A couple of days ago, Charlie Pierce brought my attention to quite an amazing bit of rhetoric from the estimable Steve King. King was on WorldNetDaily’s Radio America where he claimed that the founding fathers would be “aghast” at Obama. Certainly he’s right. Most of them would never have found an African American president acceptable. But King does not mean that, because of course, conservatives don’t like to face up to the fact that our nation was founded by a bunch of bigots (some worse than others). No, King is talking about the fact that Obama’s “word means nothing.”
You see, the founding fathers were men of honor. And his example? “It’s been 210 years since Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr fought a duel over honor.” Ah, yes: that honorable duel. And what was it over? Burr felt insulted by something that Hamilton had said. This was coming off Burr’s devastating loss to the almost unknown Morgan Lewis to become governor of New York in 1804. Burr thought Hamilton had helped Lewis, and he probably did. Regardless, the whole thing seems more like a squabble between mean girls in a suburban high school. Ah yes, honor!
In addition, there is some contention that Hamilton monkeyed with the trigger mechanism of his pistol to make it fire with less pressure than normal. If he did so, it was the wrong thing to do. Or maybe he did it because he knew that Burr was a far better shot. I don’t know. Nor do I especially care. The two showed all the maturity of, I don’t know, Steve King.
Burr was, shortly after, tried for treason. I don’t think there is anything to that except that Jefferson had a hate-on for him. And as my opinion of Jefferson has greatly declined in recent years, I can’t hold that against Burr. However, after the duel, Burr did run off to Louisiana. And while there he most certainly looked into starting a war between Spain and Mexico — hoping to start his whole little kingdom in the newly independent Mexico.
Now some might consider this this a great thing — like the American Revolutionary War. But I think it rather casts a dimmer light on the founding of our own country. When you look at what many of the proponents wanted out of the separation with England, it was not noble. In fact, a big cause for the separation was the fear of southern slave owners that England was going to outlaw slavery. That wasn’t true of Burr, of course, who was very much against slavery. But his petulant behavior doesn’t speak well of him or any of the founding fathers — except for Thomas Paine who people like Steve King would hate if they had ever read his work or any works about him.
I don’t think anyone can reasonably say that Obama is dishonorable. And the nation as a whole is a lot more honorable now than it was 200 years ago. Having fatal duels over petty insults is a sign of immaturity not nobility. It’s interesting that legislative violence has only really come back in the last few years since the Republicans have become so radicalized and been consigned to the minority.
If anything, a prime act of dishonor is what Steve King does: use the fact that he is a big fish in a little (but for historical reasons, politically important) pond to force policy on the right in extremely damaging directions — both for his party and for the nation. That’s something that Steve King ought to give a little thought to — right after he reads a dozen books about American history.
See also: Jim Mowrer on Steve King.