Government is the new plantation owner

According to the U.S. Census, there were 4 million slaves in the U.S. in 1860, and there were 31.2 million total Americans. African-Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people incarcerated in America.

Republican candidates for president have been dropping the “S” word lately, and it has liberals seeing red. Liberals are furious that Sen. Rand Paul said paying a 50 percent effective tax rate was like being 50 percent a slave. Ben Carson compared Obamacare to slavery. Mike Huckabee said some liberal women were slaves to their libido.

And then Sen. Paul doubled down by meeting with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who once wondered if black folks in North Las Vegas who are dependent on government might have been better off in slavery.

OK, the analogies are extreme. Bad as the IRS is, they can’t sell off your children to pay your tax debt. Not yet, anyway. The only people being whipped lately are the children of rich professional football stars. The last lynching I know of was the attempted metaphoric lynching of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by Democrats who didn’t like the way this black man thought.

But taxation is a form of servitude. If you work half the year to support the state under threat of punishment, you might consider that medieval serfs only paid 30 percent of their crops to their liege lord. Thomas Jefferson, the Democrats’ founding father, did not approve of being forced to pay for what you believe is immoral. If doctors find working under Obamacare to be odious, well, there will be fewer doctors and no matter how much insurance you have, less health care. Can’t dependence on the state that in turn imprisons your young men and bleeds you with petty fines be considered somewhat akin to the overseer’s lash in the Old South?

Must we all accept the Ken Burns version of the Civil War, the version that slavery was the only cause of the slaughter? The North was populous and industrial, the South rural and agricultural. Less than 10 percent of Southerners owned slaves, and of those, only a tiny percentage had more than a few. (Actual numbers of slaves, based on the 1860 U.S. Census, can be found at The North used its power to pass protectionist tariffs, which badly hurt the South. The South had been talking secession over these tariffs since the 1830s. President Lincoln promised the South they could keep their slaves if they rejoined the union, but they had to pay the tariff. Fort Sumter was not a fugitive slave refuge. It was a U.S. customs and tariff collection fort.

The heated debate over the Confederate flag and racism might lead one to recall that the Ku Klux Klan rarely flew the Stars and Bars, but instead displayed the Stars and Stripes at Klan Rallies. The U.S. flag has flown over slavery far longer than the Confederate Flag.

The Republicans ended slavery after a slaughter of over 700,000 Americans, leaving hordes of amputated, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-afflicted, diseased veterans. The Civil War featured thousands of rapes, mostly of female black slaves by Union troops. The Republicans ended slavery with the 13th Amendment and then guaranteed basic rights to the freed slaves and everyone else with the 14th Amendment. But these actions also brought martial law, black codes, the KKK, Separate but Equal, decades of Jim Crow and a host of other violent evils that didn’t occur in all the other nations who ended slavery peacefully. Is violent war on a way of life necessarily better than slower but more peaceful change?

It is good we take down the Confederate flags from public spaces. Keep in mind, though, it is state violence, including taxation, not the violence of sick loners, that is the biggest problem. Let us not destroy symbols at the expense of caricaturing history, or underestimate how taxation can fuel rebellion and resentment.