Friday, April 12, 2013

The party of Lincoln,... and Strom Thurmond

I've had Republicans try to tell me this, too. It's actually the Democrats who are racist, you see. Just look back at the 19th and early 20th Centuries!

Yes, absolutely. The Democrats used to be racist. Republicans used to be progressive. But if you're going to vote for the GOP today because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, you've really missed the past 150 years - or, at least, the past 60 or so - of our history.

America's Deep South was solidly Democratic for more than a hundred years. It was, after all, the election of a Republican - Abraham Lincoln - which caused them to attempt secession. And for more than a century after that, the South was a Democratic stronghold.

African Americans tended to vote Republican,... to the very limited extent that they were allowed to vote at all.

But things started to change in the mid-20th Century as northern Democrats started supporting civil rights. The Dixiecrats - those white, racist Democrats from the Deep South - were furious. In fact, in reaction to Harry S. Truman's civil rights proposals (a Southern Democrat himself, he went so far as to integrate America's armed forces), the Dixiecrats ran their own candidate, Strom Thurmond, for president in 1948 on a Dixiecrat Party platform of strict racial segregation.

That almost cost Truman the election, because Thurmond took several Southern states - states which otherwise would have been guaranteed to go for the Democratic candidate. Remember that famous photo of Truman holding the Chicago Daily Tribune? That election wouldn't have been so close without the defection of many Southern Democrats who voted for Thurmond, instead.

The Dixiecrat Party didn't last long, but those racist white Southerners became increasingly unhappy with the Democratic Party. And the last straw came when Lyndon B. Johnson - another Southern Democrat - pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed state-sponsored racial segregation.

And that was when the Republican Party saw its chance. While Democrats did what was right, regardless of the political impact, Republicans did what was wrong, but would help them politically. In their notorious 'Southern strategy,' Republican leaders set out to deliberately woo white racists.

And it worked like a charm! They took the entire South from the Democrats. Heck, even Strom Thurmond, that former Dixiecrat presidential candidate, became a Republican. The South became as solidly Republican as it had been solidly Democratic.

Not surprisingly, African Americans left the GOP. So did many Northeastern Republicans who were uncomfortable with pandering to racists. (Note the the Northeast had previously been the Republican stronghold. Now, it's the South. That's meant a huge change in the party.)

Now, those Republican leaders were probably no more racist than most people back then. They were just politically ambitious. This was about using those Southern racists in order gain power (after the Great Depression, Democrats had been dominant for quite a long time) and to pass laws favoring the wealthy (which was the main GOP concern even back then).

Even into the George W. Bush administration (even today, to a large extent), Republicans worked for what they really wanted - tax cuts for the rich, corporate welfare, and lots and lots of spending going to the military-industrial complex - while throwing an occasional bone to the racists and the religious fundamentalists they thought to use.

As I say, that worked. They were able to turn America hard to the right when it came to the economic issues they really cared about, and they've dominated national politics for decades now, with just a brief setback due to the Richard M. Nixon debacle.

But as they wooed white racists, Christian fundamentalists, and unrepentant Confederates, they started losing moderates. Those Dixiecrats joined forces with the John Birchers and other crazies already in the GOP, driving out moderate conservatives, driving out rational conservatives. So, as time went on, those right-wing fanatics became the Republican base.

And now, they control the Republican Party. These days, they're not satisfied with an occasional bone thrown their way. These days, they're not satisfied with rhetoric. Now, the lunatics have taken control of the asylum, and they mean to stay in control and to actually run things.

Now, Southern whites aren't as racist as they used to be, but they're still pretty racist. And, by deliberately wooing white racists, the Republican Party has filled itself with racists from all parts of our country. Again, America isn't as racist as it used to be, but that doesn't mean we're 'post-racial,' not at all.

So, given all this, is it a surprise that African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic these days? Of course not! And it's no surprise that Hispanics also favor the Democratic Party, if not in such overwhelming numbers.

But when Barack Obama receives 93% of the African American vote, it's easy to forget why. And it's easy to forget that Al Gore received 90% of the African American vote in 2000, or that 88% of African Americans supported John Kerry in 2004. There are good reasons for that.

Indeed, blacks have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party since... about the time Republicans started deliberately wooing white racists. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Republican politicians are trying to persuade racial minorities that things are different now. Why? Well, they want more votes. It's as simple as that. They don't plan to change their policies, of course. They just want to use racial minorities as they used white racists and religious nuts, to pass more tax cuts for the rich.

Frankly, despite Rand Paul's speech, they've pretty much given up on African Americans, I think. But they are trying to appeal to Hispanics, where they think they still have a chance. However, it's all rhetoric. They don't plan to change anything else. Indeed, given that the GOP base has been filled with white racists, they probably can't do too much to appeal to Hispanics without risking a backlash from the people who actually control the party now.

Anyway, that's your history lesson. And yes, I know you've heard this from me a million times. But it bears repeating, it really does. Republicans are trying very hard to rewrite history, so it's very, very important to remember this stuff. Therefore, I guess I'll keep repeating it, over and over again.

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