Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Off-Base, As Usual

Rush Limbaugh, of course, got it all wrong when he remarked

Somebody needs to get in his face and say, "Look, it was your party that stonewalled the civil rights acts of '57 and '64, it was your party that stonewalled getting anything done about slavery. It was your party and all those Democrats in the South that wanted to preserve it."

Limbaugh was responding to the analogy (video below) between health care and slavery made that morning by Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, who argued in part

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right," Reid said Monday. "When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, things aren't bad enough.'

Obviously, it is a little disingenuous for someone whose views toward blacks is outside of the mainstream of American society to complain about a party insufficently sympathetic to that group of citizens. But it falls short of hypocrisy and is off-point, anyway.

As Limbaugh no doubt is aware, thought, the Democratic Party to which he refers controlled the "solid South"- the Democratic Party split between northern liberals and Southern Dixiecrats.

However, tension began to mount

in 1948 when, in an unprecedented move, President Harry Truman placed himself squarely behind civil rights legislation. Truman advocated federal protection against lynching, anti-poll tax legislation, the establishment of the permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), and the prohibition of segregation in interstate transportation. For the first time since Reconstruction, the status of African Americans had become a national issue. Many white southerners believed these measures signaled the beginning of an insidious campaign to destroy cherished regional "customs and institutions."

Many southern Democratics ceremoniously walked out at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia that year, partially as a response to a remarkable speech (video way below- static in original; transcript here) given by the young mayor of Minneapolis. The States Rights Democratic Party was formed under the slogan "Segregation Forever" and tried to deny re-election to President Truman.

In 1957, the Dixiecrats' presidential nominee of 1948, Strom Thurmond, would as a United States Senator from South Carolina, lead the fight against the civil rights act cited by Limbaugh. And in 1964, the year President Johnson would sign the 1964Civil Rights Act, Thurmond would switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. Johnson famously lamented "we have lost the South for a generation." Many southern Democrats, finding the hostility toward blacks more acceptable in the GOP, eventually joined Thurmond in the Republican Party.

This all of course is ancient history. But if you take Rush seriously, you would think that the obvious attraction of black Americans to the Democratic Party (or revulsion toward the GOP) is aberrant, or at least a phenomenon of the arrival of Barack Obama. Blacks, however, have been voting overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, especially on the national level, since at least 1964.

No one would suggest that this has been prompted by the great cultural issues of "God, gays, and guns." Guns are an issue in few elections; African-Americans are arguably more conservative than whites toward gay rights (and abortion rights); and African-Americans are legendary in the white community for their commitment to Christianity, notwithstanding the growth of secularism throughout society. Instead, blacks for some time now have found the Democratic Party more hospitable than the Republican Party to their group interests- whether as an oppressed minority or a group disproportionately denied, or lacking, the economic benefits of American society. Belief that the GOP, as Rush is implying, is more favorable than the Democratic Party toward their worldview would require a very low estimation of the political savvy of black voters.

Rush's response to Harry Reid's remarks show, as is his wont, a reckless disregard for the truth. But what of the responses of other prominent Republicans? They, at least, have a point, up to a point. Stay tuned.

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