A Republican’s view on racism

Mitch Pearlstein had a commentary in the Strib this week defending Republicans as not being racist.  Personally I don’t think all Republicans are racist, and I dont’ think all Democrats are not racist.  That being said, lets look at what Pearlstein had to say, and examine how valid his points are.

He starts off with a little history lesson from the 60s.

The two most important pieces of domestic legislation in my lifetime (I’m 60) were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Question: Members of which party voted for them in higher proportions, Republicans or Democrats? I suspect only a small slice of Americans knows it was Republicans, and by significant margins.

Eighty-two percent of Senate Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act, as opposed to 69 percent of Senate Democrats.

Eighty percent of House Republicans voted for it, as opposed to 63 percent of House Democrats.

As for the Voting Rights Act, 97 percent of Senate Republicans voted for it, compared with 73 percent of Democrats.

And 85 percent of House Republicans voted for it, compared with 80 percent of Democrats.

What conclusions or plausible guesses can be extrapolated from such barely recalled votes plus several other bypassed facts?

So we are looking at legislation that was passed 43 and 44 years ago, which happens to be before I was born (just for a frame of reference).

Starting with the Civil Rights Act, if you look at the vote percentage for the act by party and region, then the percentages favor the Democrats over the Republicans in the South (former Confederate States of America) and the rest of the country.

From wikipedia on the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

The original House version:

  • Southern Democrats: 7-87   (7%-93%)
  • Southern Republicans: 0-10   (0%-100%)
  • Northern Democrats: 145-9   (94%-6%)
  • Northern Republicans: 138-24   (85%-15%)

The Senate version:

  • Southern Democrats: 1-20   (5%-95%)
  • Southern Republicans: 0-1   (0%-100%)
  • Northern Democrats: 45-1   (98%-2%)
  • Northern Republicans: 27-5   (84%-16%)

Interesting what the statistics look like when you break them down by region.  So those are my counter stats that give a very different perspective for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Sadly I don’t have regional breakdown of the votes for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but it is very likely that it breaks similarly to the Civil Rights Act in the two regions.  Interesting when broken down into these two regions that Dems have a higher percentage than Republicans in each region.

Back to Pearlstein,

For one, while fully acknowledging the watershed importance of Barack Obama’s victory last week, I would argue the United States actually has been equipped and poised to elect an African-American as president for more than just the last few months.

In no way does claiming so downplay just how stunning a moment last week’s election was in the history of our nation. And neither does it grant too little credit to President-elect Obama’s remarkable political skills, as they would seem to be possibly matched over the last half-century only by those of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and maybe John F. Kennedy.

The point, rather, is that we have made more racial progress than has been routinely acknowledged, and this has been the case for years. How much progress had we made in terms of presidential politics before Obama’s candidacy? I would contend, for instance, that Colin Powell was eminently electable in 2000. In saying so I concede he was too socially moderate to win the Republican nomination and likely too closely identified with Reagan to win the Democratic nomination. But those two nonracial reasons had measurably more to do with blocking his path to the White House than his race ever would have posed. I can’t prove this, of course, but I’m confident.

I do agree with Pearlstein, we have made much progress.  Yet, he has to throw in the framing that Obama is exceptionally eloquent, which we saw McCain use during the campaign, to attribute the success of Obama’s election to his skills as an orator, not the American public wanting a shift in domestic economic policy-universal health care, worker rights, rethinking free trade, etc…

One reason I’m trusting, beyond the fact Powell is an uncommonly compelling figure, is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have long been of bone-deep goodwill when it comes to respecting the religious beliefs of their fellows, and it’s no leap to envision a similar sense of tolerance and maturity expanding, decade by decade, in akin spheres. The fact, for example, that vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman’s (orthodox) Judaism had nothing to do with Al Gore’s defeat in 2000 is evidence of this former spirit.

Well, if you know me, then you know this a load of a crap.  And the crap gets piled on in using Joe Lieberman as an example of religious tolerance.  Yeah, a lot of people identify the US as being founded based on Judeo-Christian, but that includes Lieberman, not necessarily Muslims or those of no faith, like myself.

Lets start with some of Lieberman’s words.

In another recent sound bite, Lieberman warned against “indulg[ing] the supposition ‘that morality can be maintained without religion.’ “

That is an attack on those of no faith.  Looking at the Pew Forum on Religion, 16.1% of Americans identify as Unaffiliated which is Atheist at 1.6%, Agnostic at 2.4%, and Nothing in Particular at 12.1%.  That is about 1 in 6 Americans that Lieberman would assume lack morals.

And what about tolerance for Muslims?  It isn’t like we don’t know about Muslims here in Minnesota, especially in Minneapolis where we are represented by the first member of Congress who is Muslim, my US Rep. Keith Ellison.

Well US Rep. Virgil Goode was warning of a Muslim invasion, because a Muslim was elected to Congress, despite the fact that Ellison was born in Detroit, not an immigrant.

You can read the letter here at Talking Points Memo.

You had Glenn Beck asking if he can trust Ellison to not be working with terrorists because he is a Muslim.

So Pearlstein, where is the religious tolerance that you are talking about?  Actually Colin Powell has been the best in defending Muslims in his endorsement of Obama, but Republicans in general have not been standing up, and the Democrats are not stellar either – particularly the defense of Obama that he is not a Muslim, when the right answer, which Powell stated, is “so what if he was?

Back to Pearlstein,

Remember when Trent Lott was too effusive in congratulating Strom Thurmond, his Republican Senate colleague, on Thurmond’s 100th birthday in 2002? Did conservative columnists try to bail Lott out after he “misspoke”? The opposite was predominantly the case, and not just because he had undercut his party’s political prospects. They also railed against him because they were morally offended by his comment that the nation would have been well-served if the then-segregationist (and non-Republican) Thurmond had been elected president in 1948.

Then there’s what I’ve personally heard — as well as what I haven’t heard — in decades of daily proximity to right-of-center men and women.

I have no patience for the kinds of absurd constraints imposed on language by politically correct censors and scolds. But that’s not to say I’m not acutely alert to matters of decency and civility when it comes to words, especially when the subject is as sensitive as race. Yet if you were to ask me the number of times that I’ve heard conservative colleagues say anything racially unacceptable in all that time, the answer — unbelievably, I’m sure to many — would be maybe once every half-dozen years or so. I can’t imagine liberals being any purer.

One instance, Lott’s comments, that isn’t defended.  What about what Senator Chambliss has said recently?

The development is not lost on Mr. Chambliss. “There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early,” he said at the square in Covington, a quick stop on a bus tour as the campaign entered its final week. He predicted the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. “It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening,” he said.

“They see what is happening,” that African-Americans are rushing to the polls.  Not straight up racist, but definitely language of us vs them in the South.  Or Jesse Helms in the 90s,

Mr. Helms has also made his views on race clear through a series of merely symbolic actions. Soon after a Senate vote on the Confederate flag insignia, Mr. Helms ran into then-Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun of Illinois, who is black, in a capitol elevator. Mr. Helms turned to his friend, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, and said, “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.” He then proceeded to sing the song about the good life during slavery.

That is definitely racist, no two ways about it.  Or former Senator George Allen calling someone “macaca.”

Or that Republican politician in Michigan saying,

There is rarely hard proof of the Republicans’ real agenda. One of the few public declarations of their intent came in 2004, when then state Rep. John Pappageorge of Michigan, who’s now running for a state Senate seat, was quoted by the Detroit Free Press: “If we do not suppress the Detroit [read: 81.6% black ] vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election cycle.”

So maybe they have gotten better at hiding their true feelings trying to be politically correct, but clearly these examples show that the true feeling isn’t that well hidden, and these are pretty recent.

So before you start patting yourself on the back for the role of Republicans almost half a century ago, you really need to ask, what have you done lately for civil rights.  More often than not, your party continues attacks on minority populations, many times hidden in coded language, but other times quite openly.

-Josh

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1 Comment

  1. Rob Levine said,

    November 15, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Hey Josh –

    That’s well said. When you throw in other aspects of Pearlstein and Kersten it gets even worse. As I’ve written in many places, Pearlstein is a believer in and promoter of Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza. Murray says Blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to Whites, and has spoken at the Center many times. D’Souza says of course there isn’t racism in the U.S. – it would interfere with the accumulation of wealth! Then there is Kersten, who views any appearance of Muslims in public life a sort of reverse Crusade, and was a founder of the Center and a board member at the odious Institute on Religion and Democracy. When someone told the Strib, after her hire as a “columnist” she was forced to quit that board.


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