Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For Once And For All

When Democrats get their hands too chapped from self-congratulatory backslapping (or mutual onanism), they occupy their minds by weaving tall tales about Republicans. The prohibitive favorite among these fables is the one which ends with white Southerners defecting from the Democratic Party to the GOP upon the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

So deeply has this fiction (and that of a Nixonian "Southern Strategy") saturated popular culture that a former RNC Chairman felt the need to apologize to African Americans for Republicans supposedly "trying to benefit politically from racial polarization." No such apology was ever necessary, and as the results of the 2006 mid-term elections illustrated, the sop towards blacks turned out to be both ill-advised and fruitless.

Ken Mehlman would have done better to remind Americans of all races of the true history of Republicans and Democrats vis-a-vis race. Among other things, the record would show that Democrats were the party of slavery, the KKK and Jim Crow, while the GOP was the party of abolition and Reconstruction.

Modern progressives parry these historical disgraces with their contention that it was liberals, irrespective of party affiliation, who freed the slaves, began the movement for women's suffrage, established labor unions, changed the course of mighty rivers, bent steel with their bare hands... The only problem with this plot line is that bespeaks a disregard for history that is singular to the Left.

Present-day notions of liberalism and conservatism would not have applied at any point prior to the 1930s, as most everyone at that time thought of themselves as a "liberal" in the classic sense (although they were likely far more "conservative" in tastes and demeanors than many of today's conservatives.) Arguments to the contrary become untenable when one considers that many of feminism's forebears considered blacks to be inferior to whites, as did pro-choice icon Margaret Sanger.

Even when Democrats begrudgingly acknowledge their party's racist past, the do so with the caveat that southerners moved almost as a unit from being Dixie-crats to being conservatives. While it is true that the South voted overwhelmingly for Barry Goldwater in 1964, relatively few white politicians moved from being Democrats to independents (as did Gov. George Wallace in 1968) or to the GOP (as was the case with Sens. Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond.)

With the salient exception of the 1968 election - southerners voted in lockstep with the rest of the nation during the first elections following passage of the Civil Rights Act, supporting Richard Nixon in his 1972 landslide and backing Jimmy Carter in 1976 (only to break to the GOP after the debacle that was the Carter presidency.) To be sure, racist whites did not leave either party en masse, but rather most of them changed their minds on the matter of race; just as Americans of both parties were fairly equally racist between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement - distinguished only by the overtness of their prejudice - both parties are now generally less racist than in the past, as is the nation itself.

At present, the main difference between Republicans and Democrats is their degree of support for the apparatuses of institutionalized racism (which is of course the only type of bias that is of consequence today.) Whether one considers abysmal public schools that are merely waiting rooms for the penitentiary, disparaging media stereotypes of African Americans, out-of-wedlock births in the black community or unchecked violence in inner-city neighborhoods, it is the Left that either abets or fails to address each of these situations. But even when one considers racism in microcosm, it is so-called progressives - Geraldine Ferraro being but the latest example - who most frequently lay bare the ugliest sorts of bigotry.

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