Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Which Conservatives Get Their Own Fables of Faubus

National Review's Kevin Williamson has a new article about the parties' historical positions on civil rights, which I guess is a preview of an upcoming book which I guess is going to make the argument that the point of the Great Society was to turn the nation into helpless wards of the government so that they would vote for Democrats from then on. Which is both silly (in that it is historical nonsense) and pernicious (because it attacks motives, and because it assumes a lack of agency on the part of most voters), but isn't the main point of the current article, so I'll mostly stick with that.

(Okay, I have to put this somewhere. Jonathan Chait has written a terrific piece on Williamson's article, and he posted it as I was finishing this one. I'm just going to leave mine as is -- it's very much overlapping, but he focuses more on Republicans and I'm more interested here in the Democrats. You should read his).

Williamson makes the case that Republicans have always been in favor of civil rights against the racist Democrats. It's perfectly fair for Republicans to point to their long history of supporting civil rights, up through the adoption of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And it's also certainly true that the history of the Democratic Party is filled with racism.

But it's bizarre to say that the Democrats didn't flip on civil rights.
[T]hose southerners who defected from the Democratic party in the 1960s and thereafter did so to join a Republican party that was far more enlightened on racial issues than were the Democrats of the era, and had been for a century. There is no radical break in the Republicans’ civil-rights history: From abolition to Reconstruction to the anti-lynching laws, from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964, there exists a line that is by no means perfectly straight or unwavering but that nonetheless connects the politics of Lincoln with those of Dwight D. Eisenhower. And from slavery and secession to remorseless opposition to everything from Reconstruction to the anti-lynching laws, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, there exists a similarly identifiable line connecting John Calhoun and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Supporting civil-rights reform was not a radical turnaround for congressional Republicans in 1964, but it was a radical turnaround for Johnson and the Democrats.
You know what's missing from Williamson's version of Democratic Party history?

Three things. Hubert Humphrey; two-thirds; and African Americans.

Humphrey: you would never know from reading this quite long article that there was a northern wing of the Democratic Party at all. Democrats, for Williamson, were Southern Democrats, and they collectively and inexplicably had a "radical turnaround" in 1964. But of course that's not even remotely true. The real story is that the Democratic Party essentially split in two over time, with the Southern branch eventually disappearing. The key event is the 1948 Democratic National Convention, at which Humphrey gave a famous speech in favor of a strong civil rights plank, and the South responded by walking out and running a separate campaign.

Two thirds: That's the infamous rule that required a Democratic presidential nominee to get two-thirds of the delegates, thus insuring a Southern veto over the nomination. It was finally repealed in 1936, leading, eventually, to a presidential wing of the party which was liberal on civil rights. It's very fair to criticize Adlai Stevenson's civil rights record, but John Kennedy in 1960 was clearly in favor of civil rights. For that matter, Williamson makes Truman's support to be some sort of trivial footnote, but that's not true;  Note, too, that whatever LBJ's true feelings about race, it was clear by then -- including in 1957 -- that a solid segregationist would no longer be a viable presidential candidate, because civil rights was highly salient and the party majority would insist on it.

African Americans: In Williamson's account, they are a purely passive constituency, to be manipulated by cynical white politicians. That's not what actually happened. It is certainly true that in northern black voters were a key swing constituency in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and that appealing to them was a key driver of both Democratic and Republican support for civil rights. However, black politicians and civil rights leaders were active combatants in the fight over the Democratic Party, throughout the crucial period. That included, famously, the (losing) fight to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party at the 1964 convention, but it was also true among the small but growing group of (northern) black Democratic Members of the House.

What happened to the Southern Democratic Party? Some of it died off. Some remained very conservative and switched to the Republican Party. Some became mainstream liberals -- that's the story of Robert Byrd, who (as Williamson and Republicans in general are eager to remind everyone) was a Klan member and opposed civil rights early in his Congressional career, but switched entirely before long.

Did the parties swap places? Not really, exactly. The old Southern Democratic position is no longer found anywhere near the mainstream of American politics; for all practical purposes, it just disappeared. It is unfair and wrong to say that the current Republican Party adopted that position. However, it's juts as fair to note that the Goldwater/Reagan Republican Party has consistently opposed the policy preferences of civil rights leaders and the overwhelming majority of rank-and-file African Americans for the last few decades, while the liberal wing of the Republican Party, the wing that actively and strongly fought for civil rights, disappeared too.

As for the Democrats: they completely adopted the Humphrey position on civil rights. That's as clear a flip in position from where the Democratic Party was before FDR as possible. As a continuing organization, the Democrats certainly should be -- and to the best of my knowledge generally are -- ashamed of Woodrow Wilson and other twentieth (and nineteenth) century disgraces, and not exactly proud of how long it took to overcome that. But they did overcome it, absolutely and completely, long ago, and that's a proud part of their history that they should celebrate.

Williamson's version of history bears little resemblance to what really happened. Chait recommends that if Republicans really want to be the civil rights party, they should support same-sex marriage. What I'd suggest is that the first step Republicans could take if they really want to be the party of Lincoln and the party whose liberal wing strongly supported civil rights would be to support the position of civil rights leaders on voting, right now, and give up on the various schemes Republicans have been pushing that will have the effect of reducing African American voting participation.

I suspect that is what the majority of the Republican Party of the civil rights era -- and the majority of the Democratic Party of the civil rights era -- would have wanted.

45 comments:

  1. The old Southern Democratic position is no longer found anywhere near the mainstream of American politics; for all practical purposes, it just disappeared. It is unfair and wrong to say that the current Republican Party adopted that position.

    However, it is important to note that the entirety of the conservative movement, including the National Review's founder, opposed the civil rights movement until that position become untenable. Sure, they'll argue that their reason for opposing it was due to libertarian and federalist principles, and that unlike the Dixiecrats they didn't go around spewing the n-word (although Buckley is on record as having made racist remarks), but the conservative embrace of civil rights was almost entirely retroactive. It's important that they did come around to it and that federally imposed civil-rights legislation is almost a unanimous position in mainstream politics today, but to give movement conservatism one iota of credit for it is perverse in the extreme. The Republicans who supported civil rights in the 1960s came from the moderate and liberal wings--people like Nelson Rockefeller or George Romney, a wing that no longer really exists and which movement conservatives today universally abhor--except, of course, when they want to take credit for its accomplishments.

    What is so fundamentally dishonest about this right-wing talking point is that it deliberately confuses the issue by ignoring the historical difference between Republicans and conservatives on the one hand, and Democrats and liberals on the other--distinctions that conservatives usually claim to care a great deal about. The Dixiecrats were never liberals. If you look at news articles from the 1948 election and beyond, you'll find the Thurmond candidacy consistently described as a challenge from Truman's right (while Henry Wallace's Progressive Party was described as challenge from Truman's left). Thurmond himself belonged to something called the Conservative Coalition along with Republican conservatives like Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater, and he routinely attacked leftists. If you told him or anyone else from the 1950s that they represented liberals or the left, they'd have looked at you like you were insane.

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    1. As someone who cares deeply about humanity and our equality, I'm profoundly grateful to you and Jonathan for writing so clearly on this important topic. Thank you from my whole heart and soul.

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  2. The NRO article ends with a particularly ugly quote which it attributes to LBJ, and which apparently comes from an Air Force One steward. Does anyone know whether it is a legitimate quote?

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  3. You wrote: "But it's bizarre to say that the Democrats didn't flip on civil rights."

    I wrote: "Supporting civil-rights reform was a radical turnaround for Johnson and the Democrats."

    Reading comprehension = concord.

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    1. You know what? That's terrible writing on my part. I don't think I'll go back and edit, but I'll explain.

      Your story is that the Democrats were gung ho against civil rights until 1964. The facts are that the majority of the Democratic Party was pro-civil rights from 1948 on. There was no "radical turnaround" for the Democrats in 1964, because the civil rights advocates had won a generation earlier. Even though, as Kylopod says, they were blocked by the conservative coalition (of Southern Dems and conservative Republicans) in Congress.

      The question about LBJ is more complicated, but again he had to be at least a moderate on civil rights in order to have realistic national ambitions. That was certainly the case by 1957.

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    2. I read your piece--the title "The Party of Civil Rights," and this: "the outright lie, the utter fabrication ... that the two major U.S. political parties somehow “switched places” vis-à-vis protecting the rights of black Americans."

      Perhaps there is some overstatement, but what is closer to an outright lie is what you and many other 'conservatives' say about Robert Byrd.

      You wrote:"Klansmen from Senator Robert Byrd to Justice Hugo Black held prominent positions in the Democratic party..."

      Compare that to what JB wrote: "What happened to the Southern Democratic Party? ... Some became mainstream liberals -- that's the story of Robert Byrd, who (as Williamson and Republicans in general are eager to remind everyone) was a Klan member and opposed civil rights early in his Congressional career, but switched entirely before long."

      I am sick of the lies and convenient selection of the facts you conservatives make when talking about the civil rights movement. You try to take credit, but truth comes out when you write about the civil rights struggles--it's Democrat after Democrat after Democrat who you have to mention (both pro and con), and scarcely a Republican anywhere. That tells me a lot. Just who are the GOP civil rights heroes?

      Stop trying to cover your movement in glory it hasn't earned. You fool no one.

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    3. Well, MP, I don't think this is a matter of dishonesty for most conservatives. They honestly believe what they say. That is what makes our current situation so dangerous. A cynic is easy to deal with, whereas a true believer, especially an honestly delusional true believer, is not. We are dealing here with different ideas about the nature of freedom, the meaning of political and historical causation, even the meaning of agency. Conservatives aren't telling lies, by and large, not even their leaders or their pundits. It's just that their fundamental beliefs are render them largely incapable of the kind of reasoning you are attempting to invoke. It's like trying to discuss the Dutch Old Masters with a man who has been blind from birth. He does not share the factual reality you are trying to discuss, indeed he is incapable of sharing it. His answers may be honest, but they will have no meaning with regard to the basic reality of the discussion

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    4. I don't write for hacks, I write for the other readers. Occasionally someone will see a new point (including me), but usually I just want to get a different viewpoint out there, explained as clearly as possible.

      I don't care if Williamson is blind to other ideas, ignorant, or a partisan hack. I'll still counter the crap he wrote. (And I'm primed on the Byrd droppings since we've all read that one too many times before.)

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  4. If by "conventional liberal" you mean "guy who was still using the word 'nigger' on national television as late as the 1990s," I stand corrected.

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    1. With an accusation like that, a citation might be nice.

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    2. Because couching racist ideology in more civil terms such as "forced busing", "food stamps", and "state's rights" makes your argument more accemptable. Just ask Lee Atwater, if you can find which circle of Hell he was sent to.

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  5. "Just who are the GOP civil rights heroes?"

    A. Lincoln, F. Douglass, U. S. Grant, Mrs. H. Hoover, D. Eisenhower, E. Dirksen, R. Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, S. Molinari . . .

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    1. You left out E. Warren. Actually, he's the only one.

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    2. I have no problem granting Lincoln, Douglass, and Grant (the 1800's), don't know about Mrs. Hoover, and moderate credit to Eisenhower (could've been better, could've been worse). But if Dirksen, Reagan, Bush, and Molinari were so involved, why didn't they make it into your article? In your article, the civil rights struggle is among Democrats (their angels, their demons).

      Who is "The Party of Civil Rights?" I think we know the answer in our hearts, and you are a lame, shameless partisan with no interest in any truth that isn't convenient for your side.

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    3. I meant to say, Kevin, you are a lame, shameless partisan with no interest in any truth that isn't convenient for your side, as you show again by bringing up the lame complaints about Robert Byrd. Is that all you have--the pre-reformed Robert Byrd and his habits of speech that lasted into the reformed period? So lame.

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    4. What did Reagan do? Or GHW Bush? Don't they have to have done something to be a civil rights hero?

      The latter wasn't so good on the civil rights of atheists, for instance.

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    5. Weren't Eisenhower, Dirksen, GHW Bush and Susan Molinari liberals or moderates, according to the taxonomy of the National Review? And wasn't that considered a bad thing by WFB, who explicitly rejected the moderation of Ike when he founded the NR and the conservative movement? Was the NR complimentary to Dirksen when he helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act through the Senate? In a Senate contest between a candidate espousing GHW/Prescott Bush-Molinari-Dirksen moderation and a hard right firebrand like Rubio or Demint, who would the NR endorse?

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    6. Reagan and GHW Bush were civil rights heroes? I guess that explains why they won such a huge percentage of the black, Jewish, and hispanic votes. Oh, wait...

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    7. RONALD REAGAN? Steak-eating young buck, Cadillac-driving welfare queen, kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi, Ed Meese-employing RONALD REAGAN?
      What f***ing color is the sky in your world?

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  6. It's very fair to criticize Adlai Stevenson's civil rights record, but John Kennedy in 1960 was clearly in favor of civil rights.

    JFK was no such thing. He was a lot like FDR in that he gave a speech every now and then in support, and he continued Eisenhower policies on using federal troops to integrate schools, but the reality is that he spent zero political capital on the issue (in contrast to his successor, who bet the house on it) and the entire reason there was a 1963 Martin Luther King March on Washington was because it had been 2 1/2 years and JFK and his administration had refused to "cash the check", as MLK put it. It was a protest against a racist President and administration which was perfectly willing to allow black people to continue to be oppressed and murdered rather than do anything to risk their precious reelection chances.

    Sorry, JFK was on this issue (as in many others) a complete monster. All JFK ever cared about was JFK.

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    1. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was crafted during Kennedy's presidency and supported by the Kennedy administration. Kennedy's actual record of action on civil rights was less than ideal, but it was no worse than Eisenhower's (his brother's justice department continued to initiate school desegregation proceedings), and the inability to get the Civil Rights Act through congress was a matter of political strategy, not principle. Kennedy also made eloquent speeches in favor of civil rights.

      This may not be the greatest civil rights record ever, but it was certainly a step forward from that of Stevenson, who basically completely danced around the issue and refused to come down on either side. And it certainly doesn't make Kennedy "a complete monster," which is just totally ridiculous.

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    2. Yeah, I'm glad that someone caught this. I agree completely. As with most things, JFK's record on civil rights is "incomplete", but it's very important to avoid conflating a president's positions with what he can actually achieve, whether the roadblock is Congress, the bureaucracy, the Courts, or something else. It's hard to do this -- it's often difficult to evaluate whether something was blocked because (say) it just didn't have the votes in Congress compared to the president just didn't make it a priority (or the president worked hard on something, could have had the votes, but was inept).

      At any rate: my original comments was about Kennedy in 1960, and I'll stand by that.

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    3. pop quiz time: when MLK was in jail (again) for one of his civil disobedience demonstrations, which 1960 presidential candidate called Coretta Scott King to express sympathy and support: JFK, or RMN?

      Take all the time you need before responding....

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    4. @Anon, Guess what. I recognize this as a gotcha question. If that call to Mrs. King had led to a significant relationship between the candidate and MLK, we would probably know the answer. If it was a one-time gesture, it's trivia.

      So I'll turn the question back to you--what was the significance of the incident and what was the lasting outcome?

      Take all the time you need, faker. And get real.

      (Gotcha question. I'll have to add that to my list of arguing tricks.)

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    5. Folks, if civil rights was so hard to do, LBJ wouldn't have been able to pass in less than 2 years laws that went FAR BEYOND what JFK even proposed. (Not just the CR Act, but also Voting Rights (never proposed by JFK), Fair Housing (never proposed by JFK), etc.

      The roadblock was JFK. He was a racist, in the sense that mattered-- he thought it was perfectly fine if black people were oppressed and he was reelected, whereas LBJ thought the opposite and was willing to pass civil rights laws.

      And Martin Luther King, who was THERE, agreed with me. The 1963 march was a specific protest against the KENNEDY administration. Not Eisenhower, not Johnson. KENNEDY.

      If JFK cared about civil rights, there wouldn't have been a 1963 march. JFK cared about JFK, and like Kanye said about George W. Bush, didn't care about black people. Had we had a better President, we would have gotten civil rights laws earlier.

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    6. I won't ask if you realize that LBJ used the assassination of JFK to push things through, because you obviously don't.

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    7. I won't ask if you realize that LBJ used the assassination of JFK to push things through, because you obviously don't.

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    8. It is quite true that LBJ skillfully used the assassination to push through legislation that the bigot JFK would have never pushed. It is one of history's great ironies (along with the fact the Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet liberated American blacks).

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  7. Jonathan:

    This is an excellent post. And despite the apparent commenter protests from both the left and right, it's also quite well balanced.

    Liberals don't like to think talk about, but the history of the Democratic Party on race, and the actions of the northern Democrats, between the civil war and 1948 is very, very difficult to defend. And I think it suggests that liberals should have some humility when they accuse moderate contemporary conservatives of tolerating the right wing of the GOP; after all, the northern Democrats spent the better part of a century sitting on their hands in the face of unimaginable hate and state-sponsored violence from their own, all because it was politically convenient.

    But, of course, the GOP is not blameless. That one of the six GOP Senate votes against the CRA became the standard bearer in '64 is perhaps more than coincidence, and that the movement coalesced around opposition to post-'68 goals of civil rights leaders is undoubtedly true. The GOP has much to answer for in the wake of the CRA, the VRA, the 24th amendment, and the Fair Housing Act.

    But on those issues themselves --- the fundamental civil rights laws passed in the 60's --- there can be no doubt that the GOP was overwhelmingly supportive, and had been overwhelmingly supportive for decades. True, the most vocal people by the mid-20th century were Democrats, but that doesn't mean the GOP wasn't vocal. Just check the party platforms. A commenter above implied that George H.W. Bush had a less than stellar record on civil rights. Maybe you could argue that based on the issues of the late 1980's, but in reference to the core legislation passed in the 60's, it's just plain wrong. HW was a *Texas* Congressman who supported the FHA in '68. And his father was a civil rights supporter before that. It's just silly to cast off people like the Bush family as somehow against the CRA.

    I also think it's pretty silly for a commenter to ask "who are the GOP civil rights heroes?" There are too many to count. Remember, the GOP passed what was essentially the CRA in *1866*. And the 15th amendment. And the freedmen's bureau. So yes: Wade, Chase, Stevens, Sumner, Wilson, Lane, Butler, Bingham, Kelly, Seward, Hamlin. It's endless.

    But, you say, that's just the 1860s! After that first generation, civil rights was swept aside in 1876! Undoubtedly true, but there were many who kept fighting. And they were almost all Republicans. Men like George Frisbee Hoar. Or --- wait for it --- black Republicans like Booker T. Washington! Even Garfield and Conklin were firm supporters of black rights. In fact, if you check the GOP party platforms from any year in the late 19th and early 20th century, you'll find planks committed to black rights.

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    1. @Anon, I'm the commenter who asked "Who are the GOP civil rights heroes?" I'm a layman when it comes to history, so I depend on my own memory, news reports, oral history, etc. I'm clearly not as learned as you, but that also makes me closer to the average person.

      I think it fair to ask what did the Republicans do in the civil rights battles, and expect to hear about something in the 1960's if the GOP are going to claim that they are the party of civil rights and the Democrats were a bunch of KKK segregationists.

      As for the platforms, words are easy. Now, I don't unfairly expect the GOP to take the lead when they're out of power, as they were for two decades during the New Deal. But it wasn't a rallying point for the GOP in the 50's. They squandered their power in the 50's, on what I'm not sure.

      In the 60's, it was largely a Democratic movement, with a lot of blacks and young white progressives taking the risks. Isn't it true that you have to reach for relatively minor players to find Republicans? As I said before, that tells me something. Of course, Nixon's southern strategy was opportunistic and corrupt, and many in the GOP followed suit.

      The GOP talking point that they are the civil rights party is just a lot of obfuscation when you have to reach back to the 1800's to get the names and acts that make the statement true. And to downplay the role of the reforming Democrats and play up the minor role of the GOP, and gloss over what has happened since... well, to me, that's a such a pack of twisted half-truths that I call it a lie and a fairy tale. No one believes it's true. It's just election year propaganda.

      I'm grateful to those you have studied the whole history and write honestly about it, which include JB, Kylopod, and you, but definitely doesn't include Williamson. That is my defense of my comments.

      One last observation, the GOP of today is more like Nixon, Thurmond, and Trent Lott than it is like Lincoln. When they return to principled stands like Lincoln took, I'll admire them. I wish it was so.

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    2. Fair points. And you are right that the GOP didn't take the lead on civil rights in the 60's. Part of that is shameful --- it was ripping the Democrats apart and many in the GOP were just as happy to have the CRA a continuing issue --- and part of it is misread history: the vast, vast majority of GOP congressman was on the record in favor of the CRA. They weren't loud, but they were for it.

      But it wasn't just talk from the GOP. It was votes. Take three key votes over the 100 year span:

      1866 Civil Rights Act: 95% of GOP Congressmen in favor.

      1890 Federal Elections Bill: 95% of GOP Congressmen in favor.

      1964 CRA: 85% of GOP Congressmen in favor.

      I think you will find, if you look into it, that the Democratic numbers on the these votes are, sadly, much lower.

      Now, this was 50+ years ago. No one will argue that the modern GOP is the champion of civil rights. But they were there to help in the 60's when the chips were down, and they were there trying for 100 years before that. One need not take that away from them in order to attack the modern GOP.

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    3. @Anon, I completely agree with your honest assessments. I'm not trying to take credit away when it's deserved, and I'm a fair person when assigning credit. But when you follow the threads of history, the GOP of today does not deserve credit for what the GOP of the 1800's or 1960's did. Those people are now called RINOs.

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    4. And I think it suggests that liberals should have some humility when they accuse moderate contemporary conservatives of tolerating the right wing of the GOP

      That is a patent non sequitur. First of all, like Williamson you are conflating Democrats with liberals. The idea that Democrats are a liberal (or left-of-center) party while Republicans are a conservative (or right-of-center) party is of relatively recent origin historically. The whole concept of the left-right spectrum didn't really emerge in American politics until the 1930s, and there was about a 40-year period after that in which elements of the left and right existed significantly in both parties. It wasn't like today, where people occasionally use a phrase like "conservative Democrat" to suggest someone who is conservative in relative contrast to other Democrats. Back then, that phrase meant, quite literally, a conservative in the Democratic Party, and the South was routinely described as the Democratic Party's conservative wing. There was nothing odd or unusual about that description; you find it regularly in documents and articles from that period. Thurmond may have changed parties throughout his life, but he was always a proud conservative, and that's how everyone identified him. Similarly, George Wallace's American Independent Party was almost purely a far-right phenomenon; for people who understand this (i.e. those who don't spend their time reading right-wing hacks like Williamson), it should come as no surprise that AIP's nominee in 1972 was a John Bircher.

      To hold modern-day Democrats responsible for views members of their party espoused 50 to 100 years in the past, and which the party not only abandoned long ago but ended up at the forefront in opposing, is as silly as holding the modern-day GOP responsible for its isolationist wing during WWII and bringing it up every time they deign to talk about the existential threat of Iran. But to hold liberals responsible for the last truly un-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, representing a demographic that eventually joined the GOP, is simply moronic.

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  8. JB, I think that you might want to rein in this: "federally imposed civil-rights legislation is almost a unanimous position in mainstream politics today." B/c a majority on the current Supreme Court looks poised to strike down major provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and when they do, I don't expect to hear tears from the GOP.

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  9. @JB, I know you don't award yourself CotD, but this would definitely deserve it. You wrote: "Did the parties swap places? Not really, exactly. The old Southern Democratic position is no longer found anywhere near..." and gone on to explain the evolution. Beautiful, simple, true. Thanks again. Plain truth is too rare, Palin truth is too common.

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  10. It may be useful to explore the idea that both political parties have shunned or courted the black vote based on the political calculus at a particular point in time. Today, it's Hispanics who are seen as "game-changers" and both parties are courting them. It's opportunism and not principle.

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    1. Does this theory really work to explain how non-Southern democrats worked for civil rights? I don't think so. On its face, it appears the Democrats lost more (electorally) than they gained from the civil rights fight, and that signs were there (the split in the Democratic party). Such a simple theory doesn't explain it.

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  11. Agis has a point. As E. E. Schattschneider pointed out about a half-century ago, one way to make gains in electoral politics is to expand the electorate, incorporating new groups that you expect will be supportive in future elections. It's happened time and time again, extending the vote to, say, landless white men, women, blacks, 18-year-olds, and so on. To say it's opportunism and not principle, I think, is a bit harsh, as if those who fought the expansion of suffrage were the principled ones. In my opinion, it one of the ways in which the system "works," including by extending rights to "out-groups" (I guess you could say for opportunistic reasons) even if they may not be particularly popular among the ruling "in-groups." It certainly beats a system based solely on handing out benefits to your friends.

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  12. Thank you for clarifying the point, but it still doesn't add up as an explanation for non-Southern Dem support for civil rights. The Dems had a lot of support from blacks due to the New Deal, so they risked much more than they were likely to gain (win southern blacks, lose southern whites). Please tell me if there's an explanation I'm missing.

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    1. ModeratePoli, Williamson theorizes that the southern whites had been slipping away from the Dems since the New Deal; by the 1960s they were allegedly all but gone as a reliable voting block. I'm not endorsing this view (though it is notable the scarcity of opposition here to it).

      I'm not sure the win side of your equation is correct, either. I think the win side should read: "Keep northern white progressives". I think we could list quite a few northern white progressives, regular commenters on this blog, who would have left the Democratic Party if it had failed on civil rights in the 60s. There must have been a lot of those folks, and thus a lot for the party to lose.

      If Williamson is right about the lost white south post-New Deal, and this post is correct about northern white progressive support hanging in the balance, then the political expedience for the Democrats in supporting the CRA/VRA is actually fairly straightforward, it seems to me.

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    2. I'm not sure about the answer to this, but it might have something to do with localized urban coalitions in the north. Big-city mayors like Humphrey were perhaps used to putting together coalitions of progressives and ethnics, including African-Americans after the Great Migration to the northern cities.

      Also, there's a cultural tradition of racial tolerance that goes back to the Quakers and (somewhat ironically) to German immigrants. This tradition was best represented in the north, i.e. "Greater New England" as Michael Lind calls it, but also in border states like Missouri -- where German-speaking socialists fought to keep that state in the Union -- and even in Texas (see Lind's very interesting short book Made in Texas, which contrasts the Texan political cultures that produced LBJ and GW Bush). Some Texas Germans proposed creating a new state specifically in order to harbor runaway slaves. The Democratic Party was a natural vehicle for a political alliance between folks like this and African-Americans, and it was probably always the case that such an alliance would be unable to coexist with Southern conservatives.

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  13. John Calhoun? the states rights and limited government guy? what the fucking hell

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  14. I notice that, while Williamson has made a couple of appearances here, he hasn't checked in at all at Jonathan Chait's much harsher response, because Chait could have a lot of fun with that. So, I'll start here--

    1) Mr. Williamson--if the Republicans are the true party of civil rights, why'd they let an out-and-out racist like Jesse Helms become a committee chairman in the mid-1990s of the hugely important foreign relations committee?

    2) if the Republicans are the party of Civil Rights, why didn't Ronald Reagan condemn the assassinations of Schwerner/Cheney/Goodman when he went to Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1980?

    2b) Come to think of it, why'd he use the code words "States' Rights" approvingly, which we know is code...

    3) Because when Strom Thurmond ran as a single-issue segregationist in 1948, he named his party the States' Rights party. So why did the Republicans tolerate and support the, again, out-and-out racist Thurmond?

    4) Why didn't the party discipline the racially inflammatory Lee Atwater (c.f. his famous n-word n-word n-word quote)?

    5) Isn't it true the guy who founded your magazine, William F. Buckley, wrote the following: "the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes', and intends to assert its own.

    National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. "

    (Citation here: http://www.openleft.com/diary/4255/)

    Is this really benefitting the party of civil rights?

    Or, for that matter, this: "other, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."
    That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they'd break."
    http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/perlsteins-greatest-hits-6-conservatives-and-martin-luther-king

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  15. I'm pretty sure that a party that sees its future in Rand Paul's denunciation of the Civil Rights Act on states' rights grounds would not have supported government programs to help black people. You mention the 14th and 15th Amendments but completely forget that they were accompanied by more than just empty rhetoric about how former slaves should become job creators pushing for lower taxes.

    To say nothing of the fact that your expressed aim is to shine light on past civil rights support among Republicans. Those Republicans that supported civil rights were not generally in the south. They were in the north because Republicans didn't hold much power in the south. To this day, several states hold open primaries precisely because there was no reason to mount a separate Republican primary. Today's power base for Republicans is in the south. Yes, that shift took a long time, but it's not like those people magically became liberal northeasterners (the former Republican base--VT was the strongest state, believe it or not). You are misreading history in order to do what exactly? To get Republicans to embrace civil rights and stop trying to suppress minority voting? No. To get them to embrace ideological positions they held before the conservative revolution? No. You are satisfied with what the Republican Party looks like. You just want Republicans to take credit for the accomplishments of people who would find no home within the party today--and all this, without any real awareness for what it's missing by abandoning them to Democrats.

    And actually, this is most problematic precisely because you don't do any discussion of how the Republican Party supported civil rights in the 1900s. Truman desegregated the armed forces. It led to Dixiecrat rebellion, but he did it. And yet in your telling, Eisenhower gets almost all the credit, even though the army was segregated when he commanded it and already desegregated when he came to office. Magic, that!

    No mention of how there was a stall on enforcement of Brown or how Eisenhower confessed that Earl Warren's selection was his worst mistake. Even though Warren was a Republican who fulfilled civil rights. No mention of the various politicians who "read where the wind was blowing and switcned sides to court southern racists. To you, "in the main they did not do so by appeal to racial resentment, direct or indirect." That, sir, is the opposite of the truth. You laid all appeals to racism at Pat Buchanan's feet without mentioning Lee Atwater.

    You ought to apologize to all liberal and moderate Republicans who actually had spine and tried to stand up to these people. Many didn't and got rolled over, but George Romney's failed campaign almost directly falsifies your story. It's sad that you feel compelled to make out the actual history of the Southern strategy to be the worst popular and indefensible belief about your party. It's the truth. People won't forget Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi and they sure won't forget the Willie Horton ad. I'm under 30 and even I know that these things happened.

    So, yes, I'd you to apologize to history, but I'm rather confident if you come back here it will be to attempt to defend your deliberate whitewashing of history (like you did on the NR comment board and on this site). Completing the cycle of movement conservative propaganda production and cultivating a new breed of dittoheads who reflexively agreed to your new history on the NR site.

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  16. On the issue of JFK as a racist: In 1961 in Mobile, AL I attended a dinner party given to hear the remarks of Alabama's Governor John Patterson. (He's the guy who "out-segged" Wallace.) Time Magazine had recently run Patterson's pic on its cover and the article inside posed the question (without answering): Why is this racist governor endorsing JFK? Predictably, Patterson was taking heat from Mobile's ward healers for his support of the supposedly "abolitionist" JFK. Patterson explained it this way: "Some of you may have forgotten but Kennedy and I are old Navy buddies, and I have his personal promise that he will introduce no new civil rights legislation and will give only lip service to that which is already on the books." At the time I was thinking of myself as one of the three liberals in Alabama so was stunned by Patterson's remark. BUT . . . quite unheroicly, I said nothing, not then and nowhere in print until now. I'm selectting "Anonymous" as a profile because I do not know what the alternatives mean. My name is Franklin Lonzo Dixon, Jr. [Note: I was invited to the dinner as a joke on the governor; my name -- first and last -- is the same as one of Alabama's then recent governors.]

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