A correspondent came up with the following statement.
Gosh, but Lyndon Johnson was a Democrat. How could that possibly be? According to that new ad campaign by Dennis Prager, a major conservative broadcaster and blogger, only the Republicans have ever sponsored or promoted Civil Rights legislation. He even paid an African American woman to say so in the commercials, so it must be true, right?
Seriously, there’s a really weird disinformation campaign going on right now. The basis for Prager’s comments is that in the 19th century, the Democrats were the bad guys in terms of civil rights for African Americans, so they must still be. Somehow, ignoring the entire 20th century in political analysis seems odd, but that’s what he’s doing. He skips over the whole period of time, including the part after July 2nd, 1964, when many Southern Democrats migrated to the Republican Party and to the new American Independent party, because they were the parties that now opposed civil rights legislation. He ignores the entire period of history in which the Democrats became the more liberal of the two parties around the time of the Depression, and remained that way after FDR solidified his position.
I will grant him that, back when the two parties actually talked to each other rather than simply ranting across the aisle, the Republicans of the 1940s did help nudge Truman into finishing the desegregation of the armed forces, by threatening to make it a political issue if he left it unfinished. Also, Eisenhower, in the 1950s, did a lot in support of the Supreme Court’s rulings on schools. But still…
Okay, so maybe Dennis Prager somehow slept through a lot of history classes, and this isn’t really being openly dishonest. That doesn’t explain the other folks jumping in with similar “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength…” ad campaigns. In the state of Georgia, African Americans were sent a phony endorsement pitch, supposedly from Barack Obama, endorsing the Republican candidates…
I don’t know about the ad campaigns elsewhere, but I’m not aware of Dennis Prager ever saying that only Republicans ever supported civil rights legislation. I’m also not aware of any “ad campaigns” featuring an African American woman paid to say so.
I suspect he may have heard this spot, which isn’t an ad campaign for anything, but is in fact the finished product. Nowhere does it say that only Republicans supported civil rights legislation.
Maybe he’s referring to something else, but since he didn’t offer source or link, I’m not sure what to make of any of his history.
Once upon a time, every student of history – and that meant pretty much everyone with a high school education – knew this: The Democratic Party was the party of slavery and Jim Crow, and the Republican Party was the party of emancipation and racial integration.
Democrats were the Confederacy and Republicans were the Union. Jim Crow Democrats were dominant in the South and socially tolerant Republicans were dominant in the North.
But then, in the 1960s and 70s, everything supposedly flipped: suddenly the Republicans became the racists and the Democrats became the champions of civil rights.
Fabricated by left-leaning academic elites and journalists, the story went like this: Republicans couldn’t win a national election by appealing to the better nature of the country; they could only win by appealing to the worst. Attributed to Richard Nixon, the media’s all-purpose bad guy, this came to be known as “The Southern Strategy.”
It was very simple. Win elections by winning the South. And to win the South, appeal to racists. So, the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, were to now be labeled the party of rednecks.
But this story of the two parties switching identities is a myth. In fact, it’s three myths wrapped into one false narrative.
Let’s take a brief look at each myth in turn.
Myth Number One: In order to be competitive in the South, Republicans started to pander to white racists in the 1960s.
Fact: Republicans actually became competitive in the South as early as 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover won over 47 percent of the South’s popular vote against Democrat Al Smith. In 1952, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower won the southern states of Tennessee, Florida and Virginia. And in 1956, he picked up Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, too. And that was after he supported the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated public schools; and after he sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock Central High School to enforce integration.
Myth Number Two: Southern Democrats, angry with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, switched parties.
Fact: Of the 21 Democratic senators who opposed the Civil Rights Act, just one became a Republican. The other 20 continued to be elected as Democrats, or were replaced by other Democrats. On average, those 20 seats didn’t go Republican for another two-and-a-half decades.
Myth Number Three: Since the implementation of the Southern Strategy, the Republicans have dominated the South.
Fact: Richard Nixon, the man who is often credited with creating the Southern Strategy, lost the Deep South in 1968. In contrast, Democrat Jimmy Carter nearly swept the region in 1976 – 12 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And in 1992, over 28 years later, Democrat Bill Clinton won Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. The truth is, Republicans didn’t hold a majority of southern congressional seats until 1994, 30 years after the Civil Rights Act.
As Kevin Williamson of the National Review writes: “If southern rednecks ditched the Democrats because of a civil-rights law passed in 1964, it is strange that they waited until the late 1980s and early 1990s to do so. They say things move slower in the south — but not that slow.”
So, what really happened? Why does the South now vote overwhelmingly Republican? Because the South itself has changed. Its values have changed. The racism that once defined it, doesn’t anymore. Its values today are conservative ones: pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-small government.
And here’s the proof: Southern whites are far more likely to vote for a black conservative, like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, than a white liberal.
In short, history has moved on. Like other regions of the country, the South votes values, not skin color. The myth of the Southern Strategy is just the Democrats’ excuse for losing the South, and yet another way to smear Republicans with the label “racist.”
Don’t buy it.
I’m Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, for Prager University.