Many of the most prominent neocons are obsessed with being viewed as the next FDR. They keep describing the mass murderer bin Laden and his thousand or so looney followers as "fascists," as though they pose a threat comparable to Nazi Germany. And they keep insisting that "we" must enter what they call World War Three. "We’re already in World War III!" they wishfully bellow. Being neocons, they also seem to believe that the clincher in their argument is some version of "Lincoln would do it, therefore it must be the right thing to do."
The latest rendition of this hoary war chant — always made by people who have never spent a single day in the military — is a September 7, 2006 article in The Wall Street Journal Online by Newt Gingrich entitled "Bush and Lincoln" (not to be confused with numerous other articles published by neocons with titles like "Lincoln and Bush" or "Bush is Our Lincoln"). The article starts out with a Lincoln quote at the top of the page where Dishonest Abe is quoted as saying: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present . . . we must think anew, and act anew."
What was Abe talking about in this December 1, 1862 message to Congress? Unlike all those "Lincoln scholars," I am incapable of knowing what was in The Great Centralizer’s mind (or his heart, as they often assert), but I do know something about what he did in the ensuing years that was "anew." He relentlessly micromanaged the waging of war on southern civilians as well as combatants, for one thing, profusely thanking and promoting generals whose armies pillaged, burned, plundered, and raped their way through the southern states. Sherman and Sheridan are among the most notable in this regard. He continued to shut down the opposition press in the North (over 300 newspapers in all); jailed thousands of northern citizens for voicing opposition to his administration; deported Democratic congressman Clement L. Vallandigham; confiscated the private property of war dissenters under two separate "confiscation acts"; operated torture chambers in gulags that housed northern civilian war dissenters; and supervised an army that would kill 300,000 fellow citizens, one fourth of the adult male population of the South.
This kind of brutality — and more, being that we’re in the nuclear age — is what the crazed Newt Gingrich has in mind. (Nothing excites a neocon like the prospect of a dictatorial chief executive waging an unconstitutional war that could kill hundreds of thousands). Continuing to invoke the Lincoln legend, and to advocate waging total war around the world, Gingrich recommends that "we" invade and occupy North Korea, Iran and Syria in a policy of "replacing the repressive dictatorships" there. That’s what Lincoln would do, says Newt. In addition, "the U.S. should insist on disarming Hezbollah," something the mighty Israeli army failed to do. Doing so, says the former House Speaker who never spent a day in uniform, is essential to "restoring American prestige in the region. . ." Fat chance.
"President Bush today finds himself in precisely the same dilemma Lincoln faced 144 years ago," says Gingrich. Congress should "pass an act that recognizes that we are entering World War III . . ." And, "Unless we, like Lincoln, think anew, we cannot set the nation on a course for victory." He repeats this slogan several more times in the article.
Starting World War III, Gingrich admits, would "lead to a dramatically larger budget." No kidding. Successfully invading and occupying Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and possibly Saudi Arabia would not only be militarily impossible, but war on such a scale would most certainly require the conscription of millions of Americans and tax rates of at least World War I levels, where the top marginal tax rate topped 70 percent. Government at all levels already taxes away over 40 percent of national income. It is not too extreme to estimate that it would have to be in the neighborhood of 70 percent to fund Gingrich’s World War III. Civil liberties would all but disappear in America under such a regime but that’s OK, says Newt, because Lincoln did it.
As is typical of the hundreds of political hacks who have passed through the Claremont Institute’s "Lincoln Fellow" miseducation program, Gingrich’s statements about Lincoln and mid—nineteenth-century American history are detached from reality. They are the faux reality produced by Republican Party propaganda mills like Claremont. He claims, for example, that had the South been allowed to secede peacefully in 1861 it would have meant "the end of the United States." Wrong. The South did secede, Newt, and the United States government was still able to field the largest army in the history of the world for the next four years.
It was the War to Prevent Southern Independence that signaled the end of the United States, not the other way around. Before the war it was widely understood that the American union was a voluntary union of states. As of 1865 it was held together at gunpoint, with the eleven southern states guarded as occupied provinces by an invading army for twelve years. The voluntary union of the founding fathers was destroyed by Lincoln and the Republican Party.
When he speaks of government Gingrich makes statements that only a moron could make. The Homeland Security and military bureaucracies need to "shift from bureaucratic to entrepreneurial implementation," he says. In addition to making these government bureaucracies "entrepreneurial," the president should "insist upon creating new aggressive entrepreneurial national security systems . . ."
Of course, a bureaucrat cannot be turned into an entrepreneur any more than a cat can be taught to bark like a dog or a dog to meow. Genuine entrepreneurship is only possible in a private property, market-oriented world where prices are set by supply and demand and entrepreneurs are the residual claimants to all profits and losses. None of these conditions exist in government.
In the 1950s when William F. Buckley, Jr. claimed to have reinvented the conservative movement by publishing National Review he advocated "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores" (his words) to fight the Cold War, complete with heavy taxation, the CIA, FBI, gigantic military establishment, hostility toward civil liberties and other hallmarks of totalitarian bureaucracy. Naturally, the Lincoln myth was invoked ad nauseum in the pages of National Review to "justify" such oppressive policies. A young Murray Rothbard labeled Buckley a "totalitarian socialist" by simply quoting Buckley’s own words. This was a perfectly accurate description of the original neocon, and of the likes of Newt Gingrich as well.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His next book, to be published in October, is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).