Steve King Dishonors the Nation

Steve KingA 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “Steve King Dishonors the Nation

  1. Let me add some more criticism to that article. Steve King is using two totally different meanings of honor. He is confusing the Victorian idea of honor as honesty, fair play and adherence to norms with the much more ancient idea of honor as one’s willingness and ability to violently avenge any slight, real or imagined. In the early 19th Century, honor only meant the more ancient notion of honor.

    As you said, actual violence between high ranking political figures is anything but desirable and it is a sign that one party feels that it is slipping into irrelevance. I would not be surprised if in the next decade or so, that we see a serious physical altercation on the floor of the House or Senate. Ah who am I kidding, it will be the House, it has more people, more crazies and most Senators are too old and feeble to actually fight.

    • That’s an excellent point about the different ideas of honor. And yes, it will be in the House. As it is, we’ve seen some recent stuff in state legislatures.

  2. I was reading some of the letters AB/AH wrote each other before the duel, and while “mean girls” is quite accurate, the letters also reminded me of something else. Internet fights!

    Consider this bit from AH: “I have maturely reflected on the subject of your letter of the 18th instant; and the more I have reflected the more I have become convinced, that I could not, without manifest impropriety, make the avowal or disavowal which you seem to think necessary.”

    So, basically, he could have apologized and not gotten shot. But, like any Internet fighter, he couldn’t let the argument drop. Some things never change!

    Wow, Hamilton was a boring writer. Quite clearly brilliant. Yet writes like a lawyer (or an Internet fighter who has to refute Every, Single, Point). If you combine Chomsky’s prose and Burke’s politics, you’ve got Hamilton’s literary style.

    Compare that to Paine, who is quite readable even now. Everybody back then wrote what today we’d call tl;dr, but Paine goes off on tangents he’s just fascinated by, which makes him interesting.

    Maybe the different backgrounds mattered. Neither grew up rich. Yet when Hamilton met the bigwigs who would introduce him to other bigwigs, he was a law student. When Paine met Ben Franklin, he was a giant professional failure who was interested in science, like Franklin.

    Interesting coincidence. Paine was friends with bigwig Henry Laurens, a supporter of slavery (which Paine despised and decried). Hamilton was friends with Henry’s son John, a staunch critic of slavery (which Hamilton disliked, but never seriously fought against). Affection makes for strange bedfellows.

    • Yeah, but you have to remember that Paine was the Gore Vidal of his day. There was a clear reason why he was a best-selling writer. I think a lot of it is that he wasn’t as educated as other major figures of the time. So he didn’t feel compelled to constrain his prose. I remember listening to a lecture by some philosopher and he referred to Paine’s “flaming rhetoric.” I think that’s true — especially by the tastes of the time. Of course, Paine was also brilliant. And more than anyone we remember from the American revolution, he understood the mood of the times. But he was too much an idealist and didn’t understand the power of the conservatives. Imagine the world we would live in today if the world had gone in the direction that Paine pointed to!

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