By Carl S. Milsted, Jr.
Being a small government type, I end up reading lots of rhetoric about George Bush not being a true conservative, that he doesn’t fit in the same mold as Goldwater or Reagan.
Some even go so far as to call him a RHINO, a Republican in Name Only. This goes too far. If the Republican Party is the Party of Lincoln, then George W. Bush is a true Republican. The Bush Administration has more parallels with the Lincoln Administration than any other.
Both administrations represent Big Business. The Republican Party started out as a coalition between the mercantilist Whig Party and abolitionist groups. Croney capitalism was a Republican position from the very beginning.
Both presidents were elected by a minority vote.
Both presidents got the country into war over questionable legalistic pretenses. Lincoln called for war to preserve the Union. Bush to deal with weapons of mass destruction.
Both presidents justified their wars on higher moral grounds later in their respective wars. The Emancipation Proclamation came late in the Civil War. The invasion of Iraq became a war to establish democracy in the Middle East after we failed to find weapons of mass destruction.
Both presidents destroyed evil governments and partially liberated truly oppressed people. Lincoln was able to end slavery, but other forms of oppression persisted for another century. Likewise, Bush ended two tyrannical regimes: the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Women are now somewhat less oppressed in Afghanistan; something resembling democracy has been established in Iraq.
Both presidents had to kill huge numbers of people in order to accomplish their humanitarian aims. Casualties were very high on both sides in the U.S. Civil War. In Iraq, most of the casualties are Iraqis.
Both presidents stand accused of baser motives for their wars. Was the Civil War about slavery? Or tariffs? Is our war in Iraq about Middle East democracy or oil?
Both presidents ignored their wiser generals at the start of their wars and underestimated their enemies. Lincoln rejected the Anaconda Plan (a naval blockade of the South) in favor of an invasion. Bush opted for a lean invasion of Iraq, with way too few troops to securely occupy the country.
Both presidents had terrible civil liberties records at home. Lincoln instituted a draft and suspended habeas corpus. Bush gave us the USA PATRIOT Act, indeterminate detentions, and legal torture.
Both resulting military occupations were tainted with corruption: carpet baggers then, Halliburton today.
The parallels are so numerous as to be almost frightening. But the parallels are also very instructive. I think many people deify Lincoln too much. Yes, he accomplished great good, but he did great evil in the process. This is not to say I join such revisionists as Thomas DiLorenzo who make out Lincoln to be a monster. I think Lincoln was a mix, like George W. Bush.
Ironically, many of the people who deify Lincoln despise Bush and vice versa. Introspection is called for! Do we call a president great for vanquishing a great evil, or evil for resorting to evil means? And in the future, what price should we be willing to pay to vanquish other evils?
I leave you with one final parallel. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Dixie, military conquest failed to fully liberate the oppressed. In all three cases, the conquered societies had deep traditions of oppression, and resent having liberal values imposed on their lands. In other words, today’s Islamic militants are the modern day equivalent of the original Ku Klux Klan, terrorists fighting for traditional tyranny. They even dress similarly.
Carl Milsted is a senior editor for The Free Liberal.