The Role of Race and Racism in the Devolution of the Left



“When the official subject is presidential politics, taxes, welfare, crime, rights, or values … the real subject is RACE.” So read the cover story for the May 1991 issue of The Atlantic. The authors, Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall were prescient in observing the subtle and insidious ways in which race and racism—through code words, euphemisms, and circumlocutions—have penetrated political discourse during the half-century since the passage of landmark civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. In retrospect, the 1964 election, in which Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a landslide, was the last hurrah of the Democratic Party. Republicans won 5 of the 6 elections between 1968 and 1988, and 7 of the 10 elections between 1968 and 2004, thus establishing firm control over the institutions of national power, including the Supreme Court. This can only be described as a counter-revolution in which many of the hard-won gains of the civil rights movement were eviscerated or wiped out altogether. From there, the conservative ideological crusade went on deploy the tropes of race and racism in a sweeping attack on liberalism and the liberal policy agenda.

After the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, there was a relentless effort to drive every last nail into the coffin of the civil rights movement. Furthermore, conservative intellectuals and strategists seized upon the mounting popular opposition to the Great Society and the racial liberalism of the Democratic Party. With the help of nascent neocons, conservatives underwent an ideological facelift: they now portrayed themselves as the champions of the rights and interests of white workers. This rhetoric gained momentum with an ideological crusade against affirmative action during the 1980s, followed by an attack on “welfare”—that is, Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC). However, these were only dress rehearsals for a larger assault on the welfare state itself. Emboldened by their success, the partisans of counter-revolution, with the backing of right-wing foundations and think tanks, launched a campaign against the New Left and “the Left academy.” Thanks to their control of the White House for 28 years, Republicans were able to pack the Supreme Court with judges weaned by the Federalist Society, which today has chapters in over 200 law schools across the nation. The result was the effective gutting of affirmative action, the most important policy initiative of the post-civil rights era. Affirmative action drove a wedge in the wall of occupational segregation that has existed since slavery, and produced, for the first time, a sizable black middle class with a foothold outside the ghetto economy. Without affirmative action, we are beginning to witness the erosion of these gains, and a widening of the gap between blacks and everybody else.

Only in hindsight is it clear that Bill Clinton, the New Democrat, represented a transitional period in a reactionary spiral that morphed into neoliberalism. Let me make two related points about race and neoliberalism. First, race and racism were used, with political cunning, to epitomize all that is wrong with the welfare state, to whip up antagonism toward the “big government” that gave us the New Deal and the Great Society, and to impart new legitimacy to “states rights,” which, let us remember, was the ideological linchpin behind the Civil War. Second, the policies enacted under the emergent neoliberal regime have all had particularly devastating effects on African Americans. Indeed, Glenn Beck has ridiculed universal healthcare, universal college, and green jobs as “stealth reparations.”

The Right has been ingenious in playing the race card over the last half-century, and if the Left is going to prevail, it will have to trump that race card with one of its own. Progressives and their allies in labor can begin by confronting their own complicity in a racial division of labor that privileged white men above all others. To paraphrase Justice Brennan, we need to engage race in order to transcend it. Only then will it be possible to restore “poverty” and “inequality” to political discourse. To build coalitions across racial and class lines. And to advance a political agenda that can effectively challenge class power and neoliberal rule.

This is a synopsis of a larger paper that was published in the current issue of LOGOS, an online journal.

Comments

  1. Blaque Swan

    Only in hindsight is it clear that Bill Clinton, the New Democrat, represented a transitional period in a reactionary spiral that morphed into neoliberalism. Let me make two related points about race and neoliberalism. First, race and racism were used, with political cunning, to epitomize all that is wrong with the welfare state, to whip up antagonism toward the “big government” that gave us the New Deal and the Great Society, and to impart new legitimacy to “states rights,” which, let us remember, was the ideological linchpin behind the Civil War. Second, the policies enacted under the emergent neoliberal regime have all had particularly devastating effects on African Americans. Indeed, Glenn Beck has ridiculed universal healthcare, universal college, and green jobs as “stealth reparations.”

    Could someone pass me the dunce cap? I’m a big confused. Is Steinberg saying that neoliberalism is bad for African Americans? And is using Beck to contrast what should be, ie universal healthcare, etc, with what is, ie neoliberalism?

    I just need that cleared up for me. Thanks.

  2. Stephen Steinberg Author

    Looks like the dunce cap belongs to me! There is a non-sequitur here. Yes, I’m most definitely saying that neoliberalism has a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans. And, ironically, Obama’s progressive policy initiatives are characterized by the likes of Glen Beck as “stealth reparations.”

    • Blaque Swan

      Looks like the dunce cap belongs to me! There is a non-sequitur here.

      LOL! No, not at all!

      Thanks for the explanation. I think I get it now. I haven’t read the rest of your essay, but I certainly plan, too!

  3. phelonn

    Stephen: I enjoyed reading your post. Indeed the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, including Newt Gingrich, see race in everything this president does. They accuse President Obama of a socialist agenda—in the guise of reparations—that supposedly help African Americans only. Perhaps whites know African Americans deserve some form of reparations for their stolen labor during and after slavery, but their guilt and fear have turned into hostility and they do not want to see African Americans partake in the “milk and honey” this land has to offer. Just another strategy to keep the fear and hostility between blacks and whites to keep them from equally sharing in a common economic and political life. Beck, Limbaugh, and Gingrich pander to the apocalyptic fears of average white Republicans to make them believe that Obama’s only preoccupation is to “get African Americans the reparations they so deserve.” I cannot help but to reflect on a statement one of my former graduate students wrote in her final course paper that “whites expect blacks to struggle because it is the natural order of things. It makes them feel good about themselves. And this is the reason whites fight so hard against affirmative action.” I’m beginning to wonder if white racism is borderline psychosis. Beck and Limbaugh certainly come across as psychotics. When I was living in Akron, Ohio, many years ago, as a graduate school, I would listen to a certain radio talk program on Sunday mornings. The topic one Sunday morning was “Would you like to see equality in this country”? A white woman called in and said she did not believe in equality. If there were equality, how could she know how well she is doing materially compared to her neighbors? She went on to say that if everyone lived in a mansion and owned a luxury car, how could she set herself apart from everyone else if they were equal and that she definitely did not believe in equality for blacks. Is this racist attitude borderline psychosis? When you paraphrased Justice Brennan who said we need to “engage race in order to transcend it,” I am under no illusion that we will ever be free of white racism. Thank you for your post; it was an interesting read.

    • Blaque Swan

      Is racism a form of psychosis?

      Science Dictionary
      psychosis (sī-kō’sĭs) Pronunciation Key
      Plural psychoses (sī-kō’sēz)
      A mental state caused by psychiatric or organic illness, characterized by a loss of contact with reality and an inability to think rationally. A psychotic person often behaves inappropriately and is incapable of normal social functioning.

      psychotic adjective (sī-kŏt’ĭk)
      The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
      Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

      To borrow a phrase, do woodchucks chuck wood?

  4. Manju

    In retrospect, the 1964 election, in which Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a landslide, was the last hurrah of the Democratic Party. Republicans won 5 of the 6 elections between 1968 and 1988, and 7 of the 10 elections between 1968 and 2004, thus establishing firm control over the institutions of national power, including the Supreme Court. This can only be described as a counter-revolution in which many of the hard-won gains of the civil rights movement were eviscerated or wiped out altogether. From there, the conservative ideological crusade went on deploy the tropes of race and racism in a sweeping attack on liberalism and the liberal policy agenda.

    The devolution of the Left “can only be described as a counter-revolution in which many of the hard-won gains of the civil rights movement” if you are unaware of a central aspect of Jim Crow: it was a violent undemocratic racially-coercive political monopoly that served the interest of, well, the Left-leaning Party.

    I mean Alabama went for Adlai Stevenson over Ike. Without Jim Crow there is no Kennedy administration. The New Deal was built on Jim Crow. It literally went hand-in-hand with lynching and segregation. The segregationists were New Dealers and FDR rewarded them, as did his heirs.

    The collapse of Jim Crow completely altered the electoral map. Nothing else compares, not even the Southern Strategy. Post 64, the LW party could no longer rely on this monolithic block. That changed everything. How nice it was to be JFK and know Nixon had no shot in the south while you, a Catholic, did. That just goes to show how deep the evil bond was.

    This is not to say your analysis is without merit, it’s just that you fail to account for the largest factor: the left’s loss of their monopoly. You need to control for this. All this handwringing over why its so much harder for lefties now strikes me as, what electoral-scholar Larry Bartels calls; “a peculiar nostalgia for the racially coercive Democratic monopoly of the Jim Crow era.”

    • Stephen Steinberg Author

      Manju: Malcolm X said it all in one epigrammatic sentence in his famous 1964 The Ballot or the Bullet Speech: “A Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat in disguise.” And he went on to say, “When you keep the Democrats in power, you’re keeping the Dixiecrats in power.” On the other hand, when the civil rights movement threw the entire society into crisis, and forced Johnson, who once opposed anti-lynching laws, to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act, this triggered a fateful rupture between the two wings of the Democratic Party. The end result, as you point out, is a realignment of parties. I don’t see the basis for the claim that there is “a peculiar nostalgia for the racially coercive Democratic monopoly of the Jim Crow era.”

      That said, the politics of the civil rights movement have also reached a dead end, and beginning with Bill Clinton, the New Democrats have presided over the dismantling of affirmative action and other anti-racist public policies. For his part, Obama is unable or unwilling to implement policies targeted for black communities devastated by the recession. He has been silent about mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and the police targeting of black youth. And he has been “worse than Bush” in advancing a neoliberal agenda with respect to schools and housing. I agree with you: the Democratic Party is part of the problem, not the solution.

      • Manju

        “this triggered a fateful rupture between the two wings of the Democratic Party. The end result, as you point out, is a realignment of parties. I don’t see the basis for the claim that there is “a peculiar nostalgia for the racially coercive Democratic monopoly of the Jim Crow era.”

        Stephen,

        The nostalgia quote is Larry Bartels explaining to Paul Krugman that the “Democratic share of the two-party presidential vote among white men was 40% in 1952 and 39% in 2004”, once you carve out the south. Only if one includes the South is there a great rightwing shift. To bemoan this shift is to bemoan the demise of Jim Crow.

        I know this sounds perverse in light of the Southern Strategy, particularly Goldwater’s since almost all the segregationists endorsed him. But to frame the southern realignment as a “counter-revolution” against the civil rights movement is like saying the Communists lost control of Russia because voters punished them for Glasnost.

        There may be some truth lurking there, if voters angry at the loss of a superpower bolt the communist party for some rightwing nationalist one. But at the end of the day, anytime a totalitarian one-party state is overthrown, a great migration of voters will occur. The communist and Democrats only lost what they should never have had in the first place.

        And the comparison of Jim Crow to the USSSR is not that far-fetched in terms of political orthodoxy. One FDL blogger summed it up nicely:

        It is a popular today to say that the South has switched from voting Democratic to Republican. Many people are fond of looking at previous electoral maps. Hey, isn’t that funny – the states have completely switched parties. It’s like the Republicans have recreated the Solid South.

        That statement is unequivocally false. Most people have no idea how unbelievably Democratic the Solid South was. For half a century, Democrats in the Deep South did about as well as the Communist Party did in Soviet Union elections.

        http://my.firedoglake.com/inoljt/2010/04/10/the-solid-south/

        It is also not really true that “1965 Voting Rights Act, this triggered a fateful rupture between the two wings of the Democratic Party”. The region remained a largely democratic stronghold on the state, local, and Congressional level all the way until 1996.

        And contrary to a popular Democratic meme, there was virtually no shift of actual Segregationist leaders from D to R. Strom is an outlier. The rest of the Dems who filibustered the ‘64 act all stayed with the party. A similar situation arises in the House, where only 2-3 switched. It’s worth noting that one of them (Jim Wright) became speaker of the House, and another (Youknowwho) became Democratic Senate Majority Leader as an unrepentant segregationist (Dem rumors of his repentance are greatly exaggerated).

        Since Dems maintained an advantage with actual Segregationists for a long time after 64, this problematizes this narrative of the role of racism in the devolution of the Left.

        • Stephen Steinberg Author

          Manju: I don’t bemoan the breakup of the unholy alliance b/w Dixicrats and northern liberals. One might have thought that this could have freed liberalism to be faithful to its own principles. (No laughter please!) But liberal principle has a way of surrendering to liberal hypocrisy, especially on matters of race. Besides, as you point out, there was no dearth of racism in the ranks of D voters and D Party Leaders in the North, stoked by an escalating backlash that allowed Republicans to play the race card to advantage.

          Granted, many factors determine the outcome of elections and they differ from one election to another. But it can hardly be denied that once the realignment was complete, it became difficult for Democrats to win the Presidency. To say this is not to hearken back to the good old days when Democrats were in bed with Dixiecrats. Bad enough that to win elections Dems have had to move to the Right and disassociate themselves from the black nemesis. Obama included.

    • Blaque Swan

      I’m not sure I’m getting your point.

      The left lost its “violent undemocratic racially-coercive political monopoly.” Yes. But why?

      Did they lose the monopoly because Jim Crow was ended and new voters of color supported the Party of Lincoln?

      Or, did the left lose its monopoly because racist whites would rather vote against their own economic interests than support racial justice and equality? After all, all the Southern strategy did was exploit the racist resentment of the collapse of Jim Crow.

      So I’m not sure I get your point. Tennessee and Louisiana went for Eisenhower over Stevenson in 56. In 60, both Kennedy and Nixon lost Mississippi and Alabama (6 of AL 11 votes) to Harry Byrd, who wasn’t even running but who had, not incidentally, authored the “Southern Manifesto.”

      So are you saying that race isn’t the issue? Or that the Dem party was the racist party even after the civil rights laws? Or, what?

      • Manju

        Did they lose the monopoly because Jim Crow was ended and new voters of color supported the Party of Lincoln?

        No. They lost because it’s extremely difficult to maintain a one-party region in a real democracy.

        Regarding the Black vote, here is a telling anecdote. Orville Faubus won the Black vote by a whopping margin. This is after his showdown in Little Rock and before his conversion to pro-civl rights. And he did it against a pro-civil rights Republican (a Rockefeller) who was endorsed by the NAACP. Why? Faubus, one of history’s great racist villains, was a strong New Dealer.

        So I’m not sure I get your point. Tennessee and Louisiana went for Eisenhower over Stevenson in 56.

        Ike was hugely popular and took the entire country, so you have to control for that. Liberal icon Stevenson in contrast, could not win a single state outside of the deep south, both in 52 and 56. He had active segregationists in his VP slot both times. I don’t think it was a coincidence. His electoral map looked like George Wallace’s.

        In 60, both Kennedy and Nixon lost Mississippi and Alabama (6 of AL 11 votes) to Harry Byrd, who wasn’t even running but who had, not incidentally, authored the “Southern Manifesto.”

        Right, but he lost to the 3rd Party and he split the electoral votes in AL. So Nixon was still disadvantaged. But the Liberal Irish Catholic won the bulk of the South including GA. He too had a segregationist in his VP slot. And make no doubt about it, Kennedy wanted a segregationist VP. George Smathers was his 2nd choice.

        LBJ was mild enough to pass as not one in the north but harsh enough that southerners knew they could trust him to guide Kennedy. Which was working out great until LBJ got into the driver’s seat, ironically.

        LBJ and JFK could parade their civil rights cred in the north, by virtue of voting for the 57cra. But it was behind the scenes where these men practiced their evil. Kennedy got an early endorsement from arguably the most powerful segregationist in the land: James Eastland.

        Using procedural tactics, LBJ stopped a republican scheme to bypass the filibuster that would’ve delivered the 64cra in 57. He then uses the filibuster to justify gutting the bill (hey, it won’t pass unless we make it toothless) and JFK went along, voting to send the bill to Eastland’s notorious judiciary committee. Eastland takes note and vouches for Kennedy in the South. Voters in the north don’t hear this. Dogwhistle.

        JFK wins one of the closest elections in history. Ergo, without Jim Crow, no President Kennedy.

        (some of the stuff on the 57cra is a little esoteric so I’ll provide academic sources upon request)

      • Manju

        Or, did the left lose its monopoly because racist whites would rather vote against their own economic interests than support racial justice and equality?

        This is the dem equivalent to the repubs “tax cuts pay for themselves.” The thesis was based on anecdotal evidence, most notably Thomas Frank’s “Whats the Matter with Kansas.” Now some serious scholars—most notably Larry Bartels of Princeton U, who is (like the rest) are left of center—have crunched a huge amount of data to reveal (in Bartels words):

        Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century.

        Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The average views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years.

        Do working class “moral values” trump economics? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues are

        So then what the hell happened to the New Deal Coalition? What happened was the demise of Jim Crow. Dems have things completely backwards. It was the New Deal Coalition (not the conservative one) that owes its success predominately because of white racism.

        And the white racists in question were not the working class, but the middle and upper classes…who were convinced to vote against their class interests in favor of relative progressives—like Fullbright, Wallace, Byrd, etc; and on a national level JFK, FDR, Stevenson—who promised (either explicitly like Byrd or thru dogwhistles like JFK) to maintain the regime in return for the support.

        When the regime fell, the middle to upper classes drifted slowly to the repubs. As far as the working class goes (Bartels again):

        Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites – and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era.

  5. Blaque Swan

    It was the New Deal Coalition (not the conservative one) that owes its success predominately because of white racism.

    Okay, it seems like what you’re saying is that so long as black people couldn’t participate in or benefit (nearly as much) from government programs, white voters are a-okay with New Deal programs. But when black folks are gonna get their fair share of the pie, white voters, of whatever class, are against New Deal programs.

    Here’s the thing – we don’t have to restore de jure racism to its former glory in order to enact a New Deal 2.0. All that’s needed is for white voters to go back to voting in their economic interests. It’s not just the people at the bottom who benefit from progressive policies. Everybody benefits and benefits more than they do under conservative policies.

    Moreover, it also seems kinda like white racists left the New Deal coalition for the Republican party. I mean, yes, the fact that the Dems had such a monolithic bloc in the South may hyper-inflate the numbers. But it remains that the violence and terror in place were used to keep people of color from voting, not to force people to vote Dem against their will. That is to say yes, there was a one-party system during Jim Crow, but that was voluntary. I can’t think of any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, of someone facing public retribution for support Republicans after Counter-Reconstruction was firmly in place.

    Maybe I’m still not getting your point, but I don’t see how it much differs from what’s already been said. Even Bartels says that working-class whites see themselves as closer to Republicans on economic issues (which I think is just bananas). The fact still remains, whites left the New Deal coalition once it included blacks; and they did so voluntarily. So, seriously, what am I missing?

    Are you saying that Dems in the past were ardent racists? If that’s the case, yes. Yes, they were. If that’s not what you’re saying, then I’m still lost, and I get to keep the dunce cap, thank you very much.

    • Blaque Swan

      @ Manju – Nevermind! Nevermind! I’m sorry. I had only read your replies to me, and had neglected to read the one you left to Stephen.

      Now that I’ve read it, I think I understand what you’re saying, and I disagree with your conclusion. When we talk about race and the devolution of the Left, we’re talking about national politics. It was the federal government that came along and enforced some measure of equality. The point about Dems in Southern state and local government only confirms the idea that racism is at play in the devolution of a national left-wing party. Voters like Dem policies so long as they feel assured they’ll remain the primary beneficiaries. In fact, they actually really like Obama’s healthcare plan when its presented as Bill Clinton’s.

      Even upper- and middle-class whites support progressive initiatives like strong public education system so long as their the primary beneficiaries. In fact, research has shown that whites’ willingness to pay higher taxes increases as the whiteness of the community in question increases.

      Moreover, being a Southern black myself, I can tell you we get a real kick out of the fact that Southern whites support Dems in state and local government, but not national government. They will split for the Republican if there’re only a few candidates and the Dem candidate is a person of color. Other than that, they’re true blue Dems. Pun intended.

      Also, it’s a bit misleading to suggest that since the South was by-and-large a one-party system that Dems only lost what they shouldn’t have had. It wasn’t the USSR in terms of white voters’ options. There were state and county Republican parties, and Republicans on the ballot. Yes, the real action was with the Dems because everyone “knew” that only a Dem had a chance to win. That said, voters weren’t forced to support the Democratic party against their will.

      As for the switch of Dixiecrats to the Republican party – you bring up elected officials who are besides the point. It’s the voters who matter and the voters who switched.

      But again, I only think I understand what you’re saying. If Jim Crow racism is what kept white Southerns in the New Deal coalition, then they leave the coalition after Jim Crow’s collapse then . . . ? ? ?

  6. cordoba blue

    “LBJ and JFK could parade their civil rights cred in the north, by virtue of voting for the 57cra. But it was behind the scenes where these men practiced their evil.”
    I freakin’ knew it! This may sound naive, but I’m not as well versed in America’s political history as the above commentators. So, who swung which party where etc is not my strong suit.
    But Kennedy..no way I ever liked that guy. In the movie JFK where the district attorney of New Orleans has a trial regarding Kennedy conspirators, his black maid is watching this television program where Kennedy is assassinated. She has the presence of Scarlett’s maid in Gone With the Wind. She is dusting and looking at the television tearfully saying,”Fine man. He was such a fine man!” Sure, Kevin Costner.
    Kevin, by the way, has been in several JFK movies applauding this phoney, six ways from Sunday. In the JFK movie, as he gives his closing courtroom speech he says,”Your king is dead. You must know, he’s dead. And if we let this happen…” and then Costner’s glasses get all steamy and he’s crying. Then several of the black jury members look like they’re crying! And I’m thinking,”No way. Kennedy really bamboozled you too?”
    I am wondering how many African Americans really believed Kennedy’s sincerity when he started that,”Why should a black man be given less money for a day’s work than a white man?” and all that other pandering Kennedy did to the black voters. I can see Kennedy giving that speech now, in black and white. Sincere as apple pie with those Hollywood dimples, and the perfect teeth.
    I would appreciate any comments regarding how black people REALLY saw Kennedy. I have no idea. Did they mourn his passing? Did they believe the guy? I always found that whole clan repulsive. And I never saw them being “neighborly” with black people. They were too busy dressing Jackie in $20,000 outfits so she’d look good in front of the cameras.

    • Stephen Steinberg Author

      Dear cordoba blue,

      I’m in solidarity with everything you’ve said here about the JFK myth and Costner’s reprise of Gone with the Wind. But your last comment about “dressing Jackie” stopped me short. Don’t we have an issue with “dressing Michele?” I don’t know if she is in the league of $20k outfits, and I suppose that makes a difference, but what’s going on here? I suspect this is a delicate topic that even fashion editors stay away from, but what’s your take? Or have we gone off the subject?

      • cordoba blue

        Hi Stephen,
        Don’t look too deeply into the fashion comment. It was misleading..sorry about that. It was soley about propagating the Kennedy myth, and not about how much First Ladies spend on clothes per se. I meant to imply that the Kennedy family’s primary concern was forging an image in front of the public, instead of being sincerely concerned with the rights of African Americans.
        By the way, do you think JFK used the idea of tapping into the voter potential of African Americans as a political strategy instead of being genuinely concerned? Do you think he was at all concerned about true civil rights? Again, I’m asking because recent political history is not my forte.
        Earlier history I’m better at. I know, for decades, the segregationist south was Democratic all the way. The Republicans voted Lincoln into office and the Dems were so embattled about the slavery issue that half of the Dem party split before this election. The Northern Dems nominated one candidate, and the Southern Dems walked out of the convention in a huff and actually nominated another candidate. So in one sense the south seceded even BEFORE Lincoln was elected.
        Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal produced a political realignment, making the Democratic Party the majority (as well as the party which held the White House for seven out of nine Presidential terms from 1933 to 1969), with its base in liberal ideas, big city machines, and newly empowered labor unions, ethnic minorities, and the white South. Now that’s the kicker. You have a platform of liberal progressivism in the same party with these die-hard segregationists.
        The Republicans also were split, either opposing the entire New Deal as an enemy of business and growth, or accepting some of it and promising to make it more efficient. The realignment morphed into the New Deal Coalition that dominated most American elections into the 1960s, while the opposition Conservative Coalition largely controlled Congress from 1938 to 1964.
        I guess I’m confused at WHICH EXACT POINT did minorities and progressives start totally embracing the Democrats and totally dismissing the Republicans. At this juncture, everybody who has an ounce of compassion for minorities, immigrants, unemployed etc seems to be siding with the Dems all the way. The Republicans are viewed as gargoyles, every one. I’m not disagreeing, I’m just asking WHEN?

        • Stephen Steinberg Author

          OK, cordoba blue, we won’t digress into a discussion of sartorial politics, and will leave that to a cultural-studies buff.

          The short answer to your question is that African Americans broke with “the party of Lincoln” during the Depression, despite the fact that, as Manju has reminded us, they were cut out of most New Deal programs. As Katznelson shows in When Affirmative Action Was White, work relief went to mostly to whites, and blacks were relegated to home relief. Eleanor deserves some honorary mention for her symbolic politics that (hurrah!), recognized the humanity of black folks.

          As for JFK, there was a recent obit in the New York Times of a civil rights warrior, a white lawyer, who averred that JFK, patrician that he was, had little understanding of race in America, but that some liberals in his inner circle did, and could be counted on for support at critical moments. That strikes me as about right–at most, one cheer for JFK. But that may be one too many for Manju!

          • cordoba blue

            Thank you Stephen. I’ve always been a little confused about the time sequence of when which group sided with which party. Plus, now I understand JFK a little better.

  7. cordoba blue

    Plus, correct me if I’m wrong because I may be, I think because Kennedy was promoted as the GREAT WHITE LEFTIST GOD, it created a sizable demographic shift in how the Democrats were viewed. All of a sudden a Dem who had empathy for poor African Americans?
    And Kennedy’s Hollywood popularity went a long way to get Americans who’d never taken notice of who sat on which isle of the capitol building, to suddenly live for a newspaper glimpse of when the Kennedys brushed their teeth each morning. England used to say, “We have our royalty and America has the Kennedys”. As a Barnum and Bailey pub stunt, the Kennedys were the masters of all time. They STILL garner undue absurd public curiosity.
    Any thoughts on the power of Kennedy? Could we say he almost did a one-man magic act?

  8. Manju

    “LBJ and JFK could parade their civil rights cred in the north, by virtue of voting for the 57cra. But it was behind the scenes where these men practiced their evil.”
    I freakin’ knew it! This may sound naive, but I’m not as well versed in America’s political history as the above commentators

    Let me elaborate on this, because if you repeat it you are likely to get some serious pushback in some liberal circles. Here is the Democrat narrative (by Robert Kaplan):

    “The heart of the bill, in its original form, was a section that outlawed segregation in all aspects of American life—housing, schools, voting booths, public places such as restaurants and theaters—and imposed criminal penalties on violators. Yet it was precisely this section that Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson agreed to eliminate in his effort to push the bill through. Prominent civil rights activists, in and out of Congress, were outraged. Many of them argued that it would be better to kill the bill and start over with a new one.”

    “In the end, though, they came around, reasoning that at least this would be the first time the Senate had passed a civil rights bill since the Civil War and that the bill did accomplish a few things, meager though they were compared with the initial goals. They decided, in short, that it was better than nothing.”

    “…the ’57 law served as the precedent and prelude to the landmark legislation—the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act—that Johnson would later push and sign as president. Caro is one of the few historians to highlight this connection.”

    http://www.slate.com/id/2242351/pagenum/all/#p2

    He then goes onto praise, citing Robert Caro (who actually is a major figure in the revision of Kaplan’s narrative), how Johnson maneuvered the 1957 bill into law. So got that? LBJ worked out a great compromise that ultimately led to the landmark bill. LBJ = Hero.

    Only the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement don’t see it that way. They’ve taken matters into their own hands to “challenge this false and simplistic “master narrative””. “This website is of, by, and for Veterans of the Southern Freedom Movement during the years 1951-1968. It is where we tell it like it was, the way we lived it”: http://www.crmvet.org/about1.htm

    Here is their take:

    In 1957, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) is preparing his run for the Presidency in 1960. In his 20 years in office, Johnson has never voted for a civil rights bill or amendment. But with the fledgling Freedom Movement beginning to stir, he knows that he cannot win the Democratic nomination if he is seen in the North and West as opposing civil rights for Blacks. Yet to win the nomination he also needs the support of the “solid South” — the segregationists.

    In March of 1957, Eisenhower’s Attorney General proposes a civil rights bill that strengthens the Federal government’s ability to protect civil rights, permits moving civil rights cases from state to Federal court, authorizes the Justice Department to file lawsuits to protect civil rights, prevents interference with the right to vote, and applies Federal election law to primaries and special elections. The draft bill has broad bipartisan support from Republicans and Northern & Western Democrats.

    Using his power as “Master of the Senate,” LBJ maneuvers to gut the bill of all significant provisions. He then convinces the Southern bloc that it is better to allow a sham bill to pass without a filibuster rather than risk the outside chance that growing public support for civil rights might be strong enough to break the filibuster and pass a real bill that might actually provide some protection for Blacks. This strategy allows him to pose as a civil rights supporter in the North and West as he seeks the 1960 nomination, while still retaining the support of the Southern segregationists.

    At the end of August, the Civil Rights Act 1957 is passed by Congress and signed into law. Civil rights supporters call it “a crumb” and “worse than nothing.” Though touted by Johnson as a “voting rights bill,” the reality is that fewer Blacks vote in the 1960 election than had voted in 1956.

    Seven years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed. It contains many of the provisions gutted out of the 1957 Act. But during the seven years between 1957 and 1964, many are killed for demanding the right to vote, hundreds are beaten, thousands jailed, and tens of thousands suffer economic retaliation in the struggle for basic human dignity. The Federal government says it does not have the legal authority to stop civil rights abuses. Movement lawyers dispute their claim that they lack legal means to protect American citizens — and most Movement veterans believe that the cause of Federal inaction is political rather than lack of adequate laws — but there is no doubt that had the Civil Rights Act of 1957 been passed in its original form, much of the loss and suffering endured by those who fought for freedom might have been prevented.

    Now that’s quite a gap. So who is right, Kaplan or the Veterns? I’ll provide the smoking guns that vindicate the Veterans tomorrow, if anyone is interested (gotta go to sleep).

  9. cordoba blue

    @ Manju
    Thank you very much for the fascinating behind-the-scenes summary. I would really like to hear more, so when you have time…
    I understood some of the subterfuge, by the way. Hey, everybody wants to get elected, right? So, tweak a little this, manipulate a little that, keep your ear to the ground..I said I was naive, but not that naive.
    I still don’t like Kennedy and I can just see “old Joe the rum-runner Kennedy” taking Jack aside and saying,”Let’s give those lefties what they want PLUS garner votes from a huge thus unexplored constituency..the blacks! Nobody’s ever pandered to them before..let’s dazzle ’em! You’ll be known as the modern Abe Lincoln.” But at the end of all the Machiavellian stuff, did they care two damns for African Americans? In Kennedy’s case especially, I just don’t think so folks.
    But yes, if you have time please tell me more. Thanks much!

  10. cordoba blue

    Pluuus: Anybody see the movie Mississippi Burning with Gene Hackman? (I know..I love movies based on history.) Anyway, Gene is the experienced FBI agent sent to investigate the murder of the 3 Civil Rights workers in ’62 I believe. Willem Dafoe is the dreamy naive young agent. He asks Hackman,”You think Washington’s not behind the Civil Rights workers?”
    Gene comes out with,”I think these kids are bein’ used. They come down here with their Volkswagons and their sneakers and they believe those boys in Washington are behind them. Then they get lynched.”
    Then the newspapers publicize it all over the planet and Washington pretends empathy with the families of the “deceased freedom fighters”, but those fat cats in DC never even got off their patoots once. They just kept sipping their martinis and let these poor kids, black and white, do all the heavy lifting. Then they take all the credit for any advances in civil rights that do happen to occur. “If something doesn’t smell right, it probably stinks.” A great line.

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