I first wrote about Kirkpatrick Sale in April 2011. At that time I took him to task for some serious historical revision. Then, in the flush of remembrance during the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the Civil War, Sale wrote an op-ed in The Post and Courier claiming that the conflict over slavery was not the cause of the Civil War.
I was astounded that a public intellectual of Mr. Sale’s standing — a man I had read and respected for years — could make such a statement in the 21st century. And make no mistake, Sale has been writing intelligent and thought-provoking books on politics, history, science, and technology for decades.
But at some point in his long and distinguished career, he left his Vermont home, where the air is bracing and the thinking is clear, and took up residence in Mt. Pleasant, with its view of Fort Sumter and its extravagant Republican miasmas. In short, Mr. Sale became a secessionist.
In my column of 2011, I cautioned Mr. Sale that, whether he intended or not, he was lining up with an unsavory lot of racists and reactionaries and seemed to be “attracting friends he may not want to be seen with … be careful of the company you keep.”
I’m sad to say my words went unheeded. Sale was back on Oct. 20 with another op-ed, calling for secession. This time, he tossed out a lot of polling numbers, some of them relevant, some not so much, and rattled off a list of recent complaints about the federal government that sounded like an hour of Fox News: “Secret Service, Veterans Affairs, ISIS, Iraqi army, Ebola, bailout, Benghazi, CDC, climate change…”
And then he went into some truly dark and twisted reasoning. He quotes former GOP representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul as saying “support for secession should cheer all supporters of freedom, as devolving smaller units of government is one of the best ways to guarantee peace, prosperity, and liberty.”
Let’s look at that amazing statement and see if it makes any sense at all.
In this country, secession has never been the tool of “supporters of freedom,” as I explained to Mr. Sale three years ago. The record shows indisputably that South Carolina and the other Southern states seceded from the Union to protect their “peculiar institution” of slavery from the perceived abolitionist threat. They were fighting for slavery, and to write that out of history is simply delusional, if not dishonest.
Many modern secessionists, who are overwhelmingly white, still harbor a secret agenda of reestablishing white supremacy (at least in the South) by getting federal courts and laws out of local affairs and letting white majorities ride roughshod over civil rights. Never forget, it was the federal government that ended slavery, that brought civil rights and voting rights to the South. That’s freedom, Mr. Sale! It would have never happened if the white people of the South had successfully left the Union. And even today white Southerners, under the leadership of the Republican Party, are fighting to reverse the progress blacks have made in the last half century. They are fighting with voter ID laws to disenfranchise blacks and education vouchers to re-segregate schools. It is the federal government that has brought freedom to the South, Mr. Sale. What you, Ron Paul, and your right-wing ilk call federal overreach, millions of Americans call liberation.
Sale writes that “numerous studies have indicated that the most successful nations in terms of per capita income, GDP, democracy, liberty, efficiency, freedom, education, and healthcare are under Switzerland’s size of 7.7 million people, and a majority of those are under 5 million.
Interesting observation, Mr. Sale, but most of the countries in the world are under 7.7 million. They include Paraguay, Laos, Bulgaria, Eritrea, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Libya, Sierra Leone, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Liberia, Croatia, Oman, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho … you get the idea. Are these countries your model for a fractured United States of America?
One of the ironies of Republican politics is that as much as red state leaders complain about deficit spending and federal intrusion in their sovereign business, these same states generally receive far more money from Washington in various pensions, entitlements, salaries, and other federal outlays than they pay to the federal government in taxes. South Carolina, to give an excellent example, received $1.92 for every $1 it paid in federal taxes in 2011, according to The New York Times. This is the trend throughout most of the South and most of the red states. How does Mr. Sale think secession would affect South Carolina’s economy based on these numbers?
In short, secession was a bad idea in 1861 and 2011. It’s still a bad idea in 2014. Let’s give it a rest.
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