Before the echoes could fade from Congressman Charlie Rangel’s wholesale condemnation of the Tea Party as “white crackers” as well as essentially equating present-day Tea Party members to certain white Southern male Democrats from decades ago who murdered black children, the age-old argument re-emerged that certain white Southern male Democrats in years gone by switched to the Republican Party solely to retain their bigoted world view.
Argued everywhere from university classrooms to neighborhood bars to dining room tables, the narrative for conservatives is that the white Southerners who fought so hard against the Civil Rights movement were overwhelmingly all registered Democrats. The narrative for liberals, in contrast, has been that white Southern males Democrats of yesteryear largely abandoned the Democratic Party for the GOP due to their belief that the Republicans share their same anti-black bias.
A case in point i the following published by Consortium News via Google News on July 15, 2013:
As the Democrats went from being the slavery/segregation party to the party of civil rights, the Republicans stopped being the party of civil rights and became the party of racial code words and hostility toward minorities.
In big ways and small, Nixon, Reagan and other Republicans appealed to white bigotry – often wrapping it in the same “small-government” message that Jefferson and his fellow slaveholders had used. This time, the point was that the federal government had to stop taking tax money from hardworking whites and giving it to undeserving blacks and other minorities.
So, over the ensuing few decades, Southern whites switched their party allegiance from Democratic to Republican.
While both arguments have their strengths and weaknesses, one aspect overlooked is the legacy that certain white Southern male Democratic power brokers from years gone by still have their influence felt within the Democratic Party present-day. Despite the stereotype of white Southerners from pre-1965 being a mirrored image of 2013 Republicans, the historically accurate information is far different.
Many of the white Southern male Democrats that liberals claim are no different than today’s Republicans actually have social and foreign policy stances that are more Barack Obama than Sarah Palin. Arguably the best example would be that of former president Bill Clinton and the man he stated was his political mentor and example, J. William Fulbright. A Democrat even unto his deathbed, Fulbright maintained certain political views that verify his liberal street-cred:
- He was a strong proponent for the the creation of the United Nations.
- Strongly opposed fellow Senator Joseph McCarthy.
- Was against the House Un-American Activities Committee
- Went against fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson, in his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Fulbright was also a staunch segregationist and a signator to the Declaration of Constitutional Principles (informally referred to as the Southern Manifesto) that claimed the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, which determined that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.
The Southern Manifesto stated the SCOTUS was guilty of “a clear abuse of judicial power.”
The self-proclaimed “poor man’s friend” was the decades-long-serving U.S. Senator from Louisiana, Russell B. Long, whose crowning glory in the Senate was pushing through:
- The Earned Income Tax Credit, a program aimed at reducing the tax burden on poor working families.
- The Child Support Enforcement Act.
- The Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), employee benefit plans designed to allow employees to invest in the stock of their employers.
Long was also a signator of the Southern Manifesto.
Yet another in the long line in the mold of Fulbright and Long is that of North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin. Ervin was canonized into liberal sainthood when he chaired the Senate Watergate Committee which was instrumental in pressuring Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. Like Fulbright and Long, Ervin signed the Southern Manifesto.
Ervin eventually did give partial/conditional acceptance to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, stating it was correct in eliminated mandatory segregation, but that the SCOTUS ruled forced integration was still illegal. Ervin was also a staunch opponent of the polygraph, calling the tests “20th century witchcraft.”
Perhaps the best-known old school Southern Democrat who switched to the GOP was South Carolina’s former Strom Thurmond. Like 97 of the 99 signators of the Southern Manifesto, Thurmond at the time was a Democrat. Always a political conservative, upon his change of party affiliation, the only remnant to his Democrat past was his advocacy for legal segregation.
As published by the Black Entertainment Television network in 2010:
[Thurmond had] eventually renounced his segregationist views and strove for reconciliation during decades in the U.S. Senate.
When he died seven years ago at age 100, he was eulogized by black and white people alike.
Many conservatives accuse liberals of perpetuating poverty and government dependence, especially for young blacks, adopting the phrase coined by former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”