Rep. Gohmert Invokes Lincoln's "Die By Suicide" Speech To Bolster Balanced Budget Amendment

November 18, 2011 3:45 pm ET — Kate Conway

Today, the House of Representatives voted down a GOP-driven proposal to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, widely considered a terrible way to deal with deficit reduction. Although all but four Republicans voted in favor of the measure, it fell 29 votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

In the days leading up to the vote, eager House Republicans took to the floor to put on record all sorts of inane rationales for enacting the amendment. Last night, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who sees apocalyptic consequences in many mundane situations, offered perhaps the most colorful argument, quoting Abraham Lincoln to warn that not enacting the balanced budget amendment could be a terminal mistake for the United States:

GOHMERT: We've got a lot to do if we're going to live up to our commitments, our oaths. A balanced budget amendment with a spending cap is what we need to do. ... It's time to live up to the commitments we've made and what we owe our creator, our maker. And if we'll do that we can have another 200 years of greatness as a nation, and if we don't, as Abraham Lincoln said, this nation will "die by suicide." I want it to live and flourish. I want us to keep our commitments.

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If the Lincoln quote sounds like it might more aptly apply to something a bit more dramatic than the passage or failure of a balanced budget amendment, that's because what Lincoln was talking about was literal, lawless violence taking place in an America slowly beginning to feel its way toward civil war. In warning of national death by "suicide," Lincoln was expressing confidence in America's ability to ward off threats from abroad, but worrying about the impact of a domestic trend he observed — an "increasing disregard for law" manifested in vigilante violence across the country. 

From his 1838 speech:

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! ... At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. ... Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic, if anything of its length, that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.

The funny thing is, Gohmert himself voted against today's balanced budget amendment because it didn't contain a spending cap. But why would Gohmert vote against something that ostensibly represents progress towards something that would save the nation? Perhaps he doesn't really think a balanced budget amendment is the difference between "another 200 years of greatness" and the death of the United States of America — it's just his typical overblown rhetoric.

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