Saturday, January 29, 2005

Republicans And African-Americans

This article by Peter Wallsten in today's L.A. Time seems to me to be a fair treatment of the GOP's efforts to invite more black Americans into its tent. The article does gloss over quite a bit of history:

In national elections, black voters began flocking to the Democratic Party in the 1930s, drawn by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs.

And the Democrats gained a virtual lock on the black vote in the mid-1960s, as President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed several civil rights bills through Congress while the GOP pursued a "Southern strategy" aimed at courting white voters.

In the years that followed, Republicans led the fights against affirmative action and the creation of a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
It's true that the New Deal was the big development that caused black voters to migrate from the GOP to the Democrats, but the way the Democrats came out of Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s represents one of the greatest bits of spinning any political party has been able to achieve.

Did you know, for example, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 saw more Republicans support it than Democrats? One of the leading voices supporting the bill was Senator Everett Dirksen, the Senate Minority Leader and a Republican. Senator Dirksen received the NAACP's Man of The Year award in 1964 for his support of the bill, which would have been killed by southern Democrats and could not have passed without GOP support. 80 percent of Republicans voted for the bill compared with the 63 percent of Democrats. Yet to read history books (and Mr. Wallsten's story) one would think of the Civil Right Act as a great Democrat acomplishment.

Nixon's "Southern Strategy" was aimed at attracting anti-crime, pro-Vietnam War voters to his candidacy. It had nothing to do with race, and Nixon raised no racial wedge issues.

In fact, Richard Nixon was quite a progressive on civil rights. Guess who invented the term "affirmative action?" Yes, Nixon, who moved to initiate the “Philadelphia Order,” calling for fair hiring practices in construction jobs. He said, “We would not impose quotas, but would require federal contractors to show ‘affirmative action’ to meet the goals of increasing minority employment.” Since then affirmative action has become a proper subject for national debate and several federal appellate court decisions, but to say Republicans are "leading fights against affirmative action" is to oversimplify the matter greatly.

Republicans are still the party of Lincoln. Do we have more to do? Yes, but we have nothing to be ashamed of and much to be very proud of.


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