July 16, 2008
The childlike inanity of Bruce Bartlett’s column in today’s WSJ, “The GOP Is the Party of Civil Rights,” really is astonishing, and only goes to emphasize that in today’s wingnut-rich media environment, there is literally nothing too ridiculous or offensive to go unpublished as long as it goes out with a conservative marketing tag.
Bartlett’s burble — please don’t call it an “argument” — has it that the Republicans are the true paladins of civil rights. Considering that the halls of wingerdom are still echoing with tributes to the late Jesse Helms, as disgusting a racist as ever slithered through the corridors of power, that’s pretty rich. As one might expect, Bartlett has to reach pretty far back into the historical record to back up this claim.
Lyndon Johnson consistently opposed civil-rights legislation while he was in Congress, but as president worked hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Neither would have passed without the strong support of congressional Republicans, who provided the margin of victory.
Richard Nixon is said to have developed a “Southern strategy” of using racial code words like “law and order” to gain votes in the South. Yet he did more to desegregate southern schools than any president in history. Nixon also created affirmative action to help break the power of racist labor unions, and minority set-asides for government contracts to aid black entrepreneurs.
Bartlett is amusing to watch as he trips over the facts he’s trying to spin, such as when he has to admit that Harry Truman “deserves great credit” for desegregating the civil service and the military. But really, let’s just cut to the chase. The era of Civil Rights legislation prompted the exodus of the Democractic Party’s “Dixiecrat” racist faction first to independent movements like the States’ Rights Party, and then the GOP. Strom Thurmond left the Democrats to become a Republican because of his support for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Helms switched to the GOP in 1970. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of coded appeals to racism has been quite effective. Not only does Bartlett skip past the Dixiecrat element, he neglects to mention that the affirmative action programs and minority set-asides begun by the Nixon administration arouse nothhing but loathing among contemporary Republicans and conservatives.
And to think that a respectable publishing house, Palgrave Macmillan, just laid out good coin for the chance to publish a book-length version of Barlett’s intellectual finger-painting. Will it toddle up the bestseller list to join other loaded diapers like Liberal Fascism? I’m not sure, but this much I know: the intellectual decay of conservatism is getting nastier by the week.