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The fact of Republican racism

The Republican Party and their creation, the Tea Party, is the party of today's racists and white supremacists. Yes, they are.  Whenever I point out this fact, Republicans and Tea Partiers respond with two excuses:

  1. The Democratic Party is the party of the Ku Klux Klan.
  2. The Democratic Party opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
 While there is some truth in both these comments, they are wrong for a simple reason:  History did not stop in 1964 or 1965.

I am a Southerner.  Born and reared in the Mississippi Delta.  Great- and Great-great-grandson of major plantation owners and slave owners.  I count 14 Confederate soldiers in my ancestry, including one Confederate general officer.  When I was growing up in Mississippi in the 1950's, when someone spoke of "the war," more than likely he was talking about the Civil War, not the recently-ended World War II.  I know racism when I see it and I know the history of the South because I lived it.

Yes, it is true the Democratic Party WAS the party of the Klan.  That ended in the late 1960's

No, the Democratic Party did not oppose either the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act.

And today, it is the Republican Party that is the part of the Klan and the party that is actively working to deny to people of color their basic rights, especially the right to vote.

First, let's examine the facts about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With Republicans having trouble with minorities, some like to point out that the party has a long history of standing up for civil rights compared to Democrats. Democrats, for example, were less likely to vote for the civil rights bills of the 1950s and 1960s. Democrats were more likely to filibuster. Yet, a closer look at the voting coalitions suggests a more complicated picture that ultimately explains why Republicans are not viewed as the party of civil rights.

Let's use the 1964 Civil Rights Act as our focal point. It was arguably the most important of the many civil rights bills passed in the middle part of the 20th century. It outlawed many types of racial and sexual discrimination, including access to hotels, restaurants, and theaters. In the words of Vice President Biden, it was a big "f-ing deal".

When we look at the party vote in both houses of Congress, it fits the historical pattern. Republicans are more in favor of the bill:

80% of Republicans in the House and Senate voted for the bill. Less than 70% of Democrats did. Indeed, Minority Leader Republican Everett Dirksen led the fight to end the filibuster. Meanwhile, Democrats such as Richard Russell of Georgia and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina tried as hard as they could to sustain a filibuster.

Of course, it was also Democrats who helped usher the bill through the House, Senate, and ultimately a Democratic president who signed it into law. The bill wouldn't have passed without the support of Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, a Democrat. Majority Whip Hubert Humphrey, who basically split the Democratic party in two with his 1948 Democratic National Convention speech calling for equal rights for all, kept tabs on individual members to ensure the bill had the numbers to overcome the filibuster.

Put another way, party affiliation seems to be somewhat predictive, but something seems to be missing. So, what factor did best predicting voting?

You don't need to know too much history to understand that the South from the civil war to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tended to be opposed to minority rights. This factor was separate from party identification or ideology. We can easily control for this variable by breaking up the voting by those states that were part of the confederacy and those that were not.

You can see that geography was far more predictive of voting coalitions on the Civil Rights than party affiliation. What linked Dirksen (R) and Mansfield (D) was the fact that they weren't from the South. In fact, 90% of members of Congress from states (or territories) that were part of the Union voted in favor of the act, while less than 10% of members of Congress from the old Confederate states voted for it. This 80 point difference between regions is far greater than the 15 point difference between parties.

But what happens when we control for both party affiliation and region? As Sean Trende noted earlier this year, "sometimes relationships become apparent only after you control for other factors".

In this case, it becomes clear that Democrats in the north and the south were more likely to vote for the bill than Republicans in the north and south respectively. This difference in both houses is statistically significant with over 95% confidence. It just so happened southerners made up a larger percentage of the Democratic than Republican caucus, which created the initial impression than Republicans were more in favor of the act.

Nearly 100% of Union state Democrats supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act compared to 85% of Republicans. None of the southern Republicans voted for the bill, while a small percentage of southern Democrats did.

The same pattern holds true when looking at ideology instead of party affiliation. The folks over at found that the more liberal a congressman or senator was the more likely he would vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, once one controlled for a factor closely linked to geography.

That's why Strom Thurmond left the Democratic party soon after the Civil Rights Act passed. He recognized that of the two parties, it was the Republican party that was more hospitable to his message. The Republican candidate for president in 1964, Barry Goldwater, was one of the few non-Confederate state senators to vote against the bill. He carried his home state of Arizona and swept the deep southern states – a first for a Republican ever.

Now, it wasn't that the Civil Rights Act was what turned the South against the Democrats or minorities against Republicans. Those patterns, as Trende showed, had been developing for a while. It was, however, a manifestation of these growing coalitions. The South gradually became home to the conservative party, while the north became home to the liberal party.

Today, the transformation is nearly complete. President Obama carried only 18% of former Confederate states, while taking 62% of non-Confederate states in 2012. Only 27% of southern senators are Democrats, while 62% of Union state senators are Democrats. And 29% of southern members in the House are Democrats compared to 54% in states or territories that were part of the Union.

Thus, it seems to me that minorities have a pretty good idea of what they are doing when joining the Democratic party. They recognize that the Democratic party of today looks and sounds a lot more like the Democratic party of the North that with near unity passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 than the southern Democrats of the era who blocked it, and today would, like Strom Thurmond, likely be Republicans.

And there you have it.  The claim that Democrats opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a lie.  The truth is that SOUTHERNERS opposed the Act . . . both Southern Democrats and Southern Republicans.  Democrats and Republicans from the rest of the nation supported the Act.

Lyndon Johnson was a Southerner who knew the South.  On the eve of his signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Johnson told on aide -- Bill Moyers:  "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come."     LBJ was right.  

Second, let's look at the Republican record on civil rights and the treatment of minorities since 1964-65.

In 1982, Republican operative Lee Atwater gave an interview to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University, in which he explained how the so-called “Southern Strategy” of focusing on race had become much more subtle by the 1980s.

Atwater, who apologized to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of his tactics before his early death in 1991, put it like this:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Some conservatives questioned whether the controversial words credited to Atwater were ever truly spoken by the man who helped George H.W. Bush win the presidency using tactics like the so-called “Willie Horton” ad. After the racially charged 2012 campaign — in which the Romney campaign used racial dogwhistles including insinuating that the president was trying to “take the work out of welfare” — James Carter IV, the son of the former president and the researcher who unearthed the “47 Percent” tape, convinced Lamis’ widow to release the audio above.

Atwater was in his own way echoing what President Lyndon B. Johnson once told his press secretary, Bill Moyers.

"I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” President Johnson. “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”

It’s clear that these old narratives are deeply embedded in Republican and Tea Party politics. And in the post-birther era, race is no longer, as Atwater said in 1982, “on the back burner.”

While the right wants to focus on black culture and “black-on-black” crime, they refuse to acknowledge that “white-on-white” crime is statistically nearly as common and happens much more often, as white people, who are the vast majority of the population, commit the vast majority of violent crimes in this country.

Negative aspersions on so-called “food stamps,” like Ronald Reagan’s old “welfare queens,” often carry a racial connotation. But government assistance in this country is actually used by ethnic groups pretty much in proportion to their share of the population:

African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of the poor, receive 14 percent of government benefits, close to their 12 percent population share.

White non-Hispanics, who make up 42 percent of the poor, receive 69 percent of government benefits – again, much closer to their 64 percent population share.

But these statistics fade into the background as Trayvon Martin instantly becomes a thug when he puts up his hood in the rain.

Of course, Republicans and Tea Partiers like to dismiss Lee Atwater as just a party functionary with no real power.  Not true.  Atwater was to Nixon what Karl Rove was to George Bush.  His words are the policies of the Republican Party.  But let's turn from Atwater and look at a real hero of the Republican Party and the Tea Party:  Saint Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was reared in Illinois in a modest, middle-class family.  After graduating from a small, church-affiliated college, Reagan went to California to seek his fortune.

In mid-July 1980, Reagan was nominated by the Republican Party as their Presidential candidate.  On August 3, 1980 -- only two weeks into his campaign -- Reagan made an appearance and a speech that set the tone of his campaign and his administration, as well as underlining the importance of Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy."    Reagan appeared at the Neshoba County Fair where he gave a speech.  Reagan's choice of location for the speech (the fairgrounds were about 7 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town that was the scene of the 1964 murders of civil rights workers) was evidence of racial bias.

During his speech, Reagan said:  "I believe in states' rights . . . . " -- and the crowd went wild.
Now, those of you who are not Southerners need to understand something.  When a Southerner says or hears the term "states' rights," he is not talking about the 10th Amendment and its provision about rights of the states and rights of the federal government.  No.  When a Southerner hears or uses the term "states' rights," he means "the right of the states to treat our niggers any way we want to without any interference from Washington."  And that, folks, is a direct quote from a Mississippi politician to me in 1996.

Today -- 2016 -- the Republican Party is the party of the KKK; the party of racism; the party that is working hard to suppress the right of some people to vote.

Republicans, Tea Partiers and other rightwingers can argue all they want to but the fact is simple:  Today's Republican Party is the Jim Crow Democratic Party of the past.

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