Jefferson Davis → Franklin Roosevelt → Barack Obama
Glad to see that everyone had some fun with the Clyde Wilson quiz. While the list as a whole serves as a case study of how not to frame historical questions, the one I have the most trouble with comes at the very end. Of course, it is true that President Obama is most commonly compared with Abraham Lincoln. Obama himself encouraged these comparisons from the beginning when he announced his candidacy for the presidency on the steps of the old statehouse in Springfield, Illinois. However, if I were a libertarian, paleoconservative, or just plain old neo-conservative I would object to such a comparison. If it’s the amount of government oversight and intrusiveness that is being measured than I would argue that the proper comparison is with Jefferson Davis.
The ensuing expansion of state capacity and intrusiveness of the policies adopted by the C.S.A. can hardly be exaggerated. Historians have been consistently struck, by the irony for sure–this was a republic erected on the principles of states rights, after all–but also by the sheer scale of the state-building project undertaken. It has been called a “revolutionary experience,” even an example of “state socialism.” In terms of central state structure and policies, and especially mobilization of national material and human resources, the C.S.A. was far more statist and modern than their counterpart in the Union, almost futuristic” in its assumption of central state power. Indeed, so “well organized and powerful” was the Confederacy, one historian has argued, that the United States would not see a central government with comparable authority until the emergence of the New Deal. (p. 153)
Those of you familiar with the historiography will identify the passing quotes from Emory Thomas, Raimondo Luraghi, and Franklin Bensel. I believe Bensel is responsible for the reference to “state socialism” and I remember hearing that he self-identifies as conservative. Shouldn’t conservatives like Wilson, DiLorenzo, and others be pushing for a comparison between Obama and Davis to emphasize how the Civil War ushered in the era of abusive federal government?