The Civil Rights Party


Kevin Williamson claims it's the GOP:

[W]orse than the myth and the cliché is the outright lie, the utter fabrication with malice aforethought, and my nominee for the worst of them is the popular but indefensible belief that the two major U.S. political parties somehow "switched places" vis-à-vis protecting the rights of black Americans, a development believed to be roughly concurrent with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the rise of Richard Nixon. That Republicans have let Democrats get away with this mountebankery is a symptom of their political fecklessness, and in letting them get away with it the GOP has allowed itself to be cut off rhetorically from a pantheon of Republican political heroes, from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to Susan B. Anthony, who represent an expression of conservative ideals as true and relevant today as it was in the 19th century. Perhaps even worse, the Democrats have been allowed to rhetorically bury their Bull Connors, their longstanding affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, and their pitiless opposition to practically every major piece of civil-rights legislation for a century. Republicans may not be able to make significant inroads among black voters in the coming elections, but they would do well to demolish this myth nonetheless.

Chait fisks:

Williamson crafts a tale in which the Republican Party is and always has been the greatest friend the civil rights cause ever had. The Republican takeover of the white South had absolutely nothing to do with civil rights, the revisionist case proclaims, except insofar as white Southerners supported Republicans because they were more pro-civil rights.

Bernstein piles on:

[Y]ou would never know from reading this quite long article that there was a northern wing of the Democratic Party at all. Democrats, for Williamson, were Southern Democrats, and they collectively and inexplicably had a "radical turnaround" in 1964. But of course that's not even remotely true. The real story is that the Democratic Party essentially split in two over time, with the Southern branch eventually disappearing. The key event is the 1948 Democratic National Convention, at which Humphrey gave a famous speech in favor of a strong civil rights plank, and the South responded by walking out and running a separate campaign.

Galupo is slightly more sympathetic:

Williamson is on firm ground when he cites other factors to explain Republican dominance in Dixie: among them the rise of a new suburban class in the South; the capture by the McGovernite left of the Democratic Party. He could have mentioned the influence of conservative protestantism as well. … But it’s too clever by half to try to pin the parts of this worldview that offend our sensibilities onto the contemporary Democratic party.

Williamson is dead-on when it comes to the past. The party of Lincoln was indeed a noble cause. But it was consciously killed by Nixon and then Reagan. Let me remind Kevin of the words of Lee Atwater, no liberal or knee-jerk Democrat:

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 forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Why would Atwater lie?

(Photo: A banner incorporating the Confederate flag trails a small plane prior to a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race May 12, 2007 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. The banner was a protest organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. By Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)