‘Bully’ Brooks lives

The spirit of Preston “Bully” Brooks is alive in Joe Wilson.

Wilson is the South Carolina congressman who shouted “You lie!” at  President Barack Obama during his health care speech to a joint session of Congress the other night.

Brooks was a South Carolina congressman who knocked out U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane in 1856.

Wilson is a far-right-wing Republican. Brooks was a pro-slavery Democrat. Sumner was an abolitionist Republican who believed slavery was a moral and political evil.

Wilson and like-minded Republicans have demonized the president and his party, notably over health care. Brooks and other white-supremacist Democrats despised the Republicans because they were anti-slavery.

Wilson apologized for his outburst. Brooks, who broke his cane over Sumner’s head, never told the senator he was sorry. (He said he “meant no disrespect to the Senate” by beating up Sumner.)

Wilson has become an instant hero in the uber-conservative blogosphere and in the Republican-friendly right-wing media. Rush Limbaugh said the congressman shouldn’t have apologized. Sean Hannity is in Wilson’s corner.

Likewise, Brooks became the toast of Dixie. Mirating, pro-slavery Southerners mailed him dozens of new canes. “Hit him again” was inscribed on one of the walking sticks.

The Civil War started about five years after Brooks bloodied Sumner. It would be the bloodiest war our nation ever fought.

We are on the eve of observing the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, starting next year with the 150th anniversary of the election of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. Thankfully, we are not on the verge of fighting another civil war.

But civility is in woefully short supply in Washington and in political circles elsewhere. Egged on by radio demagogues like  Limbaugh and Hannity and TV hate monger Glenn Beck — none of whom could get elected dog catcher — the nut job right is in full cry over health care reform.  

The crazies have packed heat to town hall-style health care forums. They have waved swastika signs comparing Obama to Hitler. They have shouted down Democratic representatives and senators.

Wilson upstaged them all, the “birthers,” the “deathers,” the “Obama’s-really-a-Muslim” crowd — even the rootin’ tootin’ Texas secessionists.

Wilson brought boorishness right into the capitol, a short way from where Sumner collapsed, bleeding and unconscious, and unable to retake his seat for three years.

“Bully” Brooks would have been proud.

Wilson “will forever be the poster child that symbolizes the new Republican Party” — a party whose “language has become more childish and irresponsible by the day,” Robert Creamer wrote on the Huffington Post blogsite.

The Southern media helped whip up pro-slavery and anti-Republican sentiment. The Richmond Enquirer applauded Brooks’ assault on Sumner. “These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate must be lashed into submission,” the paper editorialized.

Meanwhile, there is talk of a Wilson censure in the Democratic-majority House. But Obama graciously accepted his apology, which may be sufficient.  

The Democrats also controlled the House in 1856. But pro-slavery Southern Democrats and pro-slavery Northern Democrats teamed up to block a Republican move to expel “Bully” Brooks.

Brooks resigned. But he soon was reelected.

Wilson evidently has no plans to quit. He likely will win another term in 2010, pundits say.

“There has been a brazen, bullying quality to their rhetoric — shouting down and intimidating opponents — a willingness to break the rules and say anything that serves their purposes with a complete disregard for consistency or intellectual honesty,” Creamer wrote of Republicans like Wilson.

The same could have been penned about Democrats like Brooks.

“…The Republicans have careened into schoolyard name-calling; Obama the Nazi, Obama the ‘Joker’ from Batman,” Creamer added.

Brooks and company branded Sumner and his party  “Black Republicans.” When Lincoln ran for president, Southern Democrats dubbed him “the Illinois Ape,” “a vulgar mobocrat” and the godless champion of “free love, free lands and free negroes.” “Resistance to Lincoln is obedience to God,” they chorused. (Doubtless Brooks would have approved had he not died in 1857.)

Creamer concluded that Congressman Wilson has “etched his political legacy into the wall of American history.” He added that Wilson “will forever be the poster ‘child’ that symbolizes the new Republican Party.” 

His mug can go right next to a picture of “Bully” Brooks, who would be a good candidate for “poster ‘child'” of the old brazen, bullying white-supremacist, pro-slavery Southern Democratic Party, which acted a lot like the modern GOP is behaving.

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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