The Shopworn “So’s Your Old Man” Response to Racist Outbursts

At Daily Beast, Mike Tomasky has some fun mocking conservative claims that racist outbursts in their ranks always represent a “coincidence” that have nothing to do with their values or beliefs. But he also adds value by noting the unintentional hilarity involved in the “so’s your old man” responses that identify racism with Democrats:

Stop taking these little things out of context and acting like they constitute a pattern. They just don’t. OK? The pattern liberals ought to be worried about is the following one.

A century ago, or more, it was the Democratic Party that was playing footsie with the Ku Klux Klan. Even worse—the Klan, in the Deep South anyway, was almost an arm of the Democratic Party. Sure, it was a century ago, and the parties have completely flipped identities since then, but so what? I still don’t hear an answer! That’s No. 1.

No. 2: Robert Byrd was in the KKK! That it was 60 years ago and that he recanted 40 years ago and that he hasn’t been a truly leading Democrat since 30 years ago and that he’s dead now, well, none of those things matter. Robert Byrd was in the KKK! This one fact will blot the Democratic escutcheon forever.

And No. 3: Everett Dirksen passed the Civil Rights Act, pal. Not Lyndon Johnson. Not Speaker John McCormack, not Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. They were all Democrats, you see, and they were compromised, polluted by the racists in their party. But Dirksen, the pure Dirksen. He made it all happen; the deus ex machina of the whole thing. Those people who point out that the Southern racists moved to the GOP, and that today’s GOP would have no room for the likes of a Dirksen… I have one sentence for them: Bobby Byrd was in the KKK!

I really don’t know if conservatives take these shopworn arguments seriously, or just offer them up for the comfort of the historically impaired. Being from where I’m from, and in my particular generation, I got to watch racists switch parties up close. Yeah, it didn’t happen overnight, and some went via the way-station of George Wallace’s American Independent Party, and many kept voting for Democrats down-ballot for a good while. But it happened nonetheless, and all the anachronistic talk about the racism of an increasingly distant southern Democratic past is becoming downright mendacious. There are fewer white racists than there used to be, and that’s a good thing, but the ones who persist sure aren’t pulling any levers for Barack Obama’s party.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.