June 22, 2016

"It's not about Harriet Tubman, it's about keeping the picture on the $20. Y'know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative, I like to keep what we have."

Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) was trying — unsuccessfully — to get the House to vote to forbid the Treasury Department from redesigning the $20 to replace "what we have" — Andrew Jackson — with the sublimely admirable Harriet Tubman.
The conservative gadfly said it is "racist" and "sexist" to say a woman or person of color should be added to currency. "Here's what's really happening: This is liberal activism on the part of the president that's trying to identify people by categories, and he's divided us on the lines of groups. ... This is a divisive proposal on the part of the president, and mine's unifying. It says just don't change anything.... President Obama's on his way out the door.... He's going to do everything he can think of to upset this society and this civilization."
The Rules Committee managed to step up and save the Republicans from the political idiocy of voting against Harriet Tubman.

Actually, I think there should be some way for Republicans to accuse Democrats of racial divisiveness, but voting against Harriet Tubman isn't the right way. King objects to identifying people by categories, and dividing us on the lines of groups, which — at an abstract level — is the best approach for Republicans to counter what Democrats are continually doing with race and sex.

But Harriet Tubman is one, specific person and obviously a big hero. There's political theater in selecting her and enshrining her on the $20 bill that seems motivated by a desire to gratify people in some of the groups that the Democratic Party poses as championing, but there are plenty of other shows in this theater. You picked the wrong one to boo.

66 comments:

tim in vermont said...

Better to have a Republican like Tubman who supported and benefited by the 2nd amendment than a racist Democrat like Jackson who was behind the Trail of Tears. I can see the founders, I can see Abe Lincoln, but what, seriously, did Andrew Jackson bring to American aspiration?

tim maguire said...

Jackson was the first populist president. A man of the people. He is responsible for a vital strain of American political thought that continues to this day. He was one of the most important non-founders.

Harriet Tubman's importance is largely symbolic. But then, the pictures on our currency ARE symbolic. I hate to see anyone go, but if one must, then Jackson is probably the best choice. And if we're going to branch out from the venerable white guys, then Tubman is a pretty good choice.

Rusty said...

Maybe it will make twenty dollars worth more.

campy said...

I'm sure this move won't make people think the GOP is racist and sexist.

David Begley said...

Walk down King Street in Madison and ask ten people who the sublimely admirable Harriet Tubman was. You'd be lucky to get two correct answers. Jackson was a significant person in American history.

But Alhouse is correct. Stupid of King to do this. The wrong fight to pick.

Michael K said...

A better place would be the $10,000 bill as soon we will be needing a lot more of them.

tim in vermont said...

Can you picture today's Democrats taking up arms to end slavery? "We just want control of their cotton fields!", "It's none of our business, we should stay out of it!", "This war is just to make corporations rich!" Can you imagine today's Democrats singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic with feeling while marching to war to end a terrible wrong? Nope, me neither. People who say that was a different Republican party have no clue. Both parties are essentially the same as they were, the Democrats have just re-aimed their bigotry at the "hillbilly" white working class. They are the same bigots who think that race trumps everything.

tim in vermont said...

Walk down King Street in Madison and ask ten people who the sublimely admirable Harriet Tubman was. You'd be lucky to get two correct answers. Jackson was a significant person in American history.

That's kind of an argument for changing the bill then, isn't it?

Bob Ellison said...

The conservative impulse to resist or reject change is what leftists most hate about rightists. That impulse is not consistent: rightists tend to want to tear down some hoary government institutions like the EPA and Medicaid. But that impulse is strong on perceived institutional symbols like the American flag and whose face is on the money.

Conservatives should question that impulse in themselves. The world moves on, and reflexively resisting change is foolish.

tim maguire said...

Bob Ellison said...Conservatives should question that impulse in themselves. The world moves on, and reflexively resisting change is foolish.

That's not actually what the conservative impulse is. The liberal impulse is to identify a problem and try to change it. The conservative impulse is to seek evidence that the change is likely to be better than stasis before embracing the change.

See Chesterton's parable of the fence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton%27s_fence

Short version: there is a fence across a road. The liberal will take the fence down to clear the road. The conservative will try to find out why the fence is there first.

Clayton Hennesey said...

I'm not sure how to measure "sublimely admirable" as a standard for who deserves a place on our currency. For example, I think of that sublimely admirable duo Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, who continue to bring so much joy to so many children over so many years. So many children.

Then there's the notion of turning a nation's currency into a rotating marquee, like a page of Facebook friends. If Tubman can replace Jackson on a political whim, Tubman herself can just as easily be replaced on a political whim.

The psychological value of currency in underwriting a citizen's identification with their nation state is its enduring specificity, embodying in tangible form one can hold in one's hand the unchanging endurance of that nation state over time. This is exactly what the EU lost in adopting the Euro, replacing their traditional currencies with generic EU tokens.

A lot of revisionism afoot these days, from historical icons to our currency itself.

tim in vermont said...

To say that it was a stupid fight to pick seems to imply that it might have been worth fighting on some other metaphorical hill. Nope. Tubman is a hero. No George Washington, who was a world historical figure, the first man to walk away from the position as head of state as an act of principle and devotion to democracy, but still, she was a hero who embodied what we all would hope to be our best selves.

rhhardin said...

Harriet Tubman is a big hero for a woman. The standards are lower.

David Begley said...

By doing this Steve King allows himself and the GOP to be labeled as racists. And there is no more toxic subject in America than race. Especially after seven years of Obama.

When the SSM debate was raging King said something about marrying his lawnmower. Poor analogy! It set him up for ridicule. King fell right into Alinsky's wheelhouse.

In 2016 it is all Back to Blood.

Bob Ellison said...

Clayton Hennesey said, "Then there's the notion of turning a nation's currency into a rotating marquee..."

I like that idea! We need paper currency, because it works and hides tracks not just for people committing illegal acts (like those buying/selling meth) but for people who merely want not to be bothered (like those paying a garage in Flagstaff to fix a car window...never mind.)

But if most cash transactions go all-digital, it would be fun to have a rotating marquee. Ray Charles on the fifty on your iPhone! Add a little joy to spending some money.

Amadeus 48 said...

Amen, Althouse. Amen, tim in vermont. If the Dems want to replace the founder of their party, a slave-owning oppressor of Native Americans, with a black, gun-toting Republican I say, "Faster please!" Let's get the facts out there.

Ann Althouse said...

"Walk down King Street in Madison and ask ten people who the sublimely admirable Harriet Tubman was. You'd be lucky to get two correct answers. Jackson was a significant person in American history."

King Street? Why King Street? You mean Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard? These are 2 of the many streets that radiate from the state capitol square. What's your point about King Street? I don't know why King Street is called King Street, but I don't think it's about MLK. He's got his name on a street one block away from King Street, right downtown.

Michael K said...

"Can you picture today's Democrats taking up arms to end slavery?"

I visited the grave of one of my great, great uncles who died in the Civil War, The other one who died is buried in a common grave in Tennessee but I have his letters to his wife.

He was wounded at Vicksburg and died two weeks later. They have no idea, nor do the BLM idiots.

tim maguire said...

Clayton Hennesey said...Then there's the notion of turning a nation's currency into a rotating marquee...The psychological value of currency in underwriting a citizen's identification with their nation state is its enduring specificity, embodying in tangible form one can hold in one's hand the unchanging endurance of that nation state over time.

Even the most stable currencies change from time to time. U.S. money is already quite different than it was 20 years ago, even if the faces on them are the same faces (I was going to say "the pictures on them are the same pictures," but they're not the same pictures).

Paul Snively said...

I endorse putting a gun-toting, Bible thumping Republican Christian on the 20.

David Begley said...

AA

King Street is where the Majestic is located. Young people hang there.

Steve King. King Street. Not King, Jr. Street.

John said...

I don't know why King Street is called King Street, but I don't think it's about MLK.

Streets Named for Signers of the U. S. Constitution
King Street – Rufus King, Massachusetts

http://www.historicmadison.org/Madison's%20Past/Street%20Names/PartXI.html

Expat(ish) said...

Without Jackson the US would not look the same today. Certainly the South would have won the civil war if the Spanish (or French or English) still held FL at the time. (Oh, history nerds, I know about the SC secession threat that Jackson finagled.)

Without Tubman some slaves would have had to wait for freedom.

That ain't nothing, but if you stack the two together....

-XC

Hagar said...

Let us see how willing the Democrats are to compromise and insist on the picture of Tubman being that of her with the rifle.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Steve "The Fence" King is looking for relevance as he didn't think to call it a "Wall" or ask Mexico to pay for it.

Mark Caplan said...

It's time to remove faces from our money. Every white face on our currency is tainted, either by belonging to a slave owner, an Indian fighter, or having expressed racist opinions, including even the Great Emancipator. Instead of human faces, use non-divisive, identity-politics-free images, such as wildlife, famous buildings, or famous landscapes.

Amadeus 48 said...

The obvious Schumer/Pelosi solution: Jackson AND Tubman viewing each other respectfully while their hands are clasped in a signal of unity and moral uplift. Sure, it would be ahistorical but it tells a heckuva story and would contribute to racial healing.

An added bonus: in a nod to the reparations movement, the Jackson/Tubman twenty would be worth $2.20 if contributed to a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton related organization or used to purchase a copy pf Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Between the World and Me."

virgil xenophon said...

Expat(ish) follows the right spoor, except he doesn't follow it to its logical or geopolitical historical conclusion. Had the British won the Battle of New Orleans they would have gained control of the entire inner-continent (approx 1/3rd of the land area of America via control of the Mississippi/Missouri river basin systems.) America would have very likely NEVER have become a continent-wide nation with all the historical geopolitical negatives that implies. Rather, North America would have seen a Balkanized creation of perhaps three or four nations (American. British, Spanish, French.) And we all know how successful the real Balkans have been. Put simply in terms of a vector analysis of the movement of the direction/"arc" of history: No Jackson, no United States of America. No USA, no Tubman. It isn't even close..

Amadeus 48 said...

Or better yet, Jackson, Tubman and Sacajewea in a triple portrait with Jackson looking apologetic and regretful as they stand triumphantly over a broken image of John C. Calhoun.

tim in vermont said...

Assuming of course that without Jackson, the US would have lost the Battle of New Orleans. That no other American could have or would have risen to the occasion.

Johnathan Birks said...

Typical politics. Why debate the fact that the dollar's value has depreciated 2000% in the past century when we can argue about which dead person will be on the 20?

Rocketeer said...

Conservatives should question that impulse in themselves.

You've misidentified the conservative impulse. The conservative impulse is:

Better than nothing is a very high standard.

Bob Boyd said...

Could King possibly be this dumb? Short answer: Yes, but...

King is a big Trump hater. This move plays into the Dem narrative so perfectly and it hurts the Republicans in the presidential election this year.

The neverTrumpers haven't gone away.

David Begley said...

Top rated comment at DM Register.

"Another member of the Iowa White Power Party.

Branstad, Grassley and Ernst all support a racist con man for president of the United States but King didnt want to be overlooked."

tim in vermont said...

Tubman elevated herself without having office and status and power conferred on her by the government, Jackson got where he was through politics. He was kind of like Caesar, who was also pretty bloodthirsty out in the hinterland, popular with his troops, and brought his soldiers into the Senate. "How many troops does the Supreme Court have?" Jackson is a type as old as history.

shiloh said...

Paraphrasing a post from yesterday ~ The Republican Party, 156+ years of tradition, unhampered by progress!

Expat(ish) said...

@Virgil - yes, i knew that, was going for pithy. Maybe too much time on twitter.

Andy Jackson was an SOB, but he was our SOB. Like Patton or Black Jack Pershing.

-XC

James Pawlak said...

I would be in favor of a Tubman $20.00 bill if, and only if, it was of her with her firearms(s).

n.n said...

[Class] diversity (i.e. racism, sexism, etc.).

Anyway, anti-Tubman or pro-Jackson?

This is the same framing done by the pro-immigrant, anti-native factions (e.g. progressive wars, impulsive regime changes, mass exodus, reactive/planned parenthood), and forms the tactical base and strategic arm of Democrat politics. Well, that, and redistributive change and opiates.

Original Mike said...

"I don't know why King Street is called King Street, but I don't think it's about MLK."

You don't know? You, a constitutional law professor?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

But theoretically you'd support the Repubs standing up against politicized racial divisiveness, right, Professor?
It's just a coincidence that any time they try to you object, right? In some possible future case you'd be all for it, you'd support that push back, but in every actual case you find it ugly and impolite and you side with the people who reflexively call anyone not on the Left racists.
Total coincidence, though.

Just wondering, but can you think of a time when you did support Repubs who accused Dems of racial divisiveness--who did counter what "Democrats are continually doing with race and sex?"

If everyone recognizes that both sides engage in political theater but you only object when one side pushed back against it...well, I'm not sure that's what I'd consider a neutral position (even cruelly so).

Unknown said...

shiloh said...
Paraphrasing all your posts ~

Mommy mommy mommy! Look what I can do!

Unknown said...

Question: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are on both bills and coins. Give Tubman the $2.

Or better yet, let the $1 coin be the PC currency. Like there were recently 50 quarters, one for each state, each year a new feelgood can be put on the dollar. Tubman can be the 2017, Molly Pitcher the 2018, Carrie Nation the 2019, Harvey Milk the 2020, whatever.

Sebastian said...

I'd like to see the GOP take a subtle and sophisticated stance against the politics of racial division. I'd also like clueless GOP fools to STFU.

Larvell said...

But if Trump came out against the change, Ann would be explaining how it was an AWESOME political move!

wholelottasplainin' said...

That the American public is now too politically addled and historically stupid not to know that the Democrats were the party of slavery, while the Republicans the abolitionists, astounds me.


When Trump becomes POTUS, one of his first acts should be to instruct the Treasury to print $3 bills, and to put Obama's portrait on them.

Boxty said...

Put Tubman on the $50 opposite side of President Grant. Then you'll have a white Republican and a black Republican, both of whom fought to end slavery, on the same currency.

Original Mike said...

"That the American public is now too politically addled and historically stupid not to know that the Democrats were the party of slavery, while the Republicans the abolitionists, astounds me."

Teachers are democrats.

Michael said...

The Democrats are also trying to ease Andrew Jackson out of the national discourse and memory, now that Broadway has prevented them from effacing Alexander Hamilton. You don't hear too much about Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners any more. "He who controls the past controls the future; he who controls the present controls the past."

n.n said...

each year a new feelgood can be put on the dollar

A feelgood or someone Americans want to recognize. This is a good solution to bypass creative destruction, factional/fractional politics, and would work well in the spirit of conservation. They do it for stamps, so why not the currency. We could inject some nuance into the monolithic processes favored by partisan politics.

Skipper said...

A Conservative wants to keep everything the way it is? Therein lies the problem. These status quo "conservatives" actively oppose any significant change, when it's big change that is needed, just not the Obama kind.

EMD said...

Jesus, Repubs, pick your fucking battles.

Obamacare? No big deal. Harriet Tubman on the $20? Nevahhhh!

Ambrose said...

What's wrong with rotating people on and off the currency over time? The current cast of dead presidents have not always been on their particular bills and coins. Do we have to agree that they must now be locked-in and can never be changed?

shiloh said...

Althouse, please tell your 95/5 con majority that living in the past is not a great way to prepare for the future! Or win current day presidential elections.

And if Dutch was alive today he'd be 105. btw, if Reagan lived in the past he would have never been a Republican. And if he ran for president today he'd be DOA in the Rep primary.

Change you can believe in!

>

ok, ok, after 8 years of Obama there is no future ~ Rusty, the Republic is over!

Speaking for everyone hopefully Rusty found that job.

>

Damn, I'm living in the past as this blog is starting to have a negative effect.

Gahrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gahrie said...

"That the American public is now too politically addled and historically stupid not to know that the Democrats were the party of slavery, while the Republicans the abolitionists, astounds me."

Teachers are democrats.


There is a lot of truth to that. I teach American History at a suburban high school that is 85% Hispanic. I am Conservative, and tell my students so. My colleagues are Liberal, and do not tell their students so. I tell my students not to trust what they are told or read (for instance my government book insists the right to own a gun is a collective right, not an individual right) but to verify.

Several times during the year point out that every major racist act in US History (Trail of Tears, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment, re-segregation of the federal workforce) was done by Democrats, that the Republican party was formed to oppose slavery and that prior to FDR, 95% of Blacks voted Republican. I then ask them what happened? I actually had one student a couple of years ago come up with the answer "The Democrats promise to give them free stuff".

buwaya said...

"I think there should be some way for Republicans to accuse Democrats of racial divisiveness"

There is no way. Racial/ethnic/caste divisiveness is the Democrat way, and they like it. It makes no sense to accuse them of something their supporters already support. And the Democrat campaigns for the "middle", such as it is, amount to enticing them into some tribe already in their coalition.
The Trumpian approach is more or less to adopt the same tribal-group strategy, to build an opposition tribe. Appealing to principles is a dead letter, there isn't an undecided populace that values principles anymore.

rastajenk said...

I think a $25 bill could be useful. Give Harriet her own dang money.

Rusty said...


Damn, I'm living in the past as this blog is starting to have a negative effect

Dude. You started in negative territory.

Still gainfully employed in the private sector. That's what happens when you have skills.

mikee said...

When I was 9, Martin Luther King described a colorblind society wherein character counted more than the color of one's skin as the essence of anti-racism. Now that I am 56, his opinion is derided by progressives as explicitly racist.

I, for one, am not playing this game any more.

Rhythm and Balls said...

This is liberal activism on the part of the president that's trying to identify people by categories, and he's divided us on the lines of groups.

Obama is getting in the way of all the natural multi-cultural, co-educational and racially diverse fraternization that Steve King and all his fellow Republican voters are so accustomed to.

Rhythm and Balls said...

I, for one, am not playing this game any more.

Translation: "If Tubman was/is a hero to blacks, then I find the idea of celebrating her on our currency to be offensive to me as a white American."

"Only white Americans can or should be claimed as heroes to all. (Especially if they instigated the forced removal of countless native tribes, like Jackson did). Lauding Americans of any other color or group is inherently racist to a non-racist like me."

JackOfClubs said...


tim maguire said...
"Jackson was the first populist president. A man of the people. He is responsible for a vital strain of American political thought that ..."

...gave us Donald Trump. Sold! All in for Tubman!

Nichevo said...

R&B, she's a war hero, or the equivalent. That's great, but blessedly, we have scads of war heroes. Where's the Audie Murphy numismatic? Where's Rodger Young's?

Blacks, is it? Then how about Robert Sweeney? Vernon Baker? Melvin Morris?

Bless her heart, you mean to seriously insist that Harriet Tubman changed the greater course of history? Why does she jump the line ahead of Frederick Douglass or Benjamin Banneker? I daresay she would have been the first to say as much.

Nichevo said...

Blogger buwaya said...

There is no way. Racial/ethnic/caste divisiveness is the Democrat way, and they like it.

The point of the accusation is not to abash the Democratic coalition, which I agree can't be done, but to energize one's own.

Nichevo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.