Poe’s Forrest quote no big deal

by Jay Stevens

Steve Benen is one of my favorite bloggers. No, strike that. He is my favorite blogger, which should be evident to regular readers of my “Links…” post. He’s prolific, his posts are well-written and well-thought-out, and he seems to be always right.

Well…almost always.

He recently wrote a post criticizing Rep. Ted Poe’s quoting of Nathan Bedford Forrest on the House floor. To Benen – and a number of other liberal bloggers – Forrest’s background as slave trader, Confederate general, and founder of the KKK implied that Poe is a racist f*ck:

Shouldn’t this be a bigger deal? Given all of the racial problems of the Republican Party, isn’t it rather scandalous for a Republican lawmaker to rely on the words of the founder of the KKK?

Er…yes…but this was the quote: “Git thar fustest with the mostest.” (The correct quote is “git thar fust with the most men.”)

Sorry, Steve, but this is a form of ad hominem attack. It’s bad rhetorical form to discount an idea because of the moral makeup of its source. Despite Forrest’s politics, racism, and battlefield barbarism (Fort Pillow massacre, anyone?), he is also known by military historians as perhaps the Civil War’s greatest tactician.

Rightie Ed Morrisey:

It’s an anecdote used by people to talk about military strategy, as Poe clearly did, instead of some invocation of racism. It’s not particularly bright of Poe to quote Forrest — especially since the quote is essentially meaningless as well as fabricated — but discussing Forrest’s military acumen (which was considerable) doesn’t mean people support the Klan, a point that is rather obvious when considering authors such as Catton who catalogued Forrest’s strategic thinking.

Well put, but then is followed – as are many rightie responses – with finger pointed to former KKKer, Sen. Robert Byrd, who happens to be a Democrat, as if somehow Byrd’s presence in the party negates all of the eliminationist, nativist, and racist rhetoric flowing from the right lately. (And there are a whole lotta links I didn’t post.)

At worst, Poe was giving the ol’ wink-and-nudge to Confederacy idolizers and their passion’s racist not-so-subtle subtext. And to be fair to Benen, Poe’s office’s explanation of the quote didn’t help quash that suspicion:

“The reference to Forrest was used in an historical context comparing the request to Congress for support of the Confederate troops to the request that is being made today by our Generals in Iraq.”


In all seriousness, there should be no prohibition from bringing up people’s names or accomplishments because of their background. Should we ditch the interstate highway system because Hitler came up with the idea first? Should we spurn pasta because Italy went for Mussolini? Should we push Texas into the sea because it propelled Bush into the nation’s top political seat? Well…now that you mention it…


  1. I don’t think people should be allowed to quote anyone who died more than 50 years ago, since anyone that old automatically would have held at least some beliefs that violate our contemporary understanding of what is moral and right.

  2. noodly appendage

    I’d have a hard time quoting Thomas Jefferson if his every belief rendered every thing else he said invalid.

    Which many on both extremes try to do.

  3. I was actually surprised that Benen pulled that rhetorical stunt. Even if you don’t agree with his views, it’s hard to dispute that most of his posts are well thought out…

  4. Kevin

    Ed Kemmick wrote “I don’t think people should be allowed to quote anyone who died more than 50 years ago, since anyone that old automatically would have held at least some beliefs that violate our contemporary understanding of what is moral and right.”

    How about only quoting living people, like:
    Mel Gibson
    Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer)
    Don Imus

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