NORMAN — The Republican Party ought to distribute a list of rhetorical no-no’s that office holders and candidates should avoid at all costs. Topping the list should be the slavery analogy.
In recent months, Republicans have compared food stamps, Obamacare, gun control and the national debt to the South’s “peculiar institution” of human bondage that flourished until 150 years ago. What those comparisons were supposed to signify, other than the cluelessness of the speaker, is unclear.
Still, every once in a while the slavery analogy seems to hit home. Consider the state of the state address delivered Wednesday by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Brownback flattered his ultraconservative followers by equating Kansas’ gun- and bible-toting abolitionists from the 1850s with the extremist anti-abortion protesters that staged widespread protests in the state in 1991.
“The chains of bondage of our brothers rubbed our skin and our hearts raw until we could stand it no more and erupted into ‘Bleeding Kansas,’” Brownback intoned, invoking the deadly skirmishes between Free-Staters and pro-slavery Border Ruffians that prefigured the U.S. Civil War. He then continued, referring to the abortion protests of 1991, “The Summer of Mercy sprung forth in Kansas as we could no longer tolerate the death of innocent children.” The so-called Summer of Mercy protests brought thousands of abortion protesters to Wichita, and are credited with launching the most desperate and ultimately violent actions within the anti-abortion movement. The most prominent target was George Tiller, the late-term abortion doctor who was murdered in 2009.
The exhaustively detailed book “Wrath of Angels,” by Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas and James Risen of the New York Times, details the Summer of Mercy and the role of the group Operation Rescue in organizing the protests.
The protests lasted 46 days. The goal was to shut down Tiller’s clinic. Federal marshals were necessary to keep order, along with a judge’s ruling. There were nearly 2,700 arrests. But rather than ushering in a new protest culture that would touch the conscience of the nation, the Summer of Mercy ended in desperation for the anti-abortion movement, and gave birth to its most heinous and ultimately violence-ridden factions.