“Democrats have a long and proud history of defending Civil Rights and expanding opportunity for all Americans. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, Democrats have fought to end discrimination in all forms—including discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or disability.”
So says the DNC website – which sounds great…except it’s frustratingly untrue. The democrats have successfully rewritten history numerous times regarding race both in the positive light on the democratic side and the negative gloom of the republican side. The fact is that the very Civil Rights Act of 1964 was filibustered for 83 days by prominent Democrats such as Albert Gore Sr., and Robert Byrd. Conveniently that isn’t mentioned on the DNC website. Nor is it mentioned that it was democrats who championed the “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws and Black Codes that dominated the south for decades.
Of course the argument against this is that the parties have changed. Democrats are no longer the “dixiecrats”, remnants of the old Confederacy, and Republicans are no longer the party in the league of Lincoln. There was a great split in the Democratic Party during the 60’s over race, no doubt, and I wouldn’t argue that any of the prominent democrats of today are racists. But the implication of the DNC’s website, along with a history of rhetoric on the subject, is that they are the party who has fought racism while the GOP has been the party of racists. That rhetoric has been vamped up for the election season.
“They’re going to put ya’ll back in chains!” said Joe Biden to a predominantly black crowd.
Chris Matthews accused GOP members of being racist for mentioning Chicago because a lot of blacks live in Chicago. He also accused the RNC chairman of using the race card by pointing out that the work requirement for welfare is being changed by the Obama administration. The Nation sports a piece called “The GOP’s Blatant Racism” – which is little more than cutting out lines about increasing the manufacturing sector so that blacks can get jobs rather than government handouts and calling that a racist stance. The Daily Kos takes Boehner’s quote, “This election is about economics… These groups have been hit the hardest. They may not show up and vote for our candidate but I’d suggest to you they won’t show up and vote for the president either” and turns it into this headline “GOP Racism: Boehner Says Out Loud He Hopes Blacks and Latinos ‘Won’t Vote at All This Election”. (emphasis mine) That’s some creative use of the quotation mark!
Liberal website The Slate has a piece titled “Dangers of an all-white GOP”, HuffPo has “Why are GOP Contenders Reviving Racist Rhetoric?”, AlterNet posted, “The 10 Most Racist Moments of the GOP Primary (So Far)”. Republican racism is an assumed truth that must be rooted in a long dark history. That’s the stance from The Root, a liberal website that is quick to set its sights on anything that might be twisted into racism if it comes from the right. They were the ones who started the rumor that Michelle Bachmann thought that black people were better off during slavery – an obvious misrepresentation of her quote, “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”
Of course when Joe Biden made his “back in chains” remark, The Root was quick to write it off saying, “News Flash: It is not always the worst thing in the world to mention race or America’s racial history, in metaphor or otherwise. Context matters. Intentions matter.” An exoneration that is obviously only available for democrats. What exactly was the righteous context of Biden’s “I like to talk to you about your credit card” in an Indian accent or his “can’t go into a 7-eleven without seeing an Indian-American” gaffes? Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe! Intentions indeed.
Well then let’s look at intentions and context.
The KKK, easily the most notable racist organization in American history was “a military force serving the interests of the Democratic Party, a planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy. Its purposes were political in the broadest sense, for it sought to affect power relations, both public and private, throughout Southern society. It aimed to destroy the Republican Party’s infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, re-establish control of the black labor force and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern Life.” – A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner.
Historically, since the time of Lincoln, black people voted for Republicans all the way up to 1932 when FDR got 71% of the black vote. Strange since FDR and Woodrow Wilson were faithful Jim Crow supporters. Wilson moved blacks into their own buildings and, if they had to work in the same federal buildings, partitioned them from the white workers. FDR refused to integrate the military (the Republican platform in 1940) and FDR wouldn’t support a federal anti-lynch law.
Roosevelt invited the 1936 Olympians to meet him at the White House – all but the black athletes such as Jesse Owens (who won 4 gold medals). Owens would later say, “Hitler didn’t snub me, it was [FDR] who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.” (Triumph by Jeremy Schapp). This is also the guy who round up more than 100,000 Japanese-American family members and threw them into concentration camps and who has been criticized for years for not acting decisively to prevent or stop the Holocaust, ever mentioning it in one of his 998 press conferences, or accepting any Jewish refugees into the nation. The demi-god of the Democratic Party sent away ships full of European Jewish refugees but modern republicans are racist because they want people to enter the country legally.
Perhaps the most criminal acts against blacks by FDR came from The New Deal. Rich white states received more of the New Deal Dollars than black states. Blacks were hit hardest because most of their jobs were cut by the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act, part of the New Deal that was later declared unconstitutional) which set minimum wage codes. The south industrialists had been undercutting the north for years due to the affordability of the black workers. Of course, the northern unions supported the minimum wage increase because it took away that undercut from the South. When employers were forced to meet the new minimum wage standards they had to let go of unskilled positions – which usually meant black workers (due to both racism and economics). 30,000 to 50,000 black workers lost their jobs in less than 6 months.
Why did blacks support Roosevelt then? Because even though the New Deal ultimately hurt black Americans, it also established the only relief to be found. In the aftermath of The Great Depression there was little work to be had and hiring a black man wasn’t high on the agenda with so many white men looking for work. The unfortunate reality is that too many black families became unofficial dependents of the state. The jobs they once had didn’t exist anymore and if any did, it was taken by a white man. Who then do you turn to? Of course, there are other factors to be sure. FDR was an astute politician and knew how to use his power and appeal wisely. Still, the democratic wheel of dependency was starting to turn.
The democrats only received a small majority of the vote for years after Roosevelt. Nixon received 32% of the black vote as late as 1960 in his loss to JFK. Lyndon B. Johnson would be the first democratic president to get more than 90% of the vote (94%), a trend that continues above 80% to this day. Johnson’s appeal was that he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Malcom X was right, however, in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech– President Johnson and the Democrats didn’t seem to care about Civil Rights until that election season. After all, it was democrats who strongly opposed it. Johnson also voted against legislation to stop lynching and poll taxes (Harry McPHerson, A Political Education). As the Senate Majority Leader in 1956 he was one of only a few senators to not sign the Southern Manifesto; a high-profile act that began to establish his credential with national blacks. The strong contrast came when Barry Goldwater (the republican candidate who ran against Johnson) came out against the Civil Rights Act, not because he opposed Civil Rights but because he opposed sections he deemed unconstitutional in the Act itself. Watch his response here.
Goldwater had previously supported Civil Rights Acts that were shot down by democrats. More to the point, perhaps, was that this bill aimed to force morality by the state’s power; something Goldwater was completely against. “Our aim, as I understand it, is neither to establish a segregated society nor to establish an integrated society…It is to preserve a free society.” Unfortunately, his stance against the 1964 Civil Rights Act attracted racists who detested and feared black people, not the state power he abhorred.
Initially the Johnson campaign thought that they would lose the election because of the popular notion of the “Southern Strategy” or devolved “white backlash”; that is, that Goldwater would become a hero for racists and steal votes from the traditional democratic powerhouses. Already the majority of his party members in Congress were running on anti-Civil Rights Act platforms, and yet Johnson was holding firm to him (to his credit). In fact, he looked like he might lose his primary bid to “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” George Wallace – democratic governor of Alabama.
Goldwater’s stance on race was that laws do not settle racism, but that we must “find it in our hearts to love one another”. The Goldwater posture against meeting racial quotas in schools, and the work place were popular initially, but the Johnson campaign twisted it into racist rhetoric – which was easily done since so many racists from the “white backlash” were becoming unofficial spokesmen for the Goldwater campaign. The same GOP members that had just passed the 1964 CRA were now being thrown under the bus as bigots by the Johnson campaign. In the end, Johnson would win all but the Deep South in a sweeping victory.
Politically those roots would stick with the GOP in spite of Wallace sweeping the south as an independent in 1968 against Nixon and Humphrey. It was the GOP now that was considered the anti-CRA party and the redundant rhetoric would make it true in spite of history and the facts.
The reason I write all of this is because there is so much said that is untrue about what is unknown regarding the history of race relations in America. The right constantly has to defend itself against the long standing false accusations of a xenophobic past while the democrats get to claim that they’re no longer the prejudiced party of yesteryear. Why does it stand for one party and not the other? Why can one party write off accusations because they’ve had a black president while the other is considered patronizing for having more black appointees in cabinet positions?
Racism should be dead and gone because it has no modern context in America. It was alive and well in the 1800’s due to slavery, it was alive and well in the 30’s due to Jim Crow laws, it was alive and well in the 60’s due to the civil rights era. Goldwater’s fear was that political and legislative enforcement of racial reform would take the issue out of the hearts of the people and put into the hands of politicians to be used for their purposes. Today, on a large scale, we have to look back in order to conjure up macro forms of racism. Nobody could run on a racist ticket today and survive – a known fact that politicians take advantage of. Therefore my politician enemy is a racist.
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