As I Would Not Be A Slave

You may have seen the story yesterday in which Energy Secretary Steven Chu revealed what he thinks of us:
The American public…just like your teenage kids, aren’t acting in a way that they should
The farther we go into the Obama presidency, the more this well-known line from Lincoln seems like the only thing to be said about our politics.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
We have so many folk willing to be masters now, and so blithely certain they'd be good at it. The death panel idea for our health care system (lest I be accused of lying, I refer to the ones already provided for in the original stimulus bill, by which a panel of experts accountable to no one is to make decisions about what the "appropriate" level of care is) is a bad idea, flat out. But ask yourself what kind of person would agree to serve on such a panel. Merely accepting the position ought to be a cause for immediate revocation of citizenship, but no doubt we will think of them with awe instead. Upright men and women would scorn such people, not bow to them.

As you know, I recently listened to Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel I have spent my adult life avoiding like a dose of cod liver oil for fear I would choke on the didactic prose. Well, it is didactic in parts, but the writing is so lovely and the characters so artfully drawn you don't mind at all.

Mrs. Stowe makes you choke with rage over the evils perpetrated on slaves, but that is the easiest part of her task. Anyone could evoke tears with scenes of mothers screaming as their tiny children are wrenched from their arms on the auction block.

Her brilliance lies in showing how slavery entangles, corrupts, taints, degrades, ennervates and enslaves in multiple ways and varying degrees every single person it touches. Not just or even especially the slave, not just brute masters and oily slave-traders, but also the kind masters and opponents of slavery striving to be obedient to the law.

It's a very revealing novel, almost not about slavery so much as it is about how difficult it is simply to be a man under a corrupt system; and at the same time there are several very different models of true and virile manhood: George, the runaway slave; Uncle Tom (who is in no way an "Uncle Tom"); and the Quaker men of the underground railroad.

There are many folks on our national scene we can recognize in Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe is particularly withering in her portrayal of Christian accomodationists, than whom the oiliest slave-trader is more honest). Katherine Jeffords Schori is there, as are Doug Kmiec and Nancy Pelosi.

To digress slightly, something that particularly drew my attention was Stowe's description of the kind of entertainments masters provided to slaves to keep them low-minded, ignorant and docile. Very much like the television we inflict on ourselves deliberately, and pretty much for the same purposes.

Anyway, when I hear a cabinet secretary denounce the citizens he's meant to serve as unruly teens, or a chic columnist dismiss hundreds of thousands of her fellow-citizens as racist scum, all I can think of these days is overseers: slaves happy to identify with their owners in exchange for the power to beat and tyrannize the other n-----s on the plantation. A thing Uncle Tom flat out refused to do, at the cost of his life.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.

Update: Hey, kids, we made Sidelines at American Digest. Yay.