Betsy DeVos Flunks History, Human Decency

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said some stupid crap the other day. She's an incredibly stupid person and likes to stay on brand. DeVos, who bought her Cabinet position at a GOP donor auction, took on the horrors of reproductive freedom at a Colorado Christian University event. She went so far (and so low) as to compare abortion rights to the enslavement of human beings. She might've also suggested that Donald Trump reminded her of Abraham Lincoln. It was a hot mess.

DEVOS: [Lincoln], too, contended with the "pro-choice" arguments of his day. They suggested that a state's 'choice' to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it. Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that there is a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil. Lincoln was right about the slavery 'choice' then, and he would be right about the life 'choice' today. Because as it's been said: Freedom is not about doing what we want. Freedom is about having the right to do what we ought.

Congratulations, Ms. "Education" Secretary, you just failed seventh grade history.

DeVos is comparing something she doesn't like to something everyone (mostly) agrees is terrible. This rhetorical tactic is called "being an asshole." So abortion is just like slavery and zucchini on pizza. This intellectual laziness works equally well in reverse: Charter schools are like freedom and Girl Scout cookies. Her insulting argument falls apart under the slightest scrutiny.

First place, DeVos would probably own slaves now if she could. She might even still own slaves. We don't watch her every moment of the day. More importantly, fetuses aren't "enslaved." Although Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens believed slavery was the "natural and normal condition" of black people, we are not in fact biologically dependent upon white people. They don't have to give up caffeine, alcohol, or deli meat to ensure our survival. If such sacrifices were necessary, there'd be like three black people in America.

A pregnant person doesn't demand anything from the fetus. That happens after the child is born and well into their 30s ("Why don't you visit any more?"). They don't forcibly take their labor. A fetus also doesn't actively try to escape their situation -- again, that usually happens when the child is around 18.

Slavery wasn't possible without active government participation and support. It wasn't a "private" matter between a plantation owner and their doctor. Lincoln also wasn't John Brown. This is what he said in an 1855 letter to slave-owning buddy Joshua Speed:

LINCOLN: You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it... I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet.

Lincoln opposed slavery's expansion into the west, but he also believed that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to ban slavery where it already existed. He also supported monetary compensation for slave owners in states that chose to end slavery. He was a moderate on the slavery issue prior to his election. During the actual Civil War, he made the following statement:

LINCOLN: My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

DeVos's gross comparison doesn't even fit actual history, and she's just making up shit when she claims "a vast portion" of presumably white Americans opposed slavery. There are no opinion polls from that time, but there's a big difference between northern white workers not wanting to lose their jobs to slave labor and those same people believing blacks were human. DeVos is conflating self-interest with morality ... like a dummy.

Bottom line, slavery is slavery. It is wholly unique in our history, and you diminish its horror when you use it to score cheap points. DeVos should apologize before she pisses off the wrong person -- oh, too late.

Yeah, I don't advise that Devos "say this" to Pressley's face. She should run for her closest yacht and take a long vacation.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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