Thursday, October 27, 2016

Say What?




Facebook is a never-ending source of amazement.  Just today I learned that Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr.  were lifelong Republicans and that "Christian Conservatives" were at the forefront of women's suffrage and the Civil Rights movement.  If that is not enough to make you gawk in wonder, Abraham Lincoln was a "conservative" Republican!

One assumes that a woman couldn't register for a political party before 1920 since she wasn't allowed to vote, but I guess one could make a connection between Susan B. Anthony and the Republican Party, given that the National American Women's Suffrage Association did have ties to the GOP.  However, when the Republicans failed to add women to the 15th amendment they lost a lot of support among women.  Susan B. Anthony felt woman suffrage should be non-partisan, having little faith in the political parties after 1870.

The biggest roadblock was "Christian conservativism," whose political leaders often quoted the Bible in their defense of the voting restrictions.  They were none too pleased about the 15th amendment, which extended voting rights to black men, particularly in the South where Blacks made up a significant percentage of the population.

The suffrage movement gathered steam in the late 19th century and was actively promoted by William Jennings Bryan, a populist Democrat who ran for President in 1896.   William McKinley, the Republican, ran on an anti-tariff platform that year and made little effort to promote women's suffrage after winning the election.  It wouldn't be until 1920 that the 19th amendment was finally ratified thanks to the tireless efforts of Bryan and other prominent political leaders at the tail end of Woodrow Wilson's administration, in which Bryan served.

The Republicans had long ceded progressive issues to the Democrats, something Teddy Roosevelt was deeply frustrated with.  He had tried to revive the Party of Lincoln during his 8-year tenure, only to see it drift back to a party of plutocrats which kept women and labor suppressed.  Roosevelt had recognized the tide was turning, but his fellow Republicans refused to see it, resulting in a hotly contested election in 1912, which saw the GOP split and the Democrats take back the White House for the first time in 16 years.

This was a period that also saw the hard-earned gains black men had made in the South nullified by Jim Crow laws, resulting in most of their voting rights being stripped, not to mention the indignities that came with an officially sanctioned two-tiered society.   So much for Conservatism -- Christian or otherwise.

To be fair, Wilson was an unmitigated racist as well, born in the South with all the ugly baggage that came with it.  Southern Democrats would cast a shadow on the party well into the 1960s because of their refusal to support any legislation that gave Blacks their inalienable rights as citizens.  Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy's Democratic cousin, couldn't even get an anti-lynching bill through Congress because of the stern opposition of Dixiecrats.  Yet, according to multiple conservative sources, Christian Conservatives were at the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement, which the Jim Crow laws had inspired.

In those days Christian Conservatives could be found in both parties, although they had the strongest influence in the Democratic Party.  They believed in a God-fearing society and had little tolerance for progressive ideas.  It was amazing that the 19th amendment had been passed since a women's place was in the home under the watchful eye of her husband. Blacks were clearly seen as second class citizens, forced to take "literacy tests" in order to vote.  Not surprisingly, most failed, since the tests were rigged against them.

Republicans love to point out that Democrats held sway throughout the South during this time.  However, when the Civil Rights Act was finally passed in 1964 guess who most of these Southern Democrats voted for that election year?  It sure as hell wasn't Lyndon B. Johnson.

The so-called Southern strategy was born out of this moment in history, when the political parties saw a major re-alignment.  Southern Democrats shifted heavily toward Republican candidates.  Nixon had only won three Southern states in 1960.  Goldwater won five in 1964.  When Nixon ran again in '68 he and George Wallace, who ran as an Independent, won every Southern state except Texas, stifling Humphrey's bid for the White House.

Yet, a popular myth is that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican, and a conservative one at that.  John Blake debunks this conservative myth and others.  MLK Jr's father had been a Republican, as had many Blacks in the aftermath of the Civil War, yet Blacks had been voting Democratic ever since Wilson, as the Republican Party had long turned its back on them.  MLK Jr. had no political affiliation.  He worked tirelessly with Republican and Democratic leaders alike for the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

None of this information will stop Christian Conservatives from believing what they want to believe.  However, recasting the GOP as the Party of the Lincoln has to be one of the most audacious moves they've made yet, especially since the Republican Party wouldn't have had all these former Dixiecrats and Copperheads had they not repudiated Lincoln in 1964.  By accepting Goldwater with his fierce stand against the Civil Rights Act they opened the door to all the riff-raff that came with it.  The Tea Party and Trumpkins are the end result of this awful decision 52 years ago.  All one has to do is look at all the Republicans in office throughout the South to see that this political re-alignment is complete. Voter ID laws are the contemporary version of "literacy tests," designed to stifle minority voting rights.

Abraham Lincoln would roll over in his grave if he could see what happened to his Republican Party.   This was a progressive party in his day, built largely upon the abolitionist movement that pushed for equal rights.  The concessions to big business would come later as the West opened up to greater speculation with big money to be made off railroads, the cattle industry and mineral rights, all of which Lincoln could not have foreseen before his untimely death.

It is true he loved his Bible, but that is about all he shared with Christian Conservatives.








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