Why I study history.


This isn’t a long treatise about how history is awesome. Rather, it’s a thought that occurred to me this morning, and hasn’t stopped growing.

I was considering the idea of what would happen if, in 2012, Sarah Palin ran for the presidency and won. A far outside chance, at this point, but still a thought I was contemplating. And as a moderate to liberal person politically, how would I react to that? More importantly, how would most people on the left side of the spectrum react to that? I imagine it would be with the wailing and gnashing of teeth, of course. No one likes it when their candidate loses. But more importantly, Sarah Palin is dangerous in a way that makes you appreciate the professional politician. You hate them, until you realize just how much damage someone else can do.

And then the thought occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be just like Lincoln’s victory in 1860?

Yes, the ideological positions would be reversed, at least in regards to the political leanings of their time period. But before Lincoln became one of our most important presidents (you can argue about whether he’s one of our greatest, but he’s one of the most important, whether you like him or not), he was a nutjob leftwing fringe candidate who appeared to have lucked into the highest office in America.  It’s hard to overestimate how far left opposing slavery was for much of the first half of the 19nth century. Even into the 1850s, as attitudes in the North started to shift towards a more Republican point of view, it remained a very left wing position to oppose slavery. Lincoln ran on one of the more conservative forms of Republican ideology, of preventing slavery from being expanded into new territories, and this still frightened the hell out of the major slaveholding states. They assumed that he was lying about his aims, and would ban slavery outright as soon as he took office.

The same would probably be true for Palin. It wouldn’t matter what she might say on the campaign trail about what she would do, everyone that wasn’t a Republican or a Libertarian would assume she would try to do things like make hunting of all animals legal, destroy the EPA, and do random drilling in people’s backyards to find more oil. She would be the liberal’s nightmare in our minds, no matter how moderate she might sound.

Of course, the comparison doesn’t work point for point. Lincoln had served in Congress several times before running for President, and kept a tight control over what he said during the campaign, whereas Palin is lacking in both control over her mouth and experience in the federal government. But it’s a fascinating comparison, no matter how flawed it might be.

Which is just one of the reasons I love history.


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