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Thursday, June 22, 2006
Whitewash At National Review
As the reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act stalls in Congress, the National Review is making loud, defensive braying sounds. They insist they're not against reauthorization of the bill per se; but are only against certain "controversial" aspects of the bill, such as the possibility of enforcing it.

Sensing that the magazine is skating on thin ice, given its history, NR's John Fonte penned an interesting bit of revisionist history:

In examining the crucial civil-rights issues of the 1960s we should: (1) revisit the role Republicans (and particularly conservative Republicans) played in the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and (2) reexamine the original intent of the bill itself. Contrary to popular amnesia, it was the congressional Republicans, not the Democrats, who were most responsible for this great victory for equal civil rights for all Americans.

This is thoroughly misleading, and Fonte knows it. His rhetorical sleight-of-hand requires that his reader knows little or nothing of the civil rights movement and how it fractured the Democratic party, or how the Republican's "Southern Strategy" of the 1960s led to their eventual majority in Congress.

Today "Democrat" and "Republican" are understood to be the liberal party and the conservative party on social issues respectively, and they are; but in the mid-twentieth century both parties had liberal and convervative wings. The Democratic coalition was made up of northern liberals and southern conservatives; the Republicans counted many northeastern liberals -- the "Rockefeller Republicans" so despised by the Taft / Goldwater wing -- in their ranks. Both parties were coalitions and as such, they tended to govern as moderates; there was a great deal of continuity between the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, and between the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. Similarly, while civil rights legislation was passed with bipartisan majorities, they revealed a sharp distinction between congressional liberals and conservatives of both parties

The civil rights movement changed that. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act -- championed and signed by a Democratic president -- alienated southern conservatives, breaking the Democratic coalition. The Republicans eagerly courted the South and many of the old Dixiecrats -- including George Wallace and Strom Thurmond -- eventually switched their allegiance to the Republican party. Meanwhile, the Republican liberals were sidelined, or pushed out of the party altogether.

But Fonte's charade is necessary in order to prop up his implication that conservatives supported the original 1965 Voting Rights Act. They did not. The National Review itself bitterly opposed it, grinding out editorial after editorial predicting the end of the Constitution itself if it was passed. James Jason Kilpatrick, for instance, wrote this in April 20, 1965 issue of National Review:

No reasonable man would deny that in times past, the South has sinned against the Negro; here and there, in times present, the abuse continues....to this indicment, the South can enter but one honest plea -- guilty, with extenuating circumstances. Over most of this century, the great bulk of southern Negroes have been genuinely unqualified for the franchise. They emerged illiterate from slavery; they remained for generations, metaphorically, under the age of twenty-one. To this day, such is the apathetic state of rural politics in the South, the problem is not merely that registars deny, but that Negroes seldom ask. The evidence would show this....

Throughout most of this period, whatever social and economic and political values have been created in the "Black Belt" counties through the machinery of local government, the white property owner has created them. In those rural counties where white families have been outnumbered three and four to one by Negroes, it has been the white leadership that has kept the machinery going -- paid the taxes, provided the capital, met the bills. To have yielded political control of these functions to a mass of relatively uneducated Negro voters, easily led, unequipped for public administration, would have meant total disintegration of the whole establishment

The title of the article, by the way, was "Must We Destroy The Constition In Order To Give The Negro The Right To Vote?"

I'm assuming it was a rhetorical question.

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