Jim Crow and the Donkey: A True History The Left Loves To Ignore

MLK(BCN editor’s note: This is the first of two Ken Blackwell columns for Thursday.)

Editor’s Note: Mr. Blackwell is a member of the Policy Board of the American Civil Rights Union.

You know you’ve hit a sore spot when the Left starts screeching.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s producer, Steve Benen, just took a whack at the American Civil Rights Union’s new booklet, “The Truth About Jim Crow,” (TTAJC) which National Review Online writer John Fund wrote about in a recent column.

Benen cites a critique from the Atlanta Journal Constitution blogger Jay Bookman: “Jay Bookman took a closer look at the pamphlet Fund’s piece was promoting, highlighting some of its more glaring errors of fact and judgment.”

And what errors of fact would those be, Steve? Bookman did not point out a single factual error. Instead, regarding TTAJC’s three main points, that Jim Crow was “dehumanizing, deadly and Democratic,” he painfully admitted the paper’s accuracy: “that is true as far as it goes.” Apparently, Benen believes if you can’t find a factual error yourself, it’s okay to claim falsely that somebody else did.

Benen also suggests Fund is a hypocrite because he dares to write about civil rights for NRO. In 1957, you see, William F. Buckley of National Review wrote an article supporting segregation. But Buckley wasn’t by himself in 1957. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson was busy gutting GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1957 Civil Rights Act, and John F. Kennedy, then a senator from Massachusetts, was voting against it. If Fund is responsible for Buckley, aren’t Barack Obama and Harry Reid responsible for Kennedy and Johnson as well?

If Benen and Bookman can’t find any factual errors in TTAJC, then what are they complaining about? The goring of their sacred ox. Benen and Bookman devote their columns to reaffirming the Left’s standard dogma about Jim Crow, which TTAJC contradicts. Such heresy cannot be tolerated.

According to Bookman:

 I read the entire pamphlet, and there’s a single word that is notable by its absence from a document put out by such a highly conservative organization. That word is “conservative”, and there’s a very good reason for its absence:

 Conservatives — conservatives in the Democratic Party, and conservatives in the Republican Party — fought against civil rights. They fought hard, they fought bitterly, and in end they lost. The very magazine in which Fund’s piece appears, National Review, is a conservative publication that stridently defended segregation.

Liberals and moderates — again, liberals and moderates from both parties, Republicans and Democrats alike — fought FOR civil rights.

That is the plain, unvarnished, uncontestable truth. It was never a fight between Democrats and Republicans, it was a fight between liberals and conservatives. Fund knows it. The authors of the ACRU pamphlet know it. And the whole purpose of the pamphlet and similar efforts to rewrite history is to make that truth go away.”

Benen adds that the Democrats “dispatched the racists to the GOP,” and “segregationists made a new home in the Republican Party in the latter half of the 20th century.”

That’s the Left’s narrative on Jim Crow, and it’s dead wrong in both fact and analysis. Here is the heart of the issue, where the left has hijacked the true history of Jim Crow. The dividing line over Jim Crow was never liberals vs. conservatives; it’s far more accurate to describe it as Democrats versus Republicans. Not only in the 1800s, when the KKK served as the paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party, but right into the 1950s and 1960s. Bookman’s assertion that “conservatives in the Republican Party … fought against civil rights” is utterly false. As historian Dr. John Fonte noted on NRO in 2003, staunchly conservative Republicans led the fight for civil rights in the Senate, including Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, Ohio Senator Robert Taft, and California Senator Bill Knowland. In contrast, liberal Democrats remained divided, and liberal senators like William Fulbright and Al Gore, Sr. continued to fight for Jim Crow and white supremacy until the bitter end. One of those incontestably liberal Democrats who fought civil rights tooth and nail was Lyndon Baines Johnson, who switched sides only because he believed supporting civil rights for blacks would cement black support for the Democratic Party. And, how many of the people reading this column knew that the greatest icon of the Democratic Party, liberal John F. Kennedy, voted against the 1957 Civil Rights Act?

Further contradicting the Left’s narrative, there was no sudden shift of segregationists from Democrat to Republican after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The truth is, white Southerners continued to vote in large numbers for the Democratic Party until the advent of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The Democrats never “dispatched” segregationists from their party, as Benen claims. It’s more accurate to say Southern Democratic segregationists died off than that they switched parties. In any case, no Southerners shifted from the Democrats to the GOP because the GOP offered shelter to racism. Republicans never adopted racist policies, as Democrats had for more than a century; they did oppose dubious progressive notions like racial quotas as affirmative action. Democrats to this day accuse Republicans of racism for opposing racial preferences, even though, as Fonte notes, liberals including Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Edmund Muskie, and Adam Clayton Powell all spoke against racial preferences during the Congressional debate on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Now there’s true hypocrisy.

Certainly the most rabid segregationist politicians remained in the Democratic Party. Only one Southern Democratic senator who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act switched to the GOP, and that was ironic, considering that a higher percentage of Republicans voted for the Act than Democrats. The rest of the segregationists remained comfortably at home in the Democratic Party, which, in 1977, elected former Ku Klux Klan officer Robert Byrd to be its Senate Majority Leader.

Finally, the Leftist narrative about civil rights overlooks the fact that race is not the only issue in America. There are many reasons Southern voters rejected the Democratic Party, which lurched sharply to the left in 1968 and has never come back. Here are a few examples: its blame-America-first foreign policy, its hostility toward business, its promotion of welfare dependency, its hostility to God and religion, its sexual radicalism, and, last but not least, its ongoing identity politics and fanning of the flames of racial division.

Bookman whines, “I’m not sure that ‘Jim Crow was Democratic’ is really one of the three most important things that we should know about that era.”

Actually, it is. There is a reason why Jim Crow, which ended fifty years ago, continues to elicit such strong emotions today, and it’s all about partisan politics.

In the 1950s and 1960s, political ideology cut across party lines far more so than it does nowadays. Liberals and conservatives were found in both parties. Today’s Democrats range from liberal to far left, while Republicans range from moderate to conservative. The Left benefits from rewriting the history of Jim Crow as a liberal vs. conservative struggle so that it can tar the contemporary, moderately conservative GOP as racist, at least in the eyes of black Democrats.

Jim Crow is also a useful tool for tarring conservative efforts to root out voter fraud as “racist.” Both Benen and Bookman take aim at photo ID measures, Benen describing them as “discriminatory.” What, exactly, is discriminatory about requiring every American to produce a photo ID before voting? As a longtime international election observer, I can report that virtually every country in the industrialized world requires photo ID for voting. Also, the argument that photo IDs deny people the right to vote is long since disproven. In fact, the UN and the State Department both recommend use of photo IDs to forestall vote fraud in both developed nations and the Third World. The Left’s claims that voter ID laws are racist are nothing more than efforts to cloud the real issue, vote fraud, while stirring up racial division and motivating their base.

It all comes down to identity politics, which the Democrats have been practicing since the end of the Civil War, especially when they created Jim Crow. All by themselves.

Ken Blackwell_2Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union, and on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

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