Forty-eight years ago today, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was working its way through the U.S. Senate. It faced fierce opposition from the segregationist wing of one of the major political parties. Which one? Well, if you believe the propaganda that comes from media outlets like MSNBC, you would probably guess wrong.
Going back even to the pre-Civil War days, Republicans had generally been the champion of civil rights for people of color. Lincoln famously freed the slaves, and from then up until (and even after) 1964, southern Democrats fought integration as hard as they could. However, the narrative from the Left is that things changed at that point, and the party of racism shifted from being the Democrats to the Republicans, a false narrative that has stuck ever since with the help of their media allies.
The basis for this supposed turn is based on two half-truths:
- Barry Goldwater (the 1964 Republican Presidential nominee) voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This is true, but his opposition to it had nothing to do with race. Goldwater did vote for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, which included protection from lynchings among other things. Goldwater’s opponent, Lyndon Johnson, actually voted against both of these. (Johnson was a Senator prior to being VP and then President, as he was in 1964 after Kennedy’s assassination.) Johnson was well-known for several racist utterings, including his opinion that, “These Negroes are getting pretty uppity these days.” (It’s hard to believe that people consider Goldwater racist in comparison to Johnson, frankly, but such is the state of our history education.) Goldwater’s opposition to the 1964 act was based not on his belief that blacks didn’t deserve the rights that they were being granted, but that it was an unconstitutional overreach of the federal government’s power. (Ever since, the federal government has been taking more and more power for itself regularly, regardless of which party has been in charge, so Goldwater was actually somewhat prescient in that regard.) However, the simplistic view of it is that Goldwater voted against the act, so he must have been a racist, and the Republicans nominated him in 1964, so they must all have been racists, too. Never mind that a greater percentage of Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act than Democrats*, in large part due to the opposition of the “Dixiecrats”. Of course, the narrative sticks due in part to liberal media bias, and in part because the Republicans don’t fight it as hard as they ought to.
- After the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed, some Dixiecrats switched parties, and the racist South shifted toward the Republicans. It is true that Strom Thurmond and a couple of other known segregationists switched parties. But most of them didn’t. George Wallace ran for President in 1968 as a Democrat, then ran as an independent after not getting the nomination. He ran with a segregationist platform. Other prominent segregationist Democrats such as Robert Byrd and Bull Connor also maintained their party affiliation until their dying days. However, these Democrats largely faded out in large part because the South accepted desegregation. This is largely why the South has shifted Republican ever since then: once the issue of segregation was settled, Southerners found that they had far more in common with Republicans than Democrats, which has led to Republican domination of the South over the last 30 years.
Is this to say that there aren’t racists in both parties? Of course not. Racism hasn’t been destroyed, but for the most part, it has been defeated. Republicans have played a significant part in the history of that defeat, and Democrats have done the most to fight it, though many more enlightened northern Democrats of the day, including President John F. Kennedy**, played a significant role in the defeat of racism as well.
So what is the record on race since then? Today we have five visible minority Governors, four of which are Republicans. (Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval) The lone black Supreme Court justice was appointed by a Republican President. There are more elected Hispanics representing the Republicans than the Democrats, and many of the rising Tea Party Republicans are minorities. If the Republicans are trying to cater to racists, they’re doing a lousy job of it. Meanwhile, the Left and their media allies fall back on racial “dog-whistles” every time someone dares to disagree with them and their golden child Obama on anything***. It’s hard to buy that the Republicans are the party of racism given the facts, but facts are less important than perception to many, and the perception remains. This isn’t to say that the Democrats are still the racist party that they used to be, but they are still obsessed with race as a political tool. The more things change…
* – The Left often disputes this as being more of a North vs. South issue than a Republican vs. Democrat issue, and this is partially true. If broken down by northern and southern politicians, a greater percentage of northern Democrats voted for the 1964 act than northern Republicans, and similarly for the south. The fact that the overall numbers favored the Republicans is an example of a statistical phenomenon called “Simpson’s Paradox”. However, it can also be explained by a statistical notion called “small sample size”, as there were practically no elected Republicans in the South at that time, which blunts the relevance of a North vs. South breakdown.
** – People see the last name “Kennedy” and assume he was a liberal, but that was far from the case. His political and economic views actually mirror Romney’s much more closely than Obama’s. The liberal wing of the Democrat party really didn’t take control of the party until the height of the Vietnam War, and they’ve been moving farther to the left ever since.
*** — The word “racism” today translates to “I have no intellectual counter-argument to your position, so I’m going to call you a name instead.” It is tantamount to conceding the argument, so I encourage the Left to keep using it.