BARBOUR EXPLAINS THE SOUTH WITH BASELESS, REVISIONIST HISTORY…. For much of the 20th century, America’s Southeast, now the Republicans’ strongest region, was closely aligned with Democratic politics. The shift began quickly after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, culminating in the Republican stronghold we see today.
As far as likely presidential candidate Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the corporate-lobbyist-turned governor, is concerned, the transition can be explained as a matter of generational change. Barbour’s version of events, though, is so wildly ridiculous, it bears no resemblance to reality.
Barbour has invented his own sanitized, suburb-friendly version of history — an account that paints the South’s shift to the GOP as the product of young, racially inclusive conservatives who had reasons completely separate and apart from racial politics for abandoning their forebears’ partisan allegiances. In an interview with Human Events that was posted on Wednesday, Barbour insists that “the people who led the change of parties in the South … was my generation. My generation who went to integrated schools. I went to integrated college — never thought twice about it.” Segregationists in the South, in his telling, were “old Democrats,” but “by my time, people realized that was the past, it was indefensible, it wasn’t gonna be that way anymore. So the people who really changed the South from Democrat to Republican was a different generation from those who fought integration.”
This is utter nonsense.
This comes up from time to time, especially when Republicans are feeling defensive about race (or when right-wing Mississippi governors prepare to run against the nation’s first African-American president), so let’s set the record straight.
The Democratic Party, in the first half of the 20th century, was home to competing constituencies — southern conservative whites with abhorrent views on race, and white progressives and African Americans in the north, who sought to advance the cause of civil rights. The party struggled, ultimately siding with an inclusive, liberal agenda.
It wasn’t easy. As Steve Kornacki reminds us, “When the party ratified a civil rights plank at its 1948 convention, Southern Democrats staged a walkout and lined up behind Strom Thurmond, South Carolina’s governor and (like all Southern Democrats of the time) an arch-segregationist. Running under the Dixiecrat banner, Thurmond won four Deep South states that fall.”
As the party shifted, the Democratic mainstream embraced its new role. Republicans, meanwhile, also changed.
In the wake of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party welcomed the white supremacists who no longer felt comfortable in the Democratic Party. Indeed, in 1964, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater boasted of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and made it part of his platform. Other than his home state, Goldwater won exactly five states in that race: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. To pretend this had nothing to do with race — we’re talking about states that hadn’t backed a GOP candidate since the Civil War — is absurd.
This was, of course, right around the time when figures like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond made the transition — leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP.
In the ensuing years, Democrats embraced their role as the party of diversity, inclusion, and civil rights. Republicans became the party of the “Southern Strategy,” opposition to affirmative action, campaigns based on race-baiting, vote-caging, discriminatory voter-ID laws, and politicians like Helms and Thurmond.
Indeed, as the chairman of the Republican National Committee recently conceded, his party deliberately used racial division for electoral gain for the last four decades.
Matt Finkelstein, who noted that Barbour’s version of history “is so grossly distorted that it’s tough to decide where to start,” added, “Barbour says that he was raised an ‘Eastland Democrat,’ but fails to mention that Jim Eastland once said that ‘segregation is not discrimination,’ but rather ‘the law of God.’”
Barbour, a man who placed a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office, surely knows his historical perspective is radically untrue. He’s just hoping the public doesn’t know better. It’s ugly and cynical … and par for the course for one of America’s least honorable politicians.