aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
From my family to yours…
TJ (my nephew), me (holding Jake) & Doug (holding Baci)
Racist history debate misses the point
Bruce Bartlett is an interesting Republican. A Reagan supply-side policy adviser and George H. W. Bush deputy assistant treasury secretary, I have quoted him for his clear opposition to hair-brained Flat Tax proposals and for calling out the current Bush White House for the Jeff Gannon press plant.
Bartlett’s got a new book out, Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past:
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.
Bartlett’s bugged that Dems (in the guise of Paul Krugman) see Ronald Reagan declaring his secret sympathy for Southern racism in a 1980 speech he gave near Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. There Reagan said he supported “states’ rights.”
In the Wall Street Journal yesterday Bartlett gathered a long list of quotes from prominent Democrats:
[I]f a single mention of states’ rights 27 years ago is sufficient to damn the Republican Party for racism ever afterwards, what about the 200-year record of prominent Democrats who didn’t bother with code words? They were openly and explicitly for slavery before the Civil War, supported lynching and “Jim Crow” laws after the war, and regularly defended segregation and white supremacy throughout most of the 20th century.
Matt Yglesias will have none of it. He sees a 30-40 year Democratic intra-party battle between urban northern African-Americans and white liberals and the white supremacist agenda of the South in which the good Dems win:
The political views of the Southern Democrats were unconscionably evil, and the corrupt bargain national Democratic Party figures struck with them was a terrible thing. But in a series of intense political battles, the Democratic Party eventually broke decisively with that heritage, prompting breakaway segregationist campaigns in 1948 and 1968 and eventually leading the bulk of the white supremacist constituency to drift to the Republican Party.
The significance of the history of race in America—and of the centrality of the Democrats’ corrupt bargain with white supremacy to American political history—really shouldn’t be minimized. But what it shows is that the Democratic Party’s decision to embrace the civil rights movement and the Republican Party’s decision to embrace opposition to civil rights has been integral to the Republican Party’s political successes toward the end of the 20th century.
My problem with our Democratic position is that we treat Civil Rights like a done deal. Where Bartlett’s chosen Krugman’s book, The Conscience of a Liberal, to get riled up about, I choose Tom Schaller’s, Whistling Past Dixie, in which he very clearly suggests we tactically use Southern racism as “a burdensome stone to hang around the Republicans’ neck” (on page 18). You just have to wonder, if Dems are using racism as a winning strategy, where is their motivation to do something about it?
I see a whole lot of people pointing to the South when they talk about racism, but the race problem in America is simply not a Southern problem. It is a national problem that I have argued is the central moral failing and the deepest open wound we have in this country. And Obama’s dilemma suggests to me that Democrats, too, are way too comfortable with the status quo.
I’m not satisfied with the place race relations and racial issues hold in the Democratic party. It seems to me that Democrats are vulnerable to the argument that they take the black vote for granted and I don’t think the fact that they do more than Republicans is enough. I’d be happy to see either Democrats or Republicans respond to Bartlett’s challenge with something more than name calling in the place of action.
PLEASE SEE ALSO: Blacks get screwed. It’s time we build a screwdriver.