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The Democratic Party Was Not Always This Way

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The story Democrats like to tell is that the civil rights era saw a realignment between the two parties. That was when the Democrats became the good guys.

As I’ve noted before, however, Democrats have for most of my life supported policies they now declare to be inhumane, immoral, and even prosecutable.

Let’s look at one of the people deservedly receiving much of their scorn. She is Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Outlets have unearthed that she “pushed resolution praising Confederate soldier’s effort to ‘defend his homeland.’”

Additionally, she attended a private high school that was founded so that white parents could avoid school integration with black students. Perhaps that is no fault of hers, but she sent her own daughter to a school that was originally established for the same reason. (Both schools continue to be almost exclusively white.)

Additionally, at a public event, she said of her host:

If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row

She called any concern about this “ridiculous:

“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”

Additionally, she’s said, also at a public event:

there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.

 

This again, she dismissed as one of her light-hearted hilarious jokes.

Where did this person with such heinous beliefs come from? The answer is the Democratic Party.

A lifelong Democrat, Hyde-Smith served as a state senator from 2000 to 2012. That resolution to praise a Confederate soldier? She was a Democrat when she sponsored it. The Democrat-controlled legislature passed it 52-0 in the Senate and 111-0 in the House. 

 

For those of you who weren’t alive at the time, this may be surprising, but, yes, in 2007. Mississippi had a Democratic legislature.

After years of faithful service to the Democratic Party, Hyde-Smith switched to the Republican Party in 2010. It’s likely the only reason she still has a job. 

This is also around when Donald Trump first showed his break with the Democratic Party. He put his considerable weight behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in 2008 and donated to her campaign.

But Clinton lost. He changed his registration to Republican in 2009, and he became the most effective spokesman for the birther movement that believed Barack Obama was not born in the United States. (He would have been a natural born citizen of the United States eligible to run for president anyway as his mother was American, but somehow birthers never seemed to mention that.)

2008 also marked a change for me. It was the first time in my lifetime that I realized that I preferred a Democratic presidential candidate to the Republican one. This trend was reflected in Asian votes broadly. During the Bush years, Asian support for Democrats was roughly flat. 2008 marked the start of Asian votes being captives of the Democratic Party.

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. Mississippi isn’t going to have a Democratic legislature anytime soon. While she and Trump were happy to be Democrats until 2008 they are definitely not now.

As late as 2008 though, the Democratic Party was willing to accommodate them. The party brass’s preferred candidate, after she beat Obama in Indiana declared:

Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.

For Democrats today, it’s now considered a laughable factual error to consider white Americans in Indiana to be more American than non-whites living on coasts, but it was Hilary Clinton’s actual message in 2008.

This wasn’t a clumsy one-off by Clinton. Rather, it follows directly from the strategy laid out by Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster for the 2008 election. In his memo dated March 19, 2007, he said:

Lack of American Roots
All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.

Save it for 2050.

It also exposes a very strong weakness for him — his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values. He told the people of NH yesterday he has a Kansas accent because his mother was from there. His mother lived in many states as far as we can tell — but this is an example of the nonsense he uses to cover this up.

How could we give some life to this contrast without turning negative:

Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child and that drive you today. Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back.

Let’s explicitly own “American” in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. Make this a new American Century, the American Strategic Energy fund. Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.

We are never going to say anything about his background — we have to show the value of ours when it comes to making decisions, understanding the needs of most Americans —the invisible Americans.

Except for the part about not saying anything directly negative about Obama’s background, this is the modern Republican playbook.

Hawaii doesn’t really count as America. Obama is thus an American by technicality only. Penn could not imagine electing a someone “who is not at his center fundamentally in his thinking and in his values.” The basis for thinking Obama was not American in his thinking and values is that he was born in Hawaii and spent time in Indonesia. At least, that’s what the text says.

Clinton photo

Photo by ronnie44052 The Democratic Party Was Not Always This Way

Clinton’s values of “fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back” are not ones Obama could have thanks to his “lack of American roots.” American flags must go everywhere on our literature, not because we are particularly American but to ensure everyone is reminded that Obama is not.

“The invisible Americans” is a particularly interesting phrase he used. It’s these invisible Americans that the media has been trodding up and down the country trying to interview. They were the people given the cold shoulder by the Democratic Party in 2008 when it went with the Hawaiian guy.

They are invisible no longer though. They chose the Republican Party’s president.


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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. ...more →

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30 thoughts on “The Democratic Party Was Not Always This Way

  1. 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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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.

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  2. 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.

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    • 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”.

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  3. 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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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.

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  4. “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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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 enemies

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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  5. “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.

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        • 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.

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          • 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.

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  6. 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.

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