Nobody Here But Us Anti-Confederates!

Look, I’m genuinely happy that the Republican Party in the former Confederate States and everywhere else has (for the most part) suddenly decided to abandon any association with the Confederate Battle Flag and the Lost Cause. Aside from constituting a fresh rejection of anti-African-American racism at a time when an awful lot of conservatives seem to think the only imaginable racism is anti-white racism, officially denouncing Confederate insignia also provides a bit of a firewall against the spread of neo-Confederate ideas like nullification, secession, and radical restrictions on judicial prerogatives that have been quasi-acceptable in GOP (or at least its large Tea Party faction) circles.of late.

What is intolerable, though, is the tendency of some conservative gabbers to cover the GOP retreat on this subject by repeating the ludicrous claim that Republicans have never been a party to any of this racist stuff; it’s a Democratic thing because the original neo-Confederates were all Democrats.

Yes, of course, if you go back far enough the Democratic and Republican parties were very different beasts. At the presidential level, white racists started leaving the Democratic Party in droves in 1964, when one of the heroes of today’s conservatives, Barry Goldwater, opposed the Civil Rights Act of that year and wound up carrying nothing (aside from his native Arizona) but former Confederate states in his presidential campaign. Many of them returned very briefly in 1976, when a native southerner was the Democratic presidential nominee, but soon left for good. The transition was, as is always the case, slower at the sub-presidential level, and it’s true rural Democrats were nearly as prominent as Republicans in the resistance to Zell Miller’s efforts to get Confederate insignia out of the Georgia flag in 1993 (though Republicans who agreed with the change, other than Newt Gingrich, were pretty rare).

But that was then and this is now. The ideological realignment of the two parties has left just about all the racists in the GOP. That doesn’t mean all Republicans are racists, but it does mean racism is the GOP’s problem at present. Can any of the conservatives caterwauling about Democratic complicity with neo-Confederacy find a single Democratic officeholder left who is defending the Battle Flag, in South Carolina or anywhere else? I doubt it.

So let the GOP congratulate itself for catching up and finding the courage to slap down those in its ranks who are still emitting rebel yells. But nobody should pretend there was any Democratic resistance to these steps. That’s been gone with the wind for quite some time.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

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.