Jan Mickelson, an influential conservative radio host in Iowa who frequently interviews Republican presidential candidates, has a bit of a rocky history of discussing the Civil War. Earlier this year, he made Sen. Lindsey Graham exceedingly uncomfortable when he said South Carolina was “invaded” in the Civil War, “pretty much like the Russians are invading the Ukraine.” He also made waves in August when he suggested enslaving undocumented immigrants who refuse to leave the state.
Yesterday, Mickelson waded again into the issue of slavery and the Civil War when he invited military historian Edward Bonekemper onto his program to discuss Bonekemper’s new book “The Myth of the Lost Cause,” which pushes back against myths about the Civil War, including a number that, it turns out, are espoused by Mickelson himself. The interview took place immediately before Michaelson interviewed GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul.
When Mickelson said that the war was about “both” slavery and states’ rights, Bonekemper responded, “Well, the only state right that was being defended was the right to have slavery.”
Mickelson was having none of this and insisted that the war was not about slavery, but about “Lincoln’s notion that the states were a creation of the federal government,” just as the current debate over climate change policy isn’t about science, but about the government imposing “its will through the EPA on everybody else.”
More than that, it was about the jurisdictional claims of the federal government and the philosophies about how much the government of the United States was centralized. And the debate was over Lincoln’s notion that the states were a creation of the federal government, rather than the other way around.
A contemporary version of that same notion is the global warming or the climate change debate. The federal government starts with the premise that there’s man-made climate change and starts to impose its will through the EPA on everybody else, and out here in the cheap seats, we say, ‘Number one, you don’t have jurisdiction. Number two, you don’t have science on your side so this is just a big power grab.’ So everything that I just said gets reduced to the notion of ‘climate change, climate change, climate change,’ and the nuance of the argument gets left behind, just like when you say that the only thing these people were concerned about was slavery, which was the shortcut for everything I just mentioned, who owns what and whom and who’s in charge, who’s accountable to whom and what are the limits of the federal government. I think it’s way too simplistic to just reduce it to the one word, slavery.
Later in the program, after another heated debate with Bonekemper in which the radio host insisted that the Civil War was “all about money and tariffs and the propagandists in the North turned this into a slavery issue to cover their tracks much, much later,” he took on the issue of the Confederate flag.
“I got the sense when I lived [in South Carolina] that it’s a big FU to the North and they still are stinging from being an occupied nation 100 years later and they’re still mooning the North with it,” he said. “That’s basically it. There’s no slavery content to it, they just don’t like northerners.”