The Democratic Party Was Not Always This Way

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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32 Responses

  1. Koz says:

    This is a very interesting point that is largely forgotten, though it wasn’t very long ago at all. Not so much the period Vikram describes in the OP, but more topically the period before that when the modern conservative movement in America gained traction as a significant cultural and political force, say 1955 to 1985.

    There’s been a lot of revisionist writing from libs trying to explain the conservative movement of that time (and conservative politics in general) as the as being the vehicle for segregationist sentiment in America, especially in the South. This train of thought has gotten a lot of traction recently in lib and mainstream media, and has contributed a great deal toward the corrosive antagonism among Americans today.

    This is inexplicable for me, since it ought to be obvious for anyone alive during that time, which I suspect is most of us, that it was the Democratic Party which represented the segregationist impulse of that time, and often liberal Democrats at that. Conservatives organized themselves on completely different issues, and won elections on those issues. In partisan terms, the conservative movement was a faction of the Republican Party, attached to the civil rights legacy of that party, whereas in historical terms the antagonist to civil rights was always the Democratic Party. Therefore the Civil Rights Era was mostly an intramural war within the Democratic Party.Report

    • bookdragon in reply to Koz says:

      Yes. Until Nixon’s Southern strategy. Things didn’t change instantly after that – the strong tribalism in politics meant even after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, southern ‘yellow dog Democrats’ still couldn’t bring themselves to pull the lever for a Republican for a long time – but it was the beginning of the change the OP shows as largely concluding in 2009, largely because the Democratic party had the audacity to choose a non-white president.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Koz says:

      Gutting the Voting Rights Act was the crowning achievement of the GOP commitment to civil rights.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Koz says:

      The only reason conservatives focus so intently on what the parties used to represent – and why they wield that against liberals, who respond by noting the political shifts that occurred – is because modern conservatism is so hopelessly wrapped up in explicit white supremacy.Report

      • Koz in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Who’s “used to”, kemosabe?

        The Republican Party is the concrete representation of legitimate governance in America today. Libs complain if 80 voters are in line at one polling station but could care less that the sine qua non of Dem politics is the corrupt governance of millions of voters all over America. You can vote for whoever you want to, but it doesn’t really count unless you vote for the right guy.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to Koz says:

      Therefore the Civil Rights Era was mostly an intramural war within the Democratic Party.

      Yes. An intermural war between the conservative, racist Democrats, and the liberal, not-racist Democrats, with the Republicans generally…well, not ‘staying neutral’, but at least not having a war.

      It is entirely reasonable for Republicans to look at the Civil Rights movement and say ‘The Republicans actually did better on this in the 60s than the Democrats’. That’s not really true, but it’s…a passible claim. They can make that claim if they want.

      But that’s because both parties had liberal and conservatives at the time. The liberals of both parties were in favor of civil rights (Or at least neutral.), the conservatives of both parties were not. (Or at least neutral.)

      But what isn’t reasonable is assuming that the word ‘Republican’ is the same as the word ‘conservative’ and ‘Democrat’ the same as the word ‘liberal’.

      The racist side back then was indisputably conservative. The pro-civil-rights side back then was indisputably liberal.

      The conservatives and liberals mostly fighting were in the Democratic party, ripping the party to pieces. Some conservatives and liberals joined in from the Republican party also. But the war, regardless of the fact it was mostly fought on Democratic turf, was a liberal vs. conservative war, and the conservatives were on the wrong side of it.

      it was the Democratic Party which represented the segregationist impulse of that time,

      _Some_ of the Democratic party did. They had a war over it. You might remember talking about it in the very post you just made.

      and often liberal Democrats at that.

      Please name a _single_ liberal Democrat who actively supported segregation. I’m not saying there couldn’t have been any, but I’d like to see a name.

      Let’s look at George Wallace, the most obvious example of the ‘segregationist impulse of that time’. Was George Wallace a Democrat? Yes. Was he a liberal? Let’s check a quote of his: The liberal left-wingers have passed it. Now let them employ some pinknik social engineers in Washington, D.C., to figure out what to do with it.

      Well, he’s not a liberal, obviously. Is he a conservative? Yes. When he made his third-party run for President, he ran under the American Independent Party, founded in 1967 to nominate him specifically. As no one has heard of them, let me quote their 1967 declaration of principle: “A new party is urgently needed today because the leaders of the two existing parties, Democratic and Republican, have deserted the principles and traditions of our nation’s founding fathers. Both of the existing parties have become the proponents of big government, crushing taxation, dictatorial federal power, waste and fiscal irresponsibility, unwholesome and disastrous internationalism, compromise with our nation’s enemies, and authoritarian regimentation of the citizens of this Republic. Control of the government, under the domination of these two existing parties, has left the hands of the people our government was created to serve.”

      That is a statement of principles that would fit seamlessly into conservativism.

      There’s been a lot of revisionist writing from libs trying to explain the conservative movement of that time (and conservative politics in general) as the as being the vehicle for segregationist sentiment in America, especially in the South.

      Because it was. Segregationist sentiment wasn’t _Republican_ until the 80s or so. Segregationist sentiment, however, was _conservative_ from the very start.

      There is indeed a massive rewriting of history by Democrats, everyone is 100% correct. The Democratic party likes to present the realignment happened magically one day in the 60s, when the Democratic party just decided to not be racist and kicked all the racists out.

      That is a complete lie, and not what happened at all. What happened is that conservatives took over the Republican party in the 70s, and then the conservative Democratic slowly started moved to the Republican party (Some very recently in state parties.), while the liberal Republicans slowly moved to Democrat, and they mostly fully switched parties by the 90s when right-wing media started yelling about RINOs and didn’t let them be Republicans anymore.

      This doesn’t change the fact that asserting that liberal Democrats were in favor of segregation is utter nonsense. Conservative Democrats were in favor of segregation.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to DavidTC says:

        I know that we have had to repeat this ad nauseum, but attitudes on race and economic views aren’t connected in any way.

        Not in the “All racists are capitalists” way, and not in the “All socialists are tolerant” way.

        Its more like a Chinese menu, where you can choose some from column A and some from column B. You can have your racism with socialism, or not.Report

  2. Dan Miller says:

    I think a better way to think about it is this–which party has been clearly better on issues of race and civil rights? The Dems definitely supported some bad things, but if you were a voter who prioritized these issues, the Dems have been better than the GOP since at least the 1970s (similar to how Dems in the ’90s didn’t support gay marriage, and were even willing to stomach things like DOMA, but were clearly the best choice of the two parties for gay rights).

    Generally, the rule for activists is to find the party that’s closer to you on the issue you care about–even if neither is great–and push from within to make them better. Primary bad incumbents and reward good ones; become a recognized and valuable part of the party’s coalition; and as you reinforce that status, make moral claims and push the party in your preferred direction. And by that standard, the Dems have been the party of civil rights since the ’60s/’70s at least, even if they weren’t always as good as they should have been.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Dan Miller says:

      Right. In particular, the Civil Rights realignment was a process that took something like 60 years if you use the election of Obama [1] as its conclusion. But after 1964 or so, things were on track with really no reversal, and few attempts to reverse things.

      The joke about Mississippi way back in 2007 is funny, but there are Democrats entering Congress who weren’t even old enough to vote back then, and if you look at the generational split between the parties, Barack Obama was the first Presidential candidate of any sort who many Democrats voted for.

      [1] And the repudiation of the Clinton campaign’s appeals to “hard working Americans, white Americans”.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    It’s the effortless “we’ve always been like this” that takes my breath away. I used to complain that, say what you will about the Marxists, they had a reading list that you could actually read. The new version of whatever doesn’t seem to have a reading list.

    I used to see this as a weakness. Now I see it as an amazing strength. What happened yesterday? Who cares? Here is what we have always believed.

    There is no God but Mani is His prophet.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

      It’s the effortless “we’ve always been like this” that takes my breath away.

      But the people saying that always have been like that.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      It’s the effortless “we’ve always been like this” that takes my breath away.

      I was sad to learn that we were at war with Eastasia. I was more sad to learn that we’d always been at war with Eastasia.Report

    • InMD in reply to Jaybird says:

      I kind of wonder how much of this isn’t a media, particularly of the social variety, phenomenon. It definitely exists, and I see lots of people I know posting things from that perspective, and come across it plenty in OpEds, even in major publications. Where I almost never encounter it is in my day to day, offline life.

      Lots of people used to say they were the victims of Satanic abuse, or had multiple personalities. Plenty of people have always believed in any number of conspiracies or ideas that, while not totally implausible in the sense that they could not possibly be true, lacked critical perspective.

      I struggle to decide if it’s anything new or if it’s just a result of handing out lots and lots of megaphones in an environment where consequences are at best inconsistent.Report

  4. Chad says:

    “Ultimately, I don’t think this is about Trump. It’s about Barack Obama completing the realignment Democrats like to pretend was over and done with in the 1960s.”

    I really don’t think that it is a widely held belief that the political realignment ended in the ’60s. This would cut off things like Reagan’s “welfare queens” and campaign stops in Philadelphia, Miss. touting local control, it would leave out Willie Horton. People understand the realignment took time, but the dynamic that drove the realignment was also apparent, one party was better on issues concerning race, while highly imperfect. Even today the Democratic Party has people willing to provide funding for a border wall. Still, the Republican Party is demonstrably worse and so a coalition that prioritizes antiracism supports the party closer to their position.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chad says:

      Social and political changes take a lot longer than most people imagine. Europe didn’t become entirely Christian when Constantine converted. It took centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire for Europe to be entirely Christian. The Lithuanians remained stubbornly pagan until their Grand Duke had them convert so he could be King of Poland. Christians remained the majority population in the Middle East until some time after the Crusades.

      Likewise, the political realignment took a long time too. It started on the federal level. LBJ was the last American President to win the majority of white votes. Southerners started voting for Republicans in the federal elections first. Then then slowly went for state and local elections. The entire process took decades.Report

    • bookdragon in reply to Chad says:

      Precisely. People who are not born in the ‘easiest player setting’ learn pretty early not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      It would be easy to find any number of Democrats, as well as self-styled progressives, who are sexist AF. However, they are (a) greatly out numbered by examples on the other side, and (b) not representative of the party/movement’s direction. Therefore, as a woman who prefers equality [*], I am far more likely to support Democrats.

      [*] quite a number of non-college educated women seem to prefer the old patriarchal status quo and consider women who work outside the home by choice to be cultural enemiesReport

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Chad says:

      I really don’t think that it is a widely held belief that the political realignment ended in the ’60s

      Yeah, I noticed the absence of any citation. I want to know who exactly it is holding this belief.


      • It may not be a widely held belief but it is a shorthand belief. the 1960s is roughly when the process started.* I think Vikram does a pretty good job of reminding us that the process may have been slower than many of us think.

        And….perhaps Vikram’s post serves as a reminder that today’s friends may be tomorrow’s villains. That may not have been what Vikram was aiming for, but it’s a lesson I take from the process he’s describing.

        *We’d do well to consider that survey courses in US history, if they talk about realignment at all, are likely to portray it as “Civil Rights, then 1960s, then Nixon…..then realignment.” It’s simplistic, but I’d wager that’s how many people learn such things. That’s how I learn things that aren’t in my area of expertise: it’s good enough to convey the basic idea and it’s generally true, but it doesn’t convey all the messiness of which experts are aware.Report

  5. CJColucci says:

    Chad, LeeEsq., you can’t be spoiling the kids’ fun by bringing up old stuff like that.Report

  6. there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote.

    She’s a charter member of the Palin party.Report

  7. “Hawaii doesn’t really count as America.”

    It’s worth noting that, for the conservative movement now, the only thing that counts as America and/or American is believing deeply in the conservative movement. Anybody else who believes anything else is considered both less than and insufficiently American to meaningfully matter. This attitude underpins the entirety of the conservative movement as represented by Trump’s election and its whole-hearted embrace of him and his preferred policies.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      You can tell that this is true because the conservative movement has embraced a New Yorker for president. It’s not about “the heartland”, it’s about racism.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Dan Miller says:

        It is amusing that the most elite of coastal elites has managed to bullshit his way to being a heartland kind of guy. But W did it first.Report

        • It helps to sound dumb. Obama could never overcome sounding intelligent and well-educated.Report

        • Catchling in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          One difference is that Donald doesn’t even bother with fake signals of “heartland” membership in any way I can think of besides all the bigotry. He retains his thick New York accent, happily flaunts his wealth (such as that is), doesn’t talk Jesus, doesn’t hunt or otherwise use guns, and doesn’t scrub brush. Dubya actually filled the checklist, even if about half the checkmarks were counterfeit.

          It makes me wonder which things are the core values and what is the proxy. Like, is Trump’s racism considered an equally valid membership signal as all that heartland stuff — or was it “the main thing” all along, and the myriad things Bush did were understood as indicators for “one of us” where us = white identitarian?

          I lean toward the latter, but I’m not certain — the evangelical love of Bush seemed more sincere than that of Trump, yet simultaneously less intense. Like the difference between certain types of healthy and unhealthy relationship, come to think of it — in the latter, you’re rationalizing the whole way, but damn if you don’t get these highs that the better-for-you person wouldn’t deliver.Report

          • Zac Black in reply to Catchling says:

            Conservatives love Trump the way a spree killer loves his AR-15. They may be doomed but at least they’ll get to hurt the people they hate first. Or, as Matt Taibbi put, better than I could:

            Trump’s base doesn’t care that he has betrayed most all of his key campaign promises. They won’t see it that way. He pledged to “drain the swamp” and savaged Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for being tools of Goldman Sachs, then packed his White House with Goldmanites minutes after election. His tax cut is a grotesque handout to the plutocrat class to which he claimed to be a traitor. And if there’s a person out there who’s sick of all the winning, even Fox News hasn’t found him yet.

            But Trump has actually tried to do lots of the insane things he promised he would. That he’s made a cock-up of these efforts will be irrelevant. He promised a monstrous Muslim Ban and got it. He pulled out of the Paris Agreement, striking a blow on behalf of the tens of millions of Americans who vehemently oppose both science and France. Then there are his steel tariffs, the policy equivalent of stumbling out of a bar after 14 shots of Jägermeister and reaching for your car keys. Will they accomplish anything except chaos? Hell, no. But chaos is what Trump voters asked for.

            The press has steadfastly refused to understand this aspect of Trump’s pitch. The subtext of his run wasn’t about making America great again. It was, Let’s fuck shit up. If Obama voters understood “change” as a genuine call to idealism, Trump voters understood it as a chair through a plate-glass window, the start of a riot.

            In a time of extreme cynicism and existential gloom, Trump is a doomsday cult, giving voters permission to unleash their inner monster. What makes this dangerous is that the appeal isn’t limited to racists. It extends to anyone who’s pissed off about anything. Trump is the match to burn it all down.


  8. Philip H says:

    So being a son of Louisiana in the 1970’s and 1980’s – I left for College in 1988 -who now resides in coastal Mississippi I have had a front row seat to all this my whole life. Its one of the many reasons I get bristly about a lot of topics – when I was in college David Duke lost the governorship of Louisiana on a rainy Tuesday by something like 5000 votes. And yes, the rain likely had something to do with it.

    Schools in Baton Rouge were desegregated by court order in 1980. I remember it well because two things happened immediately – my school teacher mother and history professor father kept my brother and me in public school (though graduation) and White Flight sent many of my friends to private “Christian” schools that sprang up overnight around the Parish (which were the 1980’s version of segregation academies). Some I managed to keep up with. Many I never saw again. That White Flight is still playing out in the misguided attempts to form a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish whose boundaries coincidentally take in the gated, nearly lily white communities of south Baton Rouge while forcing the remaining mixed race Mid Town and largely Black North Baton Rouge to fend for themselves. All so black children’s public education won’t be funded by white parents in my generation.

    So the history of Democrats who became Republicans and remained racists is a part of who I am. Being a university faculty brat I reached a different conclusion about that history then most of my contemporaries and school mates ( who include a former governor, a Federal Judge nominated by Trump, and a current Congressman).

    The evolution of the parties is still on-going down south and will likely take at least another generation. Its also why the President’s immigration policies are so wildly popular there – faced with the continued presence of African Americans (many of whom now hold Parish or County level political offices), whites in these states see a real threat to their political and economic power in immigrants, especially of Hispanic origin.Report