"We are Republicans, and don't propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion."
-- Reverend Dr. Samuel Burchard, 1884
"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for."
-- Elizabeth Warren, ex-Obama aide, Harvard professor, and Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate, 2011
It is one of the more startling surprises of the 2012 campaign season thus far.
Professor Elizabeth Warren recasts herself as the new Reverend Samuel Burchard.
Setting herself up, the Harvard professor-turned-Obama aide-turned rookie-Democrat U.S. Senate candidate in liberal Massachusetts (she is seeking the seat held by Republican Scott Brown) is transforming herself into the ultimate national political albatross for President Obama and Democrats across the country.
In the same way that an obscure Presbyterian minister became one for the GOP -- in 1884. When the minister spoke words so nationally controversial they lost his party the White House -- after six straight presidential victories.
The history first.
It was the blunder that lost the presidency.
And it wasn't even made by the presidential candidate.
Addressing a meeting of Republican supporters at a posh New York City hotel, with Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine, a former House Speaker and Secretary of State, on the platform, the politically inexperienced Reverend Burchard took the podium. The clergy, Burchard said smoothly to the nominee and all in the crowded room in front of him, were supporting Blaine. On he went, and, in the way of the occasional preacher got carried away with the sound of his own voice. It took mere seconds for the pastor of the Murray Hill Presbyterian Church to exhibit his alliteration skills.
And out came the vow never to identify with the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion."
In the audience, a shorthand reporter hired by the Democrats scribbled the verbatim and quickly departed to deliver Burchard's words to his employers.
Hearing them, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee knew immediately what to do. Said the DNC chair to his staff: "See to it that the statement is in every newspaper in the country by tomorrow."
And so it was that the alliterative phrase seen instantly and widely as a slur against Catholics -- Irish Catholics in particular who were legendarily opposed to the push for Prohibition -- not to mention all those Democrats for whom the cause of the Confederacy was still dear, became the ruinous political blunder historians record as losing the presidency for Republican favorite James G. Blaine.
The Burchard blunder, made a mere week before the end of a campaign, was the proverbial fish in the barrel for Democrats. The hapless Blaine, thought set to win, had reportedly not even noticed the remark much less issued any kind of on-the-spot reprimand to Burchard. Not only did the Democrats make sure news of the remark made "every newspaper in the country by tomorrow." Literally overnight thousands of handbills with "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" printed in big bold print flooded the Irish Catholic precincts of New York.
In an upset, New York Governor Grover Cleveland went on to become the first Democrat since 1856 -- a full 28 years -- to finally win the presidency from the heirs to the Party of Lincoln. How did he win? By carrying New York by 1,047 out of 1,167,003 votes cast -- with the incensed perceived targets of the slur, New York's Irish Catholics, putting Cleveland over the top. Democrats also managed to shock the political establishment by maintaining control of the U.S. House.
In the aftermath, furious Republicans pointed the finger at the politically inept Burchard for the loss. In the last week of the campaign his words had become a political albatross for both Blaine and Republicans across the land. The no longer anonymous preacher was even ridiculed in a prominent political cartoon, political cartoons the Saturday Night Live or Letterman and Leno monologue of the day. Depicted swathed in bandages for "political burns," Burchard was sitting on a stool labeled the "stool of repentance," his feet in a steaming tub labeled "Rum, Romanism & Rebellion," an open book in his hand. The title of the book: "What I Know About Politics."
Of particular note, of course, is that the words didn't come from Blaine himself. No matter. Even in the pre-electronic media era of 1884 a presidential candidate had to be paying attention. Burchard was a Blaine supporter, and a Presbyterian -- which is to say Protestant -- minister. The clear imputation that a Cleveland victory would benefit drunken Irishmen from the Pope's legions (read: the Pope in those days regularly assailed as the antichrist) was more than enough to light the fuse on what became one of the most explosive blunders in presidential campaign history.
Which brings us to novice candidate, Harvard professor and Obama bureaucrat Elizabeth Warren.
Warren was caught on the campaign trail sounding for all the world like a guileless, fevered Marxist. The peasants, she lectured (peasants defined today as working Americans), actually work for the state. Contrary to what millions of Americans have believed over the centuries, it is not the other way around. All those public employees out there? You, peasant Americans, work for them. Those highways you drive on? The state has deigned to provide them -- and don't you dare -- ever -- to forget this.
Warren's performance was a tour de force of arrogance, elitism, and the socialist mindset. A snarling demand for control combined with contempt bursting forth from an eerily Burchard-like assumption of moral superiority.
The only difference was that instead of a shorthand reporter sent by the political opposition, Warren's rant was captured on an amateur video taken by a presumed supporter who posted it to YouTube. Quickly, in a fashion obviously never intended by its videographer nor grasped by her immediate audience (the latter another eerie similarity to the Burchard outburst, his audience not getting the import of what they had heard either), the rant went viral.
Conservatives, understanding the exact relationship of Warren's message to Obama's sinking polls, pounced with all the glee of someone discovering they had just won the lottery.
Within hours Elizabeth Warren was the featured attraction on Rush Limbaugh's show. Her anti-freedom, anti-entrepreneurial message -- amplified by her triple X-rated status as ex-Obama aide, Harvard professor, and Senate candidate -- was smartly and entertainingly dissected by Limbaugh, the man who is the 21st century version of all those handbills circulated by Democrats in 1884. Millions well beyond the small drawing room of left-wing wine-and-cheese liberals who were her immediate audience learned of Warren as "a parasite who hates her host." And clearly understanding that they were the host.
Mark Levin instantly zeroed in on Warren as displaying the "mind of somebody who embraces totalitarianism," eviscerating her arguments with a palpable, lengthy delight, finally dismissing her as "a nut." She was headlined on Sean Hannity's forum, and on the front page of Glenn Beck's The Blaze / The clip was featured on Fox News. In the Boston Herald her remarks were headlined as "Run of the Mill Demagoguery." And on…and on and on…it went.
Further complicating things for Obama and his party, far left progressives all across the Internet were waxing orgasmic about Warren. Over at Alternet, Warren was cheered for her "progressive street cred" in a fashion that reminded of those who might cheer on Thelma and Louise to step on the gas. Not since Janis Joplin OD'd on heroin has Rolling Stone been this excited. And on it went.
Over at the Huffington Post, the story called national attention to an earlier piece in the Boston Herald revealing Warren had taken $168,000 from a decidedly capitalistic insurance company to fight an asbestos law suit.
All of which only deepened Warren's rapidly hardening image as some sort of academic political boob, a politically foaming zealot totally incapable of grasping the political gift she and her Internet champions were delivering to Republicans across the land. "Look Ma! I hate capitalists! Except when they pay me lots of money! Ain't I somethin'!"
At least Burchard's anti-Irish Catholic supporters, once Burchard had stepped in it, didn't hold torch light parades to underline their mistake.
By dusk of the day the Warren video was viraling, every alert Republican campaign manager in the country was surely rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of television commercials slowly morphing the image of their opponents into Elizabeth Warren, the pro-Marxist professor who advised Obama.
Warren's rant is now the 21st century equivalent of the Reverend Samuel Burchard's diatribe, differing only by substituting working, middle-class entrepreneurial Americans for Irish Catholics. Where Burchard depicted Irish Catholics as drunks, Warren portrays working Americans in the private sector as greedy. Where Burchard slurred Catholicism itself as "Romanism" -- a common anti-Catholic slur of the day -- Warren slurs the American free enterprise system and entrepreneurship itself with the caustic line: "You built a factory out there? Good for you…God bless….."
If Americans of the 21st century passionately view themselves as hard working creators of businesses and the jobs that come with those businesses, so too did the Irish Catholics of 1884 have a strikingly similar view of themselves. Why?
What proved so explosively insulting to Irish Catholics in 1884, of course, was that as newly arrived immigrants over the last several decades it was they who had done the hard work in garment factories and as manual laborers. It was they who helped make America run -- as cooks, as waiters, as maids or servants for the wealthy. It was they who had helped build New York's revolutionary Erie Canal and later the Transcontinental Railroad. Irish Catholic immigrants to America had, by 1884, spent decades busy every day and night at the gritty, grimy and yes, sometimes humiliating work of climbing the American ladder of opportunity.
And in return, at the close of a boisterous presidential campaign fought over economics and civil service reform, out of the blue a locally prominent supporter -- a man of the cloth no less -- of the Republican nominee Blaine had haughtily and disdainfully depicted them as drunks. As servile followers of a demon faith who were allied with rebellious, racist, anti-Union slave owners.
In both impact and attitude anticipating Elizabeth Warren by over a 125 years.
Today, in the world of Elizabeth Warren, those Irish Catholic voters have become Tea Party supporters or just plain and simple hard-working Americans of the middle class. In particular, millions are small business men and women struggling in a hostile business climate to create jobs -- a hostile climate engineered precisely by Warren and her Obama Administration colleagues And it is surely one of history's more delicious ironies that in fact it is exactly the Tea Party members who have been assailed with all manner of slurs (racists, Nazis, greedy, etc., etc.) in precisely the fashion of Irish Catholics in 1884.
The albatross, once seen as a sign of good luck when following a ship, was transformed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Transformed into a curse not simply for the unfortunate sailor who shot the bird with a crossbow and arrow and is forced to wear the dead bird hung about his neck, but eventually all the sailor's shipmates as well.
The albatross has long since become a staple of American politics. It can be anything from a scandal that drags down others with its powerful political curse (think, say, Watergate). Or simply one inept politician -- a Jimmy Carter whose unpopularity is so huge the curse drowns his elected party leaders at the polls.
Professor Elizabeth Warren, in the same clueless fashion of the Reverend Samuel Burchard, has now bid fair to become to Barack Obama what Burchard was to James G. Blaine.
A political albatross slung around the neck of every Democrat running for office in 2012.
And don't think a thousand GOP operatives out there don't know it.
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