Republican Steve King: Keep Harriet Tubman Off the $20 Because All Change Is Bad

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Key Speakers At the Citizens United South Carolina Freedom Summit
Steve King isn't anti-Tubman; he's anti-change.Photo: Andrew Harrer/© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP.

At any given point in American history, one can find conservatives defending the merits of the status quo and warning that any social change will usher in a number of economic or social disasters. This has held true whether the change is abolishing slavery; or expanding the suffrage to non-landowners or women; or ending segregation; or letting gay people marry; or so on. The key to these arguments is locating some practical harm in the proposed change, or at least an abstract harm (to the Constitution, or states’ rights, etc.). Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, is sponsoring an amendment that would block Harriet Tubman’s inclusion on the new $20 bill, but what’s novel about King’s argument is that … he doesn’t have one:

“It’s not about Harriet Tubman, it’s about keeping the picture on the $20,” King said Tuesday evening, pulling a $20 bill from his pocket and pointing at President Andrew Jackson. “Y’know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative, I like to keep what we have.”

King doesn’t claim that Tubman was a bad role model, or that Jackson deserves special honor by dint of his accomplishments, or that it would cost taxpayers too much to switch the design, or that people might be confused by the new $20. He simply argues that what we currently have is good because it’s what we have. As a conservative, he feels obliged to defend what we have on the principle that existing arrangements are inviolable. He is openly defining conservatism as the reflexive defense of the social status quo.

Perhaps King tried and failed to devise more elegant reasons and arrived at this rationale out of simple desperation. Still, it is a telling admission.