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The Buried Past of the Democratic Party

Bruce Bartlett writes:

Townhall.com - Bartlett's Notations: I originally set up this blog to respond to the many critics of my syndicated column, which appeared at Townhall.  I have since decided to give up the column--not because of my critics, but because I have decided to concentrate my writing efforts on book projects.

For those who may be interested, my next book is titled, Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past.  It's scheduled for January, 2008 by Palgrave Macmillan and is available for preorder at Amazon.com. 

It basically argues that, historically speaking, the Democratic Party has been the party of racism in this country throughout most of its existence.  I am hopeful that the book will open the door to Republicans in the black community.  For their own good, I think African American voters need to be courted by both parties.  As it is, they are essentially ignored by both--the Democrats take them for granted, while Republicans have given up hope and don't even try to get black votes any more.

Furthermore, I believe that the growing problem of immigration may be a wedge issue for Republicans because blacks share their concerns about it.  I think it is revealing that Congressman Tom Tancredo--a one-issue, anti-immigration candidate--was the only Republican who showed up to speak to the NAACP convention on July 12.  Moreover, he appears to have gotten a good bit of applause for his comments.  I discuss the similarity between black views of immigrants and those of Republicans in my book...

It is certainly true that up until some moment not all that long ago--1933? 1948? 1960?--the Democratic Party was the party of racism: winning elections in the South by reminding voters that Lincoln had freed the slaves, and winning elections in the urban North by telling poor immigrants to the cities from other countries that the Republican Party was on the side of the poor Negro migrants to the cities from the South. But the Democratic Party changed, and people like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms and George Wallace and Trent Lott became first Dixiecrats and then American Party members and now Republicans.

The process of the transformation of the Democratic Party interacted with the congressional seniority system in odd ways. For twenty years, up until 1965 or so, northern Democrats in favor of civil rights voted southern Democrats opposed to civil rights into committee chairmanships, and so the Democratic congressional leadership was a drag on civil rights. Then for thirty years after 1965 southern Democrast opposed to civil rights voted northern Democrats in favor of civil rights into committee chairmanships, and so the Democratic congressional leadership was far, far to the left of the country as a whole--a fact reinforced by the destruction of Republican congressional power first by the Goldwater movement and second by Richard M. Nixon.

Today things are complicated. I think Bruce could do us all a good service by telling us a good chunk of this story that we Democrats prefer to forget. We prefer to remember things like this:

Sidney Blumenthal: Lady Bird Johnson and civil rights: The night before [Lyndon Johnson's] visit to New Orleans, Moyers sent him a campaign memo noting that "several people in New Orleans, including our advance men, feel the President should not refer to 'civil rights.'" On Oct. 9, 1964, Johnson delivered the most dramatic speech of the campaign.

Now, the people that would use us and destroy us first divide us.... But if they divide us, they can make some hay. And all these years they have kept their foot on our necks by appealing to our animosities, and dividing us. Whatever your views are, we have a Constitution and we have a Bill of Rights, and we have the law of the land, and two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate voted for it and three-fourths of the Republicans. I signed it, and I am going to enforce it...

Then Johnson recounted the story of an old Southern senator who confided to Rep. Sam Rayburn, Johnson's mentor from Texas, "'Sammy, I wish I felt a little better. I would like to go back to old' -- and I won't call the name of the state; it wasn't Louisiana and it wasn't Texas -- 'I would like to go back down there and make them one more Democratic speech. I just feel like I have one in me. The poor old state, they haven't heard a Democratic speech in 30 years. All they ever hear at election time is "Nigger, Nigger, Nigger!"'"...

And we would prefer to forget things like this from Texas Democratic Governor Coke Stevenson (a man whom Robert Caro, for some reason, prefers to Lyndon Johnson):

http://content.epnet.com/pdf10/pdf/1990/NRP/04Jun90/12030932.pdf?T=P&P=AN&K=12030932&EbscoContent=dGJyMNXb4kSep7Y4yOvqOLCmrk%2bep7BSsKa4Sa6WxWXSAAAA&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGptU%2bwrrNPrOPfgeyk44Dt6fIA&S=R&D=fjh: [United States] Attorney General Francis Biddle wrote a distressed letter to [Texas] governor Stevenson urging him to bring the murderers to trail. Stevenson refused... he made a sly argument in favor of lunch mobs. "Certain members of the Negro race," he wrote, "from time to time furnish the setting for mob violence by the outrageous crimes which they commit."... Stevenson shrewdly played to the galleries...

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