Saturday, December 31, 2011

The history of the Democratic Party

Do you think I only do my ranting here? I wish! No, this is a great outlet for getting things off my chest, and I really should learn to control myself elsewhere. But... all too often, I can't.

For example, I read my local newspaper, the Lincoln Journal Star, every morning, and I can seldom resist the temptation to comment there, too.

True, I try to make it quick. I generally just write what comes to mind, without doing much research. It's usually quicker than writing a blog post, but it still takes time. And that's in addition to the time I spend here and in my Yahoo discussion groups - and everywhere else, too!

So I thought I'd post an example here, thereby killing two birds with one stone. :)

This morning, in a comment to a letter to the editor, "Extrano," a frequent right-wing commenter, posted this:
Before you fight, perhaps it would be wise to see where the parties actually stand.

Historically speaking, the Democrats were founded by slave-owner Andrew Jackson and have been the party of banking, slavery, bigotry, and big spending for more than 180 years. They only started to cover up their overt racism in the last fifty years.

Hey, I'm sorry, but I just couldn't let that stand. (Yeah, it's a curse, isn't it?) This was my reply:
OK, but let's look at those last fifty years, Extrano. Note that African Americans used to vote Republican. Funny, huh? I wonder what other changes there have been?

In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act outlawing government-sponsored segregation. At the time, the South was solidly Democratic, as it had been since the Civil War. The right-wing "Dixiecrats" were furious that we were finally granting civil rights to African Americans.

Northern Democrats knew that this would lose them the South, but they passed the bill anyway. (Note that many Republicans, eager to see the Democratic Party destroy itself, helped them do it.) For Democrats, it was, after all, the right thing to do. Republicans were gleeful. This was their chance! So they developed their "Southern strategy" of deliberately wooing white racists. (Google it.)

And it was wildly successful. They took all those Dixiecrats, all those white racists, all those religious fanatics, all those hate-filled conspiracy enthusiasts from the Democrats. Now, the South is solidly Republican.

True, wooing white racists lost Republicans the African American vote, but they're less than 13% of the population. They lost the Northeast, too, which had formerly been the Republican base. Moderate Republicans turned off by deliberate appeals to hate-filled fanatics started leaving the party.

But they didn't lose Wall Street. By sucking up to the rich, they still had all that money. And gaining the South more than made up for losing... rational people, educated people, intelligent people. Sure, scientists used to be 40% Republican, and now they're less than 6% Republican. But America has far more bigots than scientists, so it's still a win, right?

The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was indeed admirable. But that was a long time ago. And the Democrats used to be slave-owners and racists, true. But the Democrats deliberately stood for civil rights against the racists in their own party, knowing that they'd lose the South and yet doing the right thing anyway. That's pretty admirable, I'd say.

The Republicans, on the other hand, did what helped them the most politically, regardless of what it did to our country. They thought to use those people - the racists, the fundamentalists, the homophobes, the conspiracy enthusiasts, the anti-immigrant fanatics, the fearful, the ignorant, the hate-filled, the gullible.

Well, there are a lot of them. And angry people actually get off the couch and vote. So this was hugely successful for them. Republicans have dominated nationally most of the time since, even despite such disasters as Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. They've taken all of America down their right-wing path.

But this was so successful that those angry, crazy, bigoted people - formerly just the loony fringe - took over the entire Republican Party. Now, these people are the Republican base. They thought to use these people, but now these people control the entire Republican Party!

So yeah, go ahead and remind us about history, Extrano. But don't stop at fifty years in the past. Today's Republican Party isn't the party of Lincoln, and today's Democratic Party isn't the party of southern white slave-owners. People who stick with the Republicans because that's their family tradition might want to remember that.

Yes, I'm long-winded there, too, aren't I? (That's another curse.) And even so, there's much I didn't say.

For one thing, I didn't make it clear - as I would have here - that I didn't mean to tar all Southerners with the same brush. And obviously, the South today isn't the the South of 1964, either. But this was a comment in a local Nebraska newspaper, and there is a limit to what I can say.

And the general point is still valid. Looking at history is fine, but not if you just pick and choose. And there's a reason why the Republican base is the way it is, why people who would have been on the fringe in an earlier Republican Party control the party these days (well, they and the super-wealthy).

For all its faults - and they are legion - I still remember the Democratic Party standing up for what was right, rather than what would help them the most politically, clear back in 1964. And I see the Republican Party even today doing the reverse of that, encouraging bigotry, hatred, paranoia, fear-mongering, conspiracy-thinking, superstition, and un-American and anti-American thinking for political advantage.

It's easy to scare timid, fearful people. It's easy to make bigots suspicious and resentful of others. It's easy to push foolish hobgoblins among the gullible. It's easy to encourage hatred when people are hurting. It's easy to re-direct anger onto scapegoats. It's easy to lie to the ignorant and the ill-informed.

Politically, all those things are proven winners. But are they the right things to do? What do they do to us as a people? Is this really the kind of America we want? That's what Republican leaders never seem to ask themselves.

Democrats are far from perfect, but they look pretty good in comparison. For pretty much the same reasons I wouldn't have been a Democrat in the 1800s, I won't be a Republican today.


Jeff said...

Don't forget our buddy "Jody P:"

"Derp derp derp liberal, derp, derp, derp, socialist, derp, derp, derp, leftist, derp, derp, derp Obummer, derp, derp, derp..."

WCG said...

Heh, heh. Yeah, Jeff, there are some really crazy people who comment there.

Of course, I'm sure they say that about us, too. :)