Watch As These Conservatives Recycle the World's Worst Talking Point


You'd think that conservatives, after being repeatedly humiliated for their insensitivity toward rape victims, would have learned to be careful when discussing the plight of the marginalized and oppressed.

For proof that this lesson has yet to take, let's look at one of the right wing's most obnoxious, entitled, and ill-informed rhetoric motifs: comparing liberal policies to American slavery.

Slavery is "the state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household." When used in the specific context of American politics, "slavery" generally conjures up the historical institution of African American slavery, wherein blacks were forced to work without pay for people who claimed to "own" them, bought and sold like chattel, denied all legal rights, and frequently subjected to physical and psychological torture.

Needless to say, analogies to either type of slavery should only be made in the most extreme cases, and even then only after being justified by careful study and reasoning. Certainly they should never be used to score cheap political points.

Unfortunately, right-wingers like Dr. Greg Brannon have yet to learn that. On Jan. 14, the North Carolina Tea Party member, widely considered to be a front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination in his state, was discovered to have made these comments in an October interview:

"... 80% of the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it's crazy but it's true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you're at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer."

While the platitude about teaching a man to fish instead of giving him fish is valid, it applies to situations in which people can control over how they eat, not ones in which chronic unemployment remains a social epidemic and millions of Americans rely on food stamps either because they can't find work or their jobs don't pay them enough. Franklin Roosevelt put it best 80 years ago when he observed that "necessitous men are not free men." A strong case can be made that dependence on charity diminishes individual agency and autonomy, but it's quite a leap to argue that this is inherently worse than deprivation of one's biological necessities. Until the conditions of hopeless poverty are eradicated, only those whose privileged backgrounds have led to moral callousness can honestly believe that relief through charity is more servile than regularly suffering from hunger.

Certainly Brannon isn't alone in his willful insensitivity, as his "liberal policy X = slavery" rhetoric has been echoed by right-wingers from Rand Paul and Rush Limbaugh to Sarah Palin to this guy — New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O'Brien:

There is nothing that people with a sense of decency can do to stop these individuals from cheapening the horrors chronicled in autobiographies like Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, scholarly works like Walter Johnson'Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, and movies like the recent 12 Years a Slave to advance their polemical agenda. The fact that many of them do this as members of the party that was founded to limit the expansion of slavery is merely a cruel irony.

Indeed, you may even be one of them. In which case, I propose the following wager:

If you truly believe that a left wing program is actually as bad as literal slavery, then sign off to be another person's slave for the rest of your life. Once you are that person's property and are denied all semblance of legal human rights, you will be absolved of any kind of obligations to these so-called oppressive government programs you so vociferously detest. At that point, if you can still honestly profess your earlier opinion while languishing in literal chains, I guarantee that liberals like me will take your opinions more seriously. Of course, if you're understandably reluctant to seriously consider this offer, then maybe instead of weaving elaborate rationales to justify your moral cowardice, you should just admit that some analogies ought to be off limits, even in the realm of partisan hyperbole.