Monday, April 29, 2013

Catch of the Day

It goes to Jamelle Bouie, who has a terrific response to the latest exercise in fantasy party history by the National Review's Kevin Williamson. As he says, it's based on
a heavily revisionist history of American politics, in which the GOP never wavered in its commitment to black rights, and the Democratic Party embraced its role as a haven for segregationists. In this telling of history, black support for Democrats is a function of liberal demagoguery and crude identity politics. If African Americans truly understood their interests, the argument goes, they’d have never left the Republican Party.
Williamson's focus this time is on a specific episode in Barry Goldwater's career. I have no idea whether Williamson is correct or not about it...it doesn't really matter. The point is that Williamson uses his anecdote in defense of, once again, his totally bizarre version of party history.

Bouie does an excellent job of briefly reviewing the real party history that Williamson, somehow or another, manages to ignore. Basically, Williamson still wants us to think that the Democratic Party was (and still is, but in disguise) nothing but George Wallace, and that the GOP was and still is nothing but Jacob Javits. He somehow or another manages to miss the epic battle between the segregationists and liberals within the Democrats -- and also misses the part in which civil rights Republicans were driven from their party.

Now, Williamson is trying to make Goldwater into a hero of civil rights, despite his vote against the Civil Rights Act. The point is that it really doesn't matter whether Goldwater was personally a bigot, or even a champion of civil rights on particular circumstances, or not. What matters is that the people who actually cared about civil rights supported legislation that Goldwater opposed -- and what matters far more is that over time the people who opposed civil rights lost their battle within the Democratic Party, but beginning with Strom Thurmond they found a home in the GOP. That's not to say that the GOP became a segregationist party; that would be taking it too far. But it's not only true that by the 1980s most opponents of the civil rights agenda wound up in the Republican Party, but also that the heirs of the civil rights Republicans really just aren't welcome in the today's GOP.

Seriously, it's as if Williamson just thinks that belief in the existence of Hubert Humphrey, Adam Clayton Powell, and other civil rights Democrats is sort of like believing in UFOs. He also seems to believe that it's necessary to recover the well-known facts about the old segregationist Democrats. As I've said before: it's perfectly reasonable to investigate the complicity of such figures as Adlai Stevenson and Franklin Roosevelt in that story. It just has very little to do with what was happening within the Democratic Party by 1964, and absolutely nothing to do with the Democratic Party by the 1980s, let alone the 2010s.

24 comments:

  1. Sigh. Bouie's first paragraph notes that Rand Paul:

    "drew from a heavily revisionist history of American politics, in which the GOP never wavered in its commitment to black rights"

    from which we can only infer that Senator Paul, who previously didn't apologize enough, in the later revision didn't apologize at all.

    Sigh, again.

    As for the Williamson assertions about Goldwater...is the stuff about Goldwater's role in the Ragsdale case, you know, false? I don't know, I thought Bouie would address Williamson's claims, but...no such luck.

    For me, this exchange reduces to the following:

    Williamson: Goldwater's civil rights track record is more complex than what is addressed by conventional wisdom.

    Bouie: yeah, but, conventional wisdom, you know.

    Bernstein: yeah Bouie!

    Sigh, once more.

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    1. So maybe that comment was a bit over-the-top. What's grinding about this discussion is that the left seems to exclusively frame it in "black hat/white hat" terms, a structure that they appropriately decry when the right uses it. At least where Goldwater was concerned, the story is more nuanced, which is apparently maddening.

      I'll stop here before I get in more trouble, but here's the opening of Williamson's last paragraph:

      "The problem for Republicans is that reclaiming their reputation as the party of civil rights requires a party leadership that wants to do so, because it cherishes that tradition and the values that it represents. It is not obvious that the Republican party has such leaders at the moment"

      All due respect, do you guys know what the words "problem" and "reclaiming" mean?

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  2. CSH, do you not notice the word choices in Williamson's article? Phrases like,

    "He was a very conservative Republican, something that was not at all at odds with his membership in the NAACP, which was, in the 1950s, an organization in which Republicans and conservatives still were very much welcome."

    Let me translate that for you.

    "Very conservative Republicans just aren't welcome in the NAACP anymore. I can't imagine why."

    I can't even stomach the rest of the writing. How did you get to the last paragraph?

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    1. Without commenting on the quality (or lack thereof) of the rest of his writing, your assertion that Williamson "can't imagine why" is belied by the block quote from his last paragraph, cited above. Williamson, actually, has a pretty good idea why...which of course you may disagree with and may even be wrong, but its quite disingenuous to paint Williamson as "befuddled" that blacks and conservatives haven't gotten along in the 21st century.

      Unless, I guess, his writing is so bad that the reader can't be expected to make it to the end, such that the final paragraph doesn't count.

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  3. The libertarian conservatism traditionally associated with the Republican Party in the Western states was a very different animal from the Dixiecrat, racially segregationist, conservatism of the South (formerly associated with the Democrats). But, that Western, "small government" conservatism's "hands off" attitude toward issues of racial equality and justice, and their efforts to bring Southern, segregationist, conservatives into the party in order to gain the power to rout the Eastern liberals and moderates they abhorred, created the opportunity for a takeover of the party by Southern conservatives, many former Dixiecrats, who always had been, were and are much more, even primarily, motivated by racist concerns. (Ironically, while conservatism did achieve ascendency in the party as a result, Western conservatives' catering to racist, Southern conservatism has led to a still on-going weakening of the party in the West.)

    Was Goldwater a racist? I don't think so. (He was a close personal friend of my first husband's ultra liberal Grandma -- a founding member of the NAACP. She thought he was personally a very good man, but naive.) I think many white Republican conservatives, moderates and even liberals, were, for a long time, naive about the consequences of catering to racially motivated Southern conservatives. Many among the rank and file, who would be appalled to think of themselves as racist, nonetheless turned a blind eye to what was happening and continued clinging to the notion of the party as the party of Lincoln, and civil rights, long after the rest of the world, minorities most especially, understood that it was now much more the party of Strom -- and increasingly hostile to civil rights and minority concerns in general. Now that the political ill consequences of doing so are becoming too apparent to ignore they are trying to convince the rest of us that to join them in pretending that what took place in the last 50 years didn't really happen at all.

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    1. I was there in those times, there was a racist streak in the western libertarian Republican conservative party of the 50's and 60's too. It's not like there was a severe transition those folks had to undergo when they joined forces with the Southern former Democrats.

      The best evidence would be one of history's greatest dog-whistles, Reagan opening his 1980 campaign in the city of Philadelphia Mississippi (scene of the notorious murders of 1965), with an explicit appeal to "states rights."

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  4. JB, you really should link to your own terrific takedown of Williamson last year. But you didn't, so here it is.

    @CSH, Williamson continues to mix truth with lies in a way that leads to false inferences, like LBJ was 100% awful when it comes to civil rights. Never mind the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act--according to Williamson, the it "was a masterpiece of politics that allowed the Democrats to convince the electorate that they were the party of civil rights, that they had not until the day before yesterday been the party of lynching." Come on, @CSH, what about the lies in that Williamson statement?

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  5. @CSH -- I'd put it a little differently from ModeratePoli. It seems to me that you're saying Williamson is trying to get us away from the simplistic cw party history by showing us something that complicates it, while JB and JB (!) think Williamson is trying to distract us from the cw party history by showing us something about one person instead.

    On that reading, it's all very much playing to type -- the conservatives think it's the individual, the liberals think it's the institution; the conservatives think making it about the institution is insulting and condescending to the individuals in question, the liberals think focussing on individual at the expense of institution is the kind of naïve that lets itself be walked all over by more sinister actors.

    So the question is: are you right that KW is just talking about Goldwater (or "Goldeater" as my iPod would have it), such that we can reasonably discuss individual beliefs and intentions in a nuanced way; or are the JBs right that he's talking about Goldwater as a way of talking about a larger picture, in which case the nuances of Goldwater's views are utterly mal à propos?

    A parallel: Goldwater was a strong (not a "complicated") supporter of Planned Parenthood and associated causes, for libertarian-conservative reasons. That's an interesting thing to know about Goldwater and about the world as it was one and two generations ago! But is it (1) of purely antiquarian or specialist interest, or is it (2) historically interesting as a road not taken, or is it (3) historically interesting as a how-did-we-get-here? Presumably, in that case, (1) or (2). In this case, I think you're saying KW is going for (1), while JB and JB think he's going for (3).

    ... Does that sound right?

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  6. Wow, this got more interesting than I deserved. In response to MP and the classicist's excellent comments I'd argue, first, that I am not trying to defend Williamson via a purity test. For one obvious example, Williamson seems to infer that the reason for the 50 years of black voting for Democrats was the result of a shifted Republican focus from civil rights to commerce. That's just...awful.

    But 'awful' also fairly describes the liberal obsession with claiming that they never knew Robert Byrd when he was a KKK racist. MP cites Williamson's "masterpiece of politics" quote as an outright lie, and there's no doubt that's extremely inflammatory rhetoric, but when LBJ told Bill Moyers that "we have lost the South for a generation" with the Civil Rights Act, wasn't President Johnson sorta, in a much nicer way, saying more or less the same thing?

    Even though Williamson is full of shit (e.g. commerce being the reason for the black voting switcheroo), imo modern liberals aren't much better in automagically distancing themselves from the "we" in LBJ's comment to Bill Moyers. IMO, racial voting is, by definition, odd bedfellows; and so it wouldn't be surprising that identifiable racial communities go back and forth between ideologies over time, since there's nothing particularly inherent about a racial group caucusing with one ideology or the other.

    To sum up, I think what Williamson is doing (and, for that matter, Rand Paul is doing at Howard) is recognizing that we may be on the brink of another en masse demographic realignment where black political loyalty lies. Who knows why they so believe; perhaps the relationship with the left has not paid off for black communities as they may have liked. But who knows.

    What's clear, though, is that this stuff really, really pisses off the left. Perhaps almost in a thou-doth-protest-too-much way. Have these guys touched a nerve? Is the modern black/liberal relationship not as solid as it seems?

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    1. @CSH, what pisses me off about Williamson and the other cons who spout this line on civil rights is that they have no respect for the complex truth. They will tell a rotten half-story for political gain, and pretend it's the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's such a flagrant lie, yet I've seen it repeated ad nauseum on comment pages.

      If you care about the many people who fought and died for civil rights, this contortion of the truth, which is so close to my heart, well it simply makes me sick. It is not a "touched a nerve" response, it's a visceral "vomit at a scene of horror" response.

      Furthermore, I'm not a typical leftie. I bash them good over tax-and-spend among other issues. But as someone who remembers some of the civil rights marches and remembers the day MLK was assassinated, I can tell you it's offensive to read these horrible twistings of that time. I don't know why you don't feel this way--maybe you're too young, maybe the civil rights era didn't have the emotional impact on your sense of humanity as it did for me. And I don't feel this way because I didn't know about segregationists Dems--I knew and saw. Reforming Dems were willing to fight a civil war in their own party for this principle. That's a lot of guts.

      As for Williamson perhaps "recognizing that we may be on the brink of another en masse demographic realignment where black political loyalty lies," he can dream on. Such a shift will have to be based on something true, not the false shit he's peddling.

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    2. CSH: "...wasn't President Johnson sorta, in a much nicer way, saying more or less the same thing?"
      No, what Johnson said is not more or less the same as saying that the CRA and VRA were a con job on the electorate. Not even sorta.
      "Is the modern black/liberal relationship not as solid as it seems?"
      We might want to wait to ask that question until we've found out whether the liberals are still beating their wives. Their hostility when asked about it is very suspicious.

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    3. I don't think that the Left (black and white alike) don't get "pissed off" by this kind of conservative fantasy. It's not nearly as offensive/psychotic as the "abortion doctors target black babies." It's just really odd. You know what would get black voters to vote Republican? Adopting a policy platform that leaders of black communities could support. I'm a white guy, so the GOP's version of this "re-education" bullsh*t for me is when they tell me how I'm over-taxed and over-regulated. You know how it makes me feel? A little bit insulted, because I'm not an idiot and I can tell that taxes haven't gone up. But mostly it makes me feel like I don't have any reason to vote for them.

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    4. A few more, following another thank-you for the good comments:

      1) I can't imagine why black people would vote Republican today. Seriously. However, I can imagine why blacks might feel like their relationship with the left has overpromised and underdelivered. So if the barriers to moving to the right politically were to fall, it could happen. Perhaps Rand Paul has some inside information about said barriers.

      2) On the civil rights era, you're right MP I'm too young, but fwiw I'm more of a Malcolm X guy than an MLK guy. Not identifiably, of course (I'm white), but dispositionally. If I could wave my magic wand and recreate the diverse US tapestry after my preference, we all would be a little Malcolm X-ish in asserting our rights. But that's another conversation.

      MP points to the civil war within the Democratic Party, which the segregationists lost. Which civil war is treated like a real civil war, the losers forced out of the party forever. Well, sure. We'll take you at your word! If we do so, can the same courtesy be extended to Rand Paul not having to answer for every friggin racist thing a Republican did over the last century?

      3) On the LBJ comment: look, saying "we lost the south as a result of this progressive anti-segregationist effort" pretty clearly implies that "we held the south pretty effectively back when we were segregationists". Williamson is pretty much layering hyperbole over his assumption that the "we" in both sentences refers to (basically) the same people. Is he wrong? Were the bad democrats shipped out and replaced by good ones? How do you all do that? I'd like to try the same thing with the modern crop of Republicans, to be honest.

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    5. "Barriers to moving to the right politically" for black communities = The fact that the GOP doesn't push for many of the important policy preferences that those communities support. It's as simple as that, I think. If Kevin Drum, Greg Sargent and TPM started arguing that I should consider voting Republican, and they gave me personal examples of why such-and-such Republican politician deserved my support, they could probably convince me. BUT that's not going to happen any time soon, because the Republican party doesn't push for policy preferences that Kevin Drum, Greg Sargent and TPM (and me) support. Same thing goes for black communities and Republicans, I think.

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    6. @CSH, I'm with you on #2. I don't call Rand Paul a racist, and beyond that I don't harbor concerns that he's a racist. However, I do feel that he values properties rights more highly than civil rights, and that's a mistake in priorities. I also agree with the endless badgering of Rand Paul is damned frustrating.

      As for #3, I wish I knew the history better. I do remember reading about delegation fights about who would be seated. Maybe that's how they purged.

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  7. Yet another thread I really wish I had time to spend on...

    Two things -- CSH is correct about that last paragraph of Williamson's item, but IMO it's undermined by the rest of what he's written on the topic (at least the 3, IIRC, things I've read).

    And second: what Anon 10:56 and 1:12 said about adopting positions that African Americans like.

    Oh, third: "liberal obsession with claiming that they never knew Robert Byrd when he was a KKK racist"? Really? Not only do I doubt there is any such obsession, I don't think there's any such claim. I think the typical liberal view of Byrd was that he had been a bigot and then reformed. One can say that liberals were too easy to forgive, but it's a little rich for those who embraced Strom Thurmond (and others) to be upset that liberals accepted a reformed Byrd.

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  8. You know what Rand Paul could do, if he really wanted to get black communities to start hearing him? He could denounce in the strongest language possible the Bush Administration's atrocious response to Hurricane Katrina and to the drowning of New Orleans. I wouldn't be surprised if, were he to give that kind of speech, he hit 50 percent + approval rating among some black communities.

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    1. Or, he could declare that he considers the right to vote to be as fundamental and inviolable as he thinks the right to bear arms is, and come out against GOP voter-suppression tactics. That would be a concrete position on an issue that would represent a real change from current GOP orthodoxy and would at the very least attract the notice and respect of African American voters.

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  9. I'm sorry, Jonathan, but now I really want to share.

    CSH, my father was a racist. It was the 70's, and we lived in white fortress America, south of Cook County, IL. My father railed against the stupidity and viciousness of black men, the immorality of black women, and the welfare state in general. His voice dripped with disdain as he voiced what he was sure were the thoughts of pregnant, single, black mothers.

    He never called them black, though.

    On the flip side, he always explained to us that we were genetically superior. We were smarter; it was a gift from God. We had to have a lot of children, to prevent the human race from going down the tubes. I heard a variation of this spiel probably every other day growing up. When I protested to him, rarely, with the impression that he was being unfair to black people, he would patiently explain that I simply didn't know enough about them. I was naive. As I gained more experience, I would come to the same conclusions that he had. All right-thinking people did. That's why they voted Republican.

    He was a really good father. He loved us, told us so every day, supported everything we wanted to do even if his eyes said he had his doubts. And he tried to be a good man. I loved him beyond measure. I don't know why his heart was full of hate.

    Williamson's article drives me back to those endless conversations, that madness, the belief that if he only explained it to me correctly, that I would come to the right conclusion. Because there is only one right way to see the world.

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  10. There's just not a good way to accuse people of false consciousness. And it's even worse when the accuser is part of a movement (the conservative movement) that arose and gained much of its strength by opposing, in the harshest terms, the civil rights movement. Jacob Javits is a hero now? The NR was founded to get rid of the Javits's (and Eisenhowers, Rockefellers and Nixons), and was successful. In the process, it gained the Thurmonds, Helms's and Falwells.

    Another problem is that movement conservatism for the most part does not believe in introspection. (The introspecters, like Friedersdorf, Barro, Frum and Larison, among others, are explicitly outside the movement.) There is no way to tell the story of civil rights without making conservatives look bad, just as there is no way to tell the story without making some Dems - not just Southerners, but also Stevenson, JFK and even FDR - look bad. Thus, we have Robert Byrd, who repented his racist past, while Thurmond never, ever apologized for anything. If you want to read something unflattering about Stevenson's, JFK's or FDR's civil rights records you can get plenty of stuff from liberals. If you want to read anything unflattering about conservatives and civil rights, you get bupkis from conservatives, and instead get transparently false revisionist fables.

    And no one has mentioned Rush Limbaugh yet. The day NR (or any other mainstream conservative publication) calls him out for his obvious racism, is the day the conservative movement will have turned a corner on its relationship with African-Americans. Don't hold your breath.

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  11. Man, this blog is great. What an awesome conversation on a difficult topic. Just a few more thoughts:

    First, thanks to Anonymous @ 9:06 for the candor about your family. Your story is, I think, a great illustration of why these issues are so difficult. In your father's defense, his obnoxious commentary may reflects his desire for (pro-him) apartheid, which is probably a human universal requiring effort to overcome. That your father didn't put forth such effort is a blot on his reputation, but perhaps not a show-stopper.

    Then again, maybe I write the above, because, well, I'm white. I can pretty easily imagine that if I were a black guy I'd be nowhere near so generous with your dad. Who would? From which we might conclude that this particular elephant looks very different depending on which side of it you are standing.

    And Geoff G and conservative retrenchment: yes, certainly. You know what's interesting about the conservatives you decry? They're all old. Rush Limbaugh probably has a couple million listeners to his radio show daily; maybe a dozen or so are below the age of 35. The phenomenon you are describing has a sell-by date, as its practitioners will all soon be shuffling off this mortal coil.

    I may be mistaken, but it seems that the only reliable right-wing media personality to reach out to youth is Bill O'Reilly, who (however hamhandedly) wrote a couple books directed at them. Interesting that Bill O'Reilly is also the only one who has come out for civil rights in the form of support for gay marriage. Implicitly, Bill O'Reilly gets it. The rest will, soon enough, disappear.

    And maybe Rand Paul goes to Howard because he has some insidery reason to believe that will happen much sooner than anyone imagines.

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    1. Um, are you implying that Rand Paul knows when these guys are going to disappear?

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    2. Ha! No, not in an active way, but he may be privy to activity in the party to get them to shuffle off before they shuffle off this mortal coil....

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    3. @CSH, Yes, great discussion. Did I understand you right that you think Rand went to Howard because old fogeys like Limbaugh have limited days in the party? That's a lot of dots to connect. I keep my theories simpler. I think Rand respects all parts of the electorate, he's not afraid to go in front of a hostile audience, and he wants the points for bravery.

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