During his campaign for reelection to the Illinois state legislature in 1840, Abraham Lincoln was attacked by his ruffled shirt, gold watch wearing opponent as someone “belonging to the aristocracy.” Having one year of formal schooling, Lincoln responded that while the opposition foppishly rode around the country in a fine carriage, Lincoln was “a poor boy hired on a flat boat at eight dollars a month…with only one pair of breeches.”
I envision this as a man born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, and a gold-plated toilet, accuses former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden of being an elitist. No matter that Biden was born into a middle class working household in Scranton, Pennsylvania, living with his grandparents for a while as the family scratched out of financial difficulties.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself, that of being attacked as an elitist despite the fact that I grew up in a poor, working class household, literally on the wrong side of the tracks (the train horn was my morning wakeup call as a teenager). We were never destitute, but only as an adult did I come to realize the balancing act – living from check to check – that my parents pulled in order to provide for us on limited resources. Both my parents grew up in large families in the depths of the depression, so inherited good sense and an ability to make a little seem like a lot. Only after I got to college did I realize most of my peers were financially secure. I struggled through college and pursued graduate degrees while working full time to provide for my own family. I managed to succeed, but like Lincoln, and like Joe Biden, the small town working class never left my bloodstream.
All of this again comes to a head as we enter the final months of the presidential election season. Our choices couldn’t be more stark. A pathological liar, narcissist, and corrupt con man in a corrupt party versus someone who has dedicated his life to public service despite numerous hardships. This should be an easy choice.
What most concerns me is how the Republican Party, like the aristocratic plantation owners of Lincoln’s time, have convinced the working classes to consistently vote against their own interests. Most Southern whites prior to the Civil War did not own slaves, yet the slaveowners conned them into fighting for slavery despite the fact that slavery hurt those white farmers livelihoods. “You’re just like us,” John C. Calhoun and other white supremacists said to poor whites in the South. “You’re better than those blacks,” the line went. And so poor whites became pawns that rich plantation owners used to make the rich richer and all poorer people – white and black – poorer and more oppressed.
The Republican Party of today does exactly the same thing. Exactly. They repeatedly scream that “the others” (African American/Latinx/Asian; Muslim/Jewish; immigrants; LGBTQ; etc.) are the reason poor whites aren’t rich. In reality, poor and middle class whites are kept poor and struggling because the rich have rigged the system to favor no one but the rich. This isn’t some partisan diatribe; this is fact, proven daily by data and history.
There is a reason why all of the states that collect the most welfare, unemployment, and other forms of public assistance are all Republican states. The recent COVID-19 crisis has led some to argue that the federal government shouldn’t “bail out” richer Democratic states like New York, but New York is who pays into the federal bank to bail out poverty-stricken states like Kentucky. California is subsidizing states like Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia. The “blue” states are paying more to the government than they get back, while the “red” states are taking far more back from the government than they put in. “Red” states are the leeches, “blue” states are the blood.
Republicans are constantly trying to destroy public education. They don’t want their constituents educated because then they would realize how the Republican party has been screwing them for decades, all so Republicans can transfer public wealth to the elitist rich. All documented and proven by their actions.
Mitch McConnell has gotten richer as Kentucky – and Kentuckians – have gotten poorer. He lies to coal miners, who continue to die of coal-related diseases while coal mine owners continue to profit billions off their workers lives. An honest Kentuckian would be working to better the conditions of coal miners and help train them for replacement jobs as the industry dies its natural death. But instead he takes their money and lies to them while they die.
Such is the case for every issue – social security, health care, health and safety protections, an infinite list – Republicans hurt their own constituents while feeding the rich and the corrupt.
Which gets me back to Abraham Lincoln and Joe Biden. While the two men are very different in many ways, they share the desire to help ALL Americans better their condition.
Lincoln was born in Kentucky before moving to Indiana and then Illinois. He retained his Kentucky drawl in the White House. Joe Biden still has a touch of Pennsylvania accent and forthright directness. More importantly, both never lost their love of “the common people,” the working class, with whom each always and continue to identify.
Republicans say a lot of things but very rarely are those things true. Lincoln would be a Joe Biden kind of prudent progressive today. Lincoln would approve of Joe Biden. I approve of Joe Biden. My peers, both representative of my hardscrabble upbringing and my professional historian/scientist colleagues, approve of Joe Biden. Only by ridding the land of Mitch McConnell and the corruption that is today’s Republican Party can we improve life for all Americans, not just the aristocratic few.
As Lincoln said:
It is still to be remembered, that [the wealthy] are not sufficiently numerous to carry the elections.
We must vote.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.