's just not interested in the subject:

Weaver's campaign was less successful as it headed south. Democrats, recognizing the Populists as a threat to their dominance, demonized him as a Dixie-hating Yankee who abused citizens under his jurisdiction when he was a Union Army colonel stationed in Tennessee during the war. Moreover, Democrats warned white voters that support for the Populists could take enough votes away from Cleveland to put Harrison back in the White House and strengthen federal efforts to protect the voting rights of black men.

"Do you think that self-respecting Southern men can now vote for such a man?" Democratic Rep. Charles Triplett O'Ferrall of Virginia asked reporters. As the campaign continued, Southern Democrats worked hard to ensure that the answer was "no."

Apparently, strengthening federal efforts to protect the voting rights of black men is inconsequential dreariness to this author and to editors of the Post. As for the tariff--it was recognized even then as a form of regressive taxation. The question was whether federal revenue would be derived from a tax on foreign products that drove up the cost of consumer goods to benefit domestic manufacturers (many of which were backed by foreign investment), and which items would be taxed (which manufacturers would be protected) -- the ultimate money-in-politics story of the 19th century. How dreary, indeed.

Posted by Ideofact at July 6, 2008 12:32 AM