During the height of the 2008 presidential campaign, I paid a visit to what was then an annual gathering of the Conservative Caucus, a right-wing group founded by the late Howard Phillips, who also helped found the religious right.
Unlike his compatriots among the religious right’s founding fathers, Phillips, a large man with the voice of a radio actor, relished the use of extreme language to characterize his perceived enemies: Gays were “sodomites” and “perverts”; Planned Parenthood was “Murder Incorporated.” He also cozied up in public to neo-militia groups such as Missionaries to the Pre-Born.
In a small meeting room at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, the Conservative Caucus convened for its yearly Constitution Day awards event, a notably low-budget affair with nothing on the menu but hotel-supplied hard candies and pitchers of water—and vitriol, no small measure of it trained on the surging Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama.
Receiving the group’s Andrew Jackson Champion of Liberty Award that day was Cliff Kincaid, a staffer at the right-wing group Accuracy in Media, whose mission is to expose the supposedly left-wing bias of U.S. mainstream media. Kincaid had earned that award for extensive research he had done into Obama’s background, which ultimately led him to the conclusion that Obama grew up steeped in the evils of communist belief.
When I asked Phillips why he named the award after Jackson, a Democrat, he simply replied that Jackson was the greatest American president who ever lived. Abraham Lincoln, he said, was the worst.
Across the country that same year, local and state-level Democratic Party organizations held fundraising dinners celebrating “Jefferson-Jackson Day,” named for the party’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, and the man who restored the party to popularity, Andrew Jackson.
Long embraced by Democrats as a champion of the little guy and an opponent of moneyed elites, Jackson’s murderous history as a war criminal, slavery enthusiast, and genocidal enemy of Native Americans was hardly given a glance. As Ari Rabin-Havt wrote for the Prospect , the Andrew Jackson celebrated by the Democratic Party was the Jackson of the Giant Block of Cheese—a reference to the seventh president’s public relations stunt, in which he placed a huge hunk of the stuff in a public area of the White House, so that the hungry could come and get their fill.