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This is a blog post that was a long time coming. Throughout my “career” in following politics, there has only been one pet peeve that really grated on me. Okay, scratch that; there are several pet peeves that I have but that’s for another blog post.
But the one thing that has always gotten under my skin is the fact that the Republican Party today is somehow associated with the Republican Party from the 1860s and 1960s. Another talking point that gets repeated is the claim that the “Democrats supported slavery and anti-civil rights legislation”.
In a sense, it is true; the Democrats of that day were in fact some of the loudest supporters for slavery and some of the most vociferous segregationists. It is also true that Civil Rights could not be done in the 1960s without the Republican Party of that era. That is truly a fact and one that can’t be ignored.
Still how that relates to today is akin to saying that the New York Yankees are the best team in baseball because they were the dominant team of the 1920s. Or that the Pittsburgh Steelers should always be the favorite to win the Super Bowl because of their successes in the 1970s. It is a fact that they were dominant teams but it is hardly a harbinger of the truth of today.
So why is now the time for a blog post regarding American political history, a topic that many often ignore? Well, we can thank Rand Paul for that.
Paul, the junior Kentucky Senator and son of Ron, has long been talked as a frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2016. Paul already has ardent support amongst libertarians and is looking to broaden his support to several demographics that his father was unable to.
As a result, Paul decided he would do a speech at Howard University, the prestigious historically black college in Washington, D.C. It makes sense that Paul chose this venue given his spotty record regarding the previously mentioned Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Here are some choice quotes that Paul made today to the Howard student body:
How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American congressmen become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?
He (Paul) drew groans and guffaws when he asked those in the crowded auditorium if they knew that black Republicans founded the NAACP in the early 1900s.
One of the many questions he took after the speech suggested one contemporary reason: Why, one Howard senior asked, have Republicans been aggressively pursuing more restrictive voting laws?
Paul, whose speech was briefly interrupted by hecklers who were forcibly removed, turned the question to literacy tests that Southern Democrats imposed before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Now we must say, kudos to Rand Paul for going to Howard University. I’m a proponent in the belief that all politicians of any party should go to as many constituencies as possible. I believe everyone should be able to see their Representatives and how every single election should have at least two challengers. It’s all parts of what makes a democracy great.
But as noted, Rand Paul spoke to his constituents with a bit of revisionist history even though he did speak the truth.
Let’s discuss Civil Rights in depth. More importantly, let’s quickly discuss the importance of “Southern Democrats” who voted for literacy tests and held out against the Civil Rights Act?
For starters, what was the coalition of mostly Southern Democrats called who filibustered Civil Rights? The coalition led by Richard Russell and Strom Thurmond (who at the time was a Democrat)? If you guessed the “conservative coalition”, you would be correct. The people who were against Civil Rights, and that does include Albert Gore Sr. and Robert Byrd, were mostly conservative Democrats who represented Democratic hotbeds such as Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
But as we all know, that is no longer the case anymore as most of the South is continually trending red and thus, rightward. That’s not to say that Republicans are racist or that conservatism is a prejudiced movement but to say that the Democrats of today are against racial equality due to what the Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) of the 60s did; then that’s a case study of why we need to fund our history departments more.
Remember, following the election of Richard Nixon who used his Southern Strategy to try and negate the insurgent candidacy of George Wallace (a Democrat who ran under a third party in 1968); the Republicans have dominated the South.
When one considers the “South” to be South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas; think of their representation. Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana are the only ones with an elected Democratic Senator (one each) and only Florida has voted Democrat in the past three presidential elections. Only Arkansas has a Democratic Governor and keep in mind two of the last three Democratic Presidents came from the South (Carter and Clinton).
Rand Paul using the Southern Democrats as a rebuttal is evident of the clear fantasy that the Republican Party harbors when discussing their past. Of course, it is not good politics to say “yeah we were the party of Thurmond!” but to state they are the Party of Political Equality is a stretch.
Let us not forget though that Republicans were instrumental to the bill’s passage including the work of Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits and Thomas Kuchel. They did a lot of the dirty work to advance civil rights in America. Though it would be unfair to not look at the ramifications of what happened to them. Javits, from New York, would face a Republican primary challenge from the right because of his illness (he was recently diagnosed with ALS) but also because of his failure to bend rightward. Kuchel? In 1968, his first election after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was beaten by a conservative challenger.
Also Strom Thurmond? He would become a Republican. Harry Byrd Jr., a notable conservative Democrat would become an Independent though albeit one who continued to caucus with the party.
But when discussing Lincoln, its a bit harder to argue considering how long ago it was. Yes, Lincoln was a Republican and the whole “Party of Lincoln” title isn’t necessarily as wrong as it is dated.
Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States of America, went to war with states that used their “state rights” to secede from the union. Lincoln used the federal government to preserve the Union and yes, he used the federal government to supersede the state’s. I’m not saying Lincoln was a liberal or a progressive at all, but when have you recently heard a Republican advocate the belief that the federal government had the power to tell a state what to do?
Isn’t that what the whole debate over the Affordable Care Act? Isn’t that why DOMA should be opposed by all Republicans even though only two Senators have come out against it?
Then again, that’s history that gets you a primary challenge.