The RNC's Historically Incorrect History of the Political Parties





Mr. Pompeian is HNN's Assistant Editor for Breaking News.

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After the DNC Chairman Howard Dean characterized the Republican Party as a “white Christian party” a few weeks ago, Peter Kirsanow commented in the National Review. Kirsanow objected to Dean’s characterization and argued that Democrats were guilty of more “historical hostility toward minorities” than the GOP. To emphasize his point, Kirsanow credited Democrats with a variety of racially discriminatory policies such as the Japanese Internment, the Chinese Exclusion acts, and the institutionalization of Jim Crow policies in the South. At the same time, Kirsanow reminded his readers that the GOP was not the party that “opposed” the Emancipation Proclamation or the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments.

On June 17, Michael DuHaime, the Republican National Committee's Political Director, championed Peter Kirsanow's opinion piece in an email sent nationwide to subscribers of Republican email newsletters (included below). In his email, DuHaime disseminated excerpted portions of the National Review piece and encouraged RNC email recipients to read and forward it. This is disturbing. While Kirsanow may have all his historical facts right, his piece encourages a misleading, decontextualized understanding of American political history, and the GOP's embrace of such a selective reading of America history is disheartening.

It is true that in 1863, the Republican president of the Union, Abraham Lincoln, did in fact issue the Emancipation Proclamation. And, yes, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, issued Executive Order 9066 which provided for the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. Yes, too, Bull Connor and George Wallace were Democrats. Yet these isolated historical facts provide little insight into the development of the parties and fail to inform Americans about the racial policies espoused and practiced by contemporary politicians.

Kirsanow writes that Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act at a higher percentage than Democrats and he is right. Indeed, 128 of 172 Republican representatives (or 80 percent) voted in favor of the Act while only 152 of 248 Democratic representatives (62 percent) voted in favor. In the Senate, Republicans overwhelmingly voted in support of the civil rights legislation on the final vote: just six Republicans voted against the act compared with twenty-one Democrats. It is also true, as Kirsanow asserts, that this had been a historical trend. In votes on twenty-six civil rights acts from 1933 to 1964, Democrats voted against civil rights legislation 80 percent of the time, while Republicans voted in favor of the the same legislation 96 percent of the time.

Yet this voting record may reflect less on the contemporary Democratic Party than it does on the contemporary Republican Party. For decades, the Democrats had been split between northern pro-civil rights supporters and southern Dixiecrats who vehemently opposed civil rights. Many of the same congressman who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, left the Democratic Party and joined the ranks of the Republicans in the late 60s. One of the most prominent of these Democratic defectors was Strom Thurmond, who served as the Democratic Governor of South Carolina in 1947, ran as the presidential candidate of the pro-segregation States' Rights Democratic Party in 1948, and served as a Democratic senator from 1954 until 1964, when he joined Republicans in protest of the Democrats’ support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It is most accurate to say that both the GOP and the Democratic Party have undergone a series of fundamental shifts in both their policies and make-up. Political scientists describe these alterations in the composition of political parties and in the dominant economic and social policy espoused by them as political realignments. In the last century and a half, the Republican and Democratic parties have not been well-defined and unified parties. Since the Civil War, the two American political parties have been composed of coalitions of individuals who have come together despite sometimes differing views

Typically party realignments occur in America when these coalitions break down. In the last century, America has experienced at least two major party realignments. The first occurred when Franklin Delano Roosevelt successfully brought together Southern populists and Northern progressives in the New Deal coalition of the 1930s. The second took place when Southern anti-integration conservatives moved into the Republican Party after 1968.1 In fact, the realignment of the two parties has been so fundamental over the last one hundred years that statistical research performed by Gary Miller and Norman Schofield indicates that “the more strongly Democratic a state was in 1896, the more strongly Republican it was in 2000.”2

Kirsanow, ignores the divisions and realignments that have radically altered the Democratic and Republican parties from the 40s through the 60s while he simultaneously glosses over the Republican Party's civil rights record since the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. For instance, during Richard Nixon’s first term in office, the chairmen of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resigned their positions in protest because Nixon worked to thwart the implementation of important civil rights policies.3

The internal shifts of the two parties are important in helping to explain why the Republican Party has struggled to find favor with African American voters in the last four decades. The Democratic candidate Harry Truman, won 70 percent of the black vote in 1948, while Lyndon B. Johnson received 94 percent of the African American vote in 1964.4 On the other hand Republican candidate Gerald Ford received 16 percent of the African American vote in 1976, the highest percentage for a Republican since 1964.5 By comparison, President Bush received only 9 percent of the African American vote in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004.

The true history of America's political parties leads inescapably to the disturbing conclusion that neither can claim to be free from a “historical hostility” toward racial minorities. Until well after the Civil War both the Republican and Democratic parties supported unfavorable policies toward racial minorities rooted in the belief in white superiority.6 No matter how hard Kirsanow tries to obscure this truth, his grand historical narrative detailing the feats of a glorious race conscious Republican Party and the misdeeds of the hateful and racist Democratic Party simply crumbles. His approach is anachronistic, misguided and unhelpful.

Kirsanow’s ahistorical construction of the past is just another attempt to sidestep a serious evaluation of the legacy. It is the equivalent of a political get-out-of-jail-free-card by which contemporary Republicans claim the racial infallibility of the party of Lincoln to avoid coming to terms with the toxic legacy of slavery and racism that continues to pollute contemporary American culture and politics.

It is not only Republican politicians who currently serve in office however, like Trent Lott, who are implicated in perpetuating these ugly legacies. Lott, a Republican, maintained ties to the Conservative Citizens’ Council—the modern off-shoot of the racist White Citizens’ Council that opposed desegregation during the 50s and 60s—while, Robert Byrd, a Democrat, opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and once organized a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (which he long ago repudiated) . These individuals are not historical apparitions, but real living indicators of how powerful racism’s legacy is in American culture. They are representatives of modern American politics and modern American voters.

TEXT OF RNC NEWSLETTER:

Dear,

This National Review article isn't to be missed! Take action today by calling talk radio and writing letters to the editor describing Dean's hypocrisy.


In Case You Missed It- Dean on Defense: The "White Christian" party.
National Review
By Peter Kirsanow
June 10, 2005

During a discussion with minority leaders and journalists on Monday, Howard Dean declared that Republicans are "a pretty monolithic party. They all believe the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a white Christian party." He further stated that "the Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people" and Democrats are "more welcoming to different folks, because that's the type of people we are." Dean continued to defend his remarks as recently as Thursday. ...

In terms of sheer historical hostility toward minorities, the Republican party fares a bit better than the competition. For example, it wasn't the GOP that opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. Nor was it the GOP that opposed the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection, or the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing voting rights. (In fact, Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act in greater percentages than did Democrats.)...

Moreover, it wasn't the Republican party that opposed Teddy Roosevelt's anti-lynching legislation or that filibustered or otherwise opposed more than a dozen other anti-lynching provisions during the 20th century.

Republicans didn't institutionalize Jim Crow, implement school segregation, or establish poll taxes and literacy tests to keep non-whites from voting. Bull Connor, George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and Orval Faubus weren't Republicans.

It wasn't a Republican who ordered the internment of Japanese-American citizens (or Italians or Germans) during World War II. Nor were Republicans behind the Chinese exclusion acts or licensing requirements that discriminated against non-white businesses and tradesmen.

While Dean maintains that Democrats are more welcoming to non-whites, several major media organizations have noted that the aggressive GOP outreach to minorities is far more vigorous than that of the Democrats. USA Today recently noted that whereas Dean has been spending the bulk of his time preaching to the converted, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has maintained an exhausting schedule appearing before predominantly black, Hispanic, and Asian audiences. ...

The GOP may have been missing in action in minority communities in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties but Howard Dean must not have paid much attention to what's been going on recently. Republicans still have lots of work to do, but now they're playing offense while Dean's on defense.


Please view the entire article and forward this to your friends and family.


Sincerely,

Michael DuHaime
RNC Political Director

Notes

1 Miller, Gary, and Norman Schofield. “Activists and Partisan Realignment in the United States.” American Political Science Review 97 (2): 254-258.

2 Ibid., 246.

3 Sitkoff, Harvard. The Struggle For Black Equality, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 213.

4 Greenberg, David. “The Party of Lincoln.” Slate. 10 Aug 2000.

5 Faucheux, Ron. “2004: A Voter Portrait.” The Angle. 23 Nov 2004.

6 Mendelberg, Tali. The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 33.


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More Comments:


Michael Hattem - 3/2/2008

Mr. Thomas said, "I do not think it accurate to call Republican opposition to affirmative action as opposition to "legislation to support the rights of racial minorities."

I completely agree with him on this point. I think that opposition to affirmative action is regularly implied to be "not in support" of the rights of minorities. I must qualify that by saying that I do favor certain affirmative action policies though not all.

Mr. Thomas also says, "The "great society" laws and court rulings on "equal opportunity" and "busing" are a form of taking money and jobs from those who work, and giving it to those who do not wish to, as a publicly financed bribe to vote Democratic "en bloc. To play, the black girl must get pregnant at 13 by someone who will not be around later, while black employees are invited to sue small struggling businesses for unsubstantiated claims of prejudice. Drug marketing is far easier among the unemployed, as is dropping out of school and criminal activity."

I was disappointed to read this heavily stereotype-ridden rhetoric. First of all, I don't see how you can give a job to someone who doesn't want it. If they don't want it, it will eventually go to someone who wants it. He then proceeds with a grievance list that sounds as though it came from a David Duke speech. White girls get pregnant at 13, white men leave their families, and white people file frivolous lawsuits.

I would maybe have more respect for him if he just came out and said what he thought rather than using veiled racist-influenced references. It seems to me that he's the one guilty of "unsubstantiated claims of prejudice."


Michael Hattem - 3/2/2008

Mr. Thomas said, "I do not think it accurate to call Republican opposition to affirmative action as opposition to "legislation to support the rights of racial minorities."

I completely agree with him on this point. I think that opposition to affirmative action is regularly implied to be "not in support" of the rights of minorities. I must qualify that by saying that I do favor certain affirmative action policies though not all.

Mr. Thomas also says, "The "great society" laws and court rulings on "equal opportunity" and "busing" are a form of taking money and jobs from those who work, and giving it to those who do not wish to, as a publicly financed bribe to vote Democratic "en bloc. To play, the black girl must get pregnant at 13 by someone who will not be around later, while black employees are invited to sue small struggling businesses for unsubstantiated claims of prejudice. Drug marketing is far easier among the unemployed, as is dropping out of school and criminal activity."

I was disappointed to read this heavily stereotype-ridden rhetoric. First of all, I don't see how you can give a job to someone who doesn't want it. If they don't want it, it will eventually go to someone who wants it. He then proceeds with a grievance list that sounds as though it came from a David Duke speech. White girls get pregnant at 13, white men leave their families, and white people file frivolous lawsuits.

I would maybe have more respect for him if he just came out and said what he thought rather than using veiled racist-influenced references. It seems to me that he's the one guilty of "unsubstantiated claims of prejudice."


Edward Pompeian - 7/19/2005

Yes. That's definitely one of my main contentions with his op-ed piece and my critique of the RNC chairman's use of it. It seems to me that the danger of these types of claims to historical legacies is that they are often used as a smoke screen to direct attention away from a informed conversation about current political positions or current political controversies. But in doing so, they also serve to disorient the public, leaving them with a less accurate understanding of the past than they may have even possessed before (for example Kirsanow's contruction would make it appear that the Republican party was not influenced by anti-desegregation politicians in the 20th century).

I also hesitate to accept sweeping claims to ideological continuity within a party over time. Even economic policy has changed within the American political parties over time, which of course should be obvious due to the changing nature of the American society and economy. As you pointed out, there may be certain general principles (such as legal equality) which have been maintained in a party's platform. But, we must scrutinize and contextualize any continuity of principles that we or others perceive. This is especially true for historians.


John H. Lederer - 7/19/2005

I attribute it to aliens having taken control of my computer. My apologies.


John H. Lederer - 7/19/2005

My apologies if I misunderstood.

Perhaps I was misled by the title, "The RNC's Historically Incorrect History of the Political Parties", into believing that your article was an assertion that the history described by the Republican National Conference was incorrect.

Am I correct in inferring that your key point is that the history related, though correct, really doesn't tell us much about the present positions of the parties?


John H. Lederer - 7/19/2005

My apologies if I misunderstood.

Perhaps I was misled by the title, "The RNC's Historically Incorrect History of the Political Parties", into believing that your article was an assertion that the history described by the Republican National Conference was incorrect.

Am I correct in inferring that your key point is that the history related, though correct, really doesn't tell us much about the present positions of the parties?


John H. Lederer - 7/19/2005

My apologies if I misunderstood.

Perhaps I was misled by the title, "The RNC's Historically Incorrect History of the Political Parties", into believing that your article was an assertion that the history described by the Republican National Conference was incorrect.

Am I correct in inferring that your key point is that the history related, though correct, really doesn't tell us much about the present positions of the parties?


Edward Pompeian - 7/18/2005

Gentlemen:

Thank you for your informed and thoughtful responses. I appreciate Mr. Lederer's questions and respect each of your critiques and comments. I hope I can clarify my article and describe why I have contributed it.

I wrote this article because Ken Mehlman's RNC E-mail Alert linking Kirsanow's piece disturbed me for two reasons: I had an immediate problem with Kirsanow's use of history and I was dismayed that the RNC would be encouraging such a divisive history from the top down through the Party's figurehead and spokesman. I saw the construction and dissemination of this misleading history as an uneccessarily divisive action at an especially divisive time.

In my article, I do not say that Republicans were not pro-Civil rights, nor do I ignore the Democratic party's racial legacy. If I had ignored Democratic opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or their support of the Exclusion Acts, or their opposition to Reconstruction policies in the South I would have committed the same fallacy that Kirsanow committs -- namely to create a generalization that is divorced from critical historical intricacies.

I intended to demonstrate just how arbitrary his history was. Afterall, Kirsanow is quite picky about what historical facts he wants to include when he talks about the Republican and Democratic parties. To quote my favorite passage from the piece: "The GOP may have been missing in action in minority communities in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties...Republicans still have lots of work to do, but now they’re playing offense while Dean’s on defense." It is impossible, however, to understand or to talk about the contemporary Republican party (or the Democratic party for that matter) without detaling the evolution of that party in the last forty years.

This was my problem with Kirsanow's editorial -- it encourages a decontextualized understanding of American political history. Contrary to what Kirsanow's article implies, the modern Republican party is not the same Republican party of 1863, nor is the modern Democratic party the same as that of 1887.

This is obvious. But in a time of contentious politics, like we are experiencing today, the obvious is often obscured. And histories like Kirsanow's are created and used to divide the public. Clearly, in this case, this type of construction is meant to entrench the right, radicalize moderates, and infuriate the left. And I am certain, as you both have pointed out, that the very same tactic of historical argumentation is used by persons on the left with similar intended results. I hope I have not unwittingly committed the same error in my critique and I hope that readers see my critique as a constructive one.

That the RNC Chairman is promoting such a divisive use of the past only heightens my suspicions about the intentions of this article; neither party can afford to appear to be inegalitarian in a culture that is overwhelmingly characterized by egalitarian social norms. Here, we have a monolithic history being used as a political smear tactic.

This question of "who has a better racial record?" and "what party is marred by racism?" is an extremely quarrelsome issue between supporters of both the Republican and Democratic parties -- as this and other postings will demonstrate. As such, this fight over a "better racial record" is an intriguing American political phenomenom.

I was asking myself "SO WHAT?" as I read Kirsanow's piece. I invite you to continue to ask this question.

I continue to believe that this competition for the "best racial record" and the mutated history it encourages is all about "winning" voters (notice Kirsanow's use of competitive metaphors that make this issue sound like a game).

Wishy-washy histories like this one (which are indeed grounded in good, hard facts) have been used throughout history to divide peoples. This is what I wish to guard against.

Thank you all again for your feedback.







Frederick Thomas - 7/18/2005

Mr. Good:

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I do not think it accurate to call Republican opposition to affirmative action as opposition to "legislation to support the rights of racial minorities."

I believe that the said legislation has nothing to do with any constututionally protected rights, as spelled out in the constitution, but rather to do with favortism which is contrary to the spirit and the letter of the bill of rights and the post Civil War admendments.

The "great society" laws and court rulings on "equal opportunity" and "busing" are a form of taking money and jobs from those who work, and giving it to those who do not wish to, as a publicly financed bribe to vote Democratic "en bloc".

To play, the black girl must get pregnant at 13 by someone who will not be around later, while black employees are invited to sue small struggling businesses for unsubstantiated claims of prejudice. Drug marketing is far easier among the unemployed, as is dropping out of school and criminal activity. Meanwhile, bloated buffoons who call themselves "black leaders" and "liberal Senators" wax fat calling for more of the same. Mr. Good, this is not "equality".

None of this was around in the 20s, before AFDC, when Blacks ran the businesses in Harlem, black families stuck together, the draw of religion was strong, black kids stayed in school, and drugs were almost all prescription.

The effect of these laws is to largely take the possibility of economic and personal success away from racial minorities which participate in them. Blacks have been moved by these laws from the old Democratic plantation as slaves, to the new one, as vote slaves, with "equal opportunity Americans" footing the bill.

The abuse of blacks is equally bad today as it was ante-bellum, and the democratic party is still doing the abusing, (as the Rupublicans did during reconstruction), but under a more carefully constructed PR approach.

This is the brave new world of modern politics, and we need to do something to stop it. The fact is that the democrats, at least the liberal ones, are the ones presently doing most of the abusing, the author's tortured thesis notwithstanding.

Thanks again for your comments.


Jim Good - 7/18/2005

No, you misunderstood the article. He doesn't claim "it is a lie to say Republicans were historically pro civil rights." The point is that, although it is true that Republicans once supported civil rights legislation, the Democrats who had opposed civil rights legislation left the party and became Republicans. This indicates that during the late 1960s the Republican Party was willing and able to accomodate racist southern Democrats, and the Democratic Party had become unhospitable to them.

Re your brief contribution: Republicans omce supported legislation designed to protect the rights of racial minorities, but now oppose such legislation because they have embraced much of the ideology of pre-1968 conservative southern Democrats. The upshot is that both major parties are far less ideologically consistent than your claim about the Republican Party indicates. In other words, you simply repeated Kirsanow's mistake.


John H. Lederer - 7/17/2005

Do I understand this article correctly:

Contention "Historically Republicans were pro-civil rights and Democrats were opposed.

Response: 'That's true, bit today things are different"

Author's conclusion "Therefore it is a lie to say Republicans were historically pro civil rights"

Huh?

My brief contibution: Republicans have fairly consistently opposed treating people differently legally because of race. Democrats have fairly consistently opposed the same.

The change over time is a change in whether Democrats support favoring or disfavoring minority groups.

Stated differently, one who is in favor of legal equality is necessarily opposed to affirmative action.