Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX-1) appears to believe that the national debt is as immoral as slavery. In an interview with conservative publication Newsmax, he said:
“People have got to understand that we’re serious about stopping the massive load we are putting on our children and their children. It is one of the most immoral things this country has ever done. Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.”
While he’s correct that we have to stop putting horrendous burdens on our children’s children (which includes fixing far, far more that Republicans strongly oppose fixing), comparing the debt to slavery is much more immoral than the debt itself.
Slaves in the U.S. received horrific treatment beyond being whipped and beaten. They often lived in unsanitary conditions with insufficient protection from the weather, making them even more susceptible to illness than their white owners. Care for slaves who were sick was far more inadequate than it was for whites, and they were often forced to work in the heat and humidity common to the South despite being ill.
Furthermore, slave women had zero protection against sexual abuse and exploitation. It wasn’t uncommon for their white male owners to rape them and even use them as concubines over the long-term. At most, raping a slave woman was considered a type of trespass, when it was considered any violation at all.
As property, slaves could not go out without at least one white person present (or without permission in some states), they could not own their own property, they could not grow their own food, they could not testify in court against a white person, and it was illegal to pay them. They also couldn’t hit or otherwise “harm” a white person, even if it was in self-defense. These and more were part of the Slave Codes, which governed how slaves were to be treated in general and for various infractions, and how white people were required to treat them.
These people had no rights, no privileges, and despite oftentimes having at least somewhat good personal relationships with their masters, the conditions in which they lived and worked were horrendous. They weren’t even second-class citizens or a lower caste; they were property. They were, at best, on the same level as someone’s horses or mules, or other work or pack animals. At best.
In fact, in 1860, Sen. Wigfall of Texas flat-out denied that the people in the South drew any distinction between other property and their slaves, and posed the following query to the Senate:
“We ask simply that that property shall be put upon the same footing as every other species of property. We ask that, and we ask nothing more.” [SOURCE]
This illustrates how slave owners and those who supported slavery saw the issue. They didn’t consider it a problem that an entire group of people should be on the same level as animals in a legal sense.
Other Republicans in our day have minimized the true atrocity that slavery was, even going so far as to say that slavery was a “blessing in disguise,” particularly for the black people who were taken from their homes, their families and their villages and brought to the U.S. against their will. Rep. Jon Hubbard of Arkansas said as much in his book, Letters To The Editor: Confessions Of A Frustrated Conservative.
The Republican party tried to distance themselves from Hubbard for that and condemned his remarks, as well they should have. According to an Oct. 2012 article in The Huffington Post, saying that his views had no place in Arkansas’ Republican Party, and were not reflective of the party’s attitude.
And yet, this type of thing is less and less of an isolated incident, with Gohmert’s comments merely adding to the pile. The debt in no way compares to the stain that slavery is on U.S. history. The problems that can come with implementing austerity measures during a recovery that’s as sluggish as ours do not compare to that stain. The only thing that does compare is more human-rights atrocities. The debt can be handled without hurting people. Slavery took an entire segment of our society and reduced them to something significantly less than human.