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Tue Jan 29, 2013, 09:27 PM

The Anti-Democratic Party Part II: The Wrong Road Taken

What is it about today’s Republicans not recognizing “the will of the people”? Hell, what is it about them preferring not to even recognize all of “the people” to begin with? Abraham Lincoln indeed helped end slavery, but ever since Republicans drifted toward becoming the main “conservative” party in American politics, they have tilted toward government for the people, by some of the people more than others. Though they still hail democracy as an elixir for most of the worlds problems, here in the good old U.S.A. Republicans of late have been luke warm at best about core democratic concepts such as “one man one vote” and majority rule. So their latest shenanigans over how Americans elect our President should come as a surprise to no one. It clearly fits their recent pattern.

The current Republican Party infatuation with rigging the Electoral College, as discussed earlier, smacks heavily of pure partisan politics, but historically many conservatives were more focused on the theoretical underpinnings of American democracy. Arguably that was true during the struggle for Civil Rights for black Americans, extending well into the 1960’s. A 1956 editorial by William F. Buckley in the National Review, for example, made the almost clinical assertion that: “Support for the Southern position rests not at all on the question whether Negro and White children should, in fact, study geography side by side; but on whether a central or a local authority should make that decision. “

The landmark 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts would never have become law without strong Republican support. Senate Minority leader Everett Dirksen in particular played a critical role in the passage of both bills. Even Senator Barry Goldwater who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (he was not a member of the Senate in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was considered) supported 9 out of its 11 provisions. Though Goldwater did vote for the less sweeping Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, he ultimately came down against the 1964 bill because he was reluctant to support significant federal interference in what he viewed to be state affairs. In addition Goldwater opposed legislating who a private person could or could not do business with.

Whatever his reasons, Goldwater’s vote contributed to profound electoral changes. When he went on to become the 1964 Republican Presidential nominee Goldwater won less than 5% of the black vote on the heels of Richard Nixon receiving a third of that vote in 1960. On the other hand the Deep South opened up for the Republican Party in that election for the first time in a century. Suddenly the southern white vote was available for Republicans to court, and although Barry Goldwater had no say on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Ronald Reagan, the man who replaced him as the torch bearer for the conservative movement, opposed it. As late as 1980 Reagan characterized the Voting Rights Act as having been “humiliating to the South”, though as President he did sign off on extending it again in 1982.

It seems at times that other concerns, less rooted in debates over the relative powers of the Federal and State governments, factored into the resistance some conservatives had to the use of federal powers to eliminate Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South. In a 1957 National Review editorial titled “Why the South must prevail?” William Buckley wrote: “If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numeric majority.”

His opinion in this instance at least was buttressed by what most now would view as racism when he answered what he saw as the central question “…whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race."

In fairness to William Buckley his views continued to evolve after 1957. Buckley later became an active opponent of racism and admitted that he was mistaken to have opposed both the 1964 and 1065 Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. Still his earlier comments help to illustrate why the “Southern Strategy” that Richard Nixon later advanced to win the Presidency was a natural fit for the Republican Party by the time Nixon ran aaain in 1968. And Buckley’s proclamation “It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numeric majority” still resonates in some Conservative circles today.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a major turning point for the modern Republican Party, one that severed it from a critical historic mooring. In the name of defending “States Rights” Republicans knowingly began aligning with Southerners opposed to integration, and with players intent on disenfranchising African American voters in order to maintain their political control. It is nothing that Democrats hadn’t done before them, in the South especially, but as the national Democratic Party began backing away from that sordid legacy Republicans stepped into the breech.

It was a fateful move for a Party once defined by its strong stance against Slavery. The same Party that once led the fight to expand the voting franchise to America’s newly recognized black citizens sought support from those intent on disenfranchising their descendents in the South. All done for principled reasons conservatives said at the time, while the political tacticians they employed focused on fashioning what they hoped would become a permanent Republican lock on an Electoral College majority. And they established the mindset of the modern Anti-Democratic Party...

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