The party of Lincoln is not the party of Lincoln

The party of Lincoln is not the party of Lincoln February 6, 2012

Before I was born, my dad ran for local office and got to speak at a 1960 rally where he introduced the speaker who introduced Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon was then vice president, but that’s not the cool part of the story or why Dad is still rightly proud to have shared that podium. The cool part of the story is the guy he introduced: Jackie Robinson.

Fenway Park is not the House That Ruth Built. And the GOP is not the party of Lincoln.

In 1960, Jackie Robinson was a Republican. That was still possible in 1960, still conceivable. In 1960, President Eisenhower, like Teddy Roosevelt before him, still was able to make the claim that he was the leader of “the party of Abraham Lincoln.” He was the last Republican president who could plausibly say that. And apart from empty platitudes ritually repeated, he was the last Republican president who seemed at all interested in saying that.

Nixon lost in 1960, but he won in 1968 due in part to his “Southern Strategy” designed to peel off the white racist vote that had been a mainstay of the Democratic Party since before the Civil War. In 1968, those votes were there for the taking, since President Lyndon B. Johnson repudiated everything that President Andrew Johnson stood for by signing into law the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.

“We have lost the South for a generation,” LBJ said. He wasn’t wrong.

The 1960s completed the weird reversal of America’s two political parties. The Radical Republicans brought about a second American revolution with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. They were committed to a strong, large federal government, to public education and to expanded voting rights. A century later, Republicans were adamantly opposed to all of those things.

Today, if you hear a politician railing against public schools, or calling for voting restrictions, or for a smaller and weaker federal government, you know without looking that this politician is a Republican. Today if you hear a politician attacking due process, or citizenship for all born here, or equal protection, then you know without looking that this politician belongs to the party that bears the same name as the party that fought to enshrine all those things in the Constitution.

We all know this. I’m not saying anything new here. But on some level it’s still jarringly strange to consider how totally and fundamentally the parties switched places from Johnson to Johnson.

We hear people say “the party of Lincoln” and we know it’s a true statement of historical fact. But given the reversal of the two parties, remembering Abraham Lincoln as a Republican is as strange as remembering Babe Ruth as a player for the Red Sox. That’s what he was, but then he got traded. The GOP traded Lincoln to the Democrats for Strom Thurmond, Ronald Reagan and a tea party to be named later.

This is all prompted by a post today from Richard Beck on “Race, Politics, and Christianity in the American South.”

What changed in the South? When did the South go from being strongly Democratic to being strongly Republican? The story can be summed up by looking at two electoral maps separated by a mere eight years …

Go look at those two maps and go read the whole post.

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  • But on some level it’s still jarringly strange to consider how totally and fundamentally the parties switched places from Johnson to Johnson.

    Not so strange. 100 years is a long time. It’s more irritating than strange to watch contemporary Republicans with their revisionist history, claiming the heritage of Lincoln and pretending that their anti-freedom, anti-equality, anti-prosperity-for-all politics have anything whatsoever to do with Abe or Abe’s fellow Republicans.

  • Anonymous

    Happy Birthday, President Reagan!

  • Lori

    but that’s not the cool part of the story or why Dad is still rightly proud to have shared that podium. The cool part of the story is the guy he introduced: Jackie Robinson. 

    That really is cool. Your dad is absolutely right to be proud of that moment. 

     
    “We have lost the South for a generation,” LBJ said. He wasn’t wrong. 

    Actually, LBJ was wrong. The South has already been lost to the Dems for two generations and counting. LBJ seriously underestimated the ability of white racists to cling to their racism, to nurse a grudge over their loss of privilege and to pass their racism and resentment on to the next generation. Respect and appreciation for your fore-bearers can be wonderful things, but when the objects of your ancestor worship are hardcore bigots it’s a problem.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I sometimes see Republican apologists arguing that blacks should vote Republican because it is the party of Lincoln.  I am never quite sure whether the persons making this argument are really this ignorant of American political history or if they are simply bullshitting.  It doesn’t really matter.  I have, after some experimentation, arrived at a response.  I point out that the Democratic Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and therefore anyone supporting limited government and a narrow interpretation of the constitution should vote Democratic.  This usually shuts them up, at least temporarily while they slink away.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I sometimes see Republican apologists arguing that blacks should vote Republican because it is the party of Lincoln.  I am never quite sure whether the persons making this argument are really this ignorant of American political history or if they are simply bullshitting.  It doesn’t really matter.  I have, after some experimentation, arrived at a response.  I point out that the Democratic Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and therefore anyone supporting limited government and a narrow interpretation of the constitution should vote Democratic.  This usually shuts them up, at least temporarily while they slink away.

  • This doesn’t happen very frequently.  This may even be the first time this has happened, but this post rubs me the wrong way, particularly the line “the white racist vote that had been a mainstay of the Democratic Party since before the Civil War.”

    My understanding is that the Republican and Democrat platforms switched completely sometime between 1865 and 1932.  Am I wrong?

    Was Herbert Hoover a champion of racial equality?

  • Eesh – I just realized. We’re coming up on 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (O_O)

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I’ve seen a Republican claim (apparently seriously) that “Liberals are the real racists!”.  I haven’t heard it recently, though.  Could it be they’ve figured out they’re not fooling anyone but themselves?

  • Pope Disturban V

     The title of this post gets even ‘better’ when you remember all the Republicans (like Rick Perry) talking up secession because they didn’t like the new President.   Now, where have we heard THAT one before?

    They’ve become the Party of Jefferson Davis, and unlike the Confederates, they don’t even have the excuse of their entire economic/caste system depending on the status quo. 

  • Pope Disturban V

     The title of this post gets even ‘better’ when you remember all the Republicans (like Rick Perry) talking up secession because they didn’t like the new President.   Now, where have we heard THAT one before?

    They’ve become the Party of Jefferson Davis, and unlike the Confederates, they don’t even have the excuse of their entire economic/caste system depending on the status quo. 

  • “They’ve become the Party of Jefferson Davis, and unlike the Confederates, they don’t even have the excuse of their entire economic/caste system depending on the status quo.”

    They don’t? Their leaders and candidates seem to me to come exclusively from those at the top of the greasy pole and as determined as the slave-holders were to keep those at the bottom from rising

  • Lori

     
    My understanding is that the Republican and Democrat platforms switched completely sometime between 1865 and 1932.  Am I wrong?

    Was Herbert Hoover a champion of racial equality?  

     
    The party platform issue is more complicated than that, but at any rate Fred is really commenting on voting patterns, not platforms. The Civil Rights Era and the Southern Strategy were the things that cemented the voting pattern shift. 

  • Lori

     
    My understanding is that the Republican and Democrat platforms switched completely sometime between 1865 and 1932.  Am I wrong?

    Was Herbert Hoover a champion of racial equality?  

     
    The party platform issue is more complicated than that, but at any rate Fred is really commenting on voting patterns, not platforms. The Civil Rights Era and the Southern Strategy were the things that cemented the voting pattern shift. 

  • Anonymous

    The thing about it is that the entire platform of being against public education, voting rights, and a strong federal government is all specific designed to appeal to racism. Even the lower taxes is an appeal to racism. The Republican Party of today is literally nothing except an appeal to racism. Republican strategist (and utter sociopath) Lee Atwater brazenly admitted as much:

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

    And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

  • “…remembering Abraham Lincoln as a Republican is as strange as remembering Babe Ruth as a player for the Red Sox. That’s what he was, but then he got traded,” should be the quote of the day.

  • “…remembering Abraham Lincoln as a Republican is as strange as remembering Babe Ruth as a player for the Red Sox. That’s what he was, but then he got traded,” should be the quote of the day.

  • P J Evans

     My father’s parents were registered as Democrats in the 1940s – and stayed in the party, even as it became the party of civil rights. And apparently without being disturbed by it, in my grandmother’s case. (Grandpa died in 1961.)

  • if you hear a politician railing against public schools… 

    Sorry, but I live in Chicago. Railing against public schools, blaming teachers and unions, privatizing public uses – this is all Democrat territory here.

  • Neither Democrats nor Republicans were champions of racial equality. Some members of each party (I’m thinking Eleanor Roosevelt and…?) moved toward equality, but neither made it part of any platform.

  • Lori

     
    My father’s parents were registered as Democrats in the 1940s – and stayed in the party, even as it became the party of civil rights. And apparently without being disturbed by it, in my grandmother’s case. (Grandpa died in 1961.)  

    OK. That doesn’t change the trend though, and the trend was that the Democrats lost the South after Civil Rights. 

  • Unless things have changed in the last (dear God!  Has it really been 19 years?) 19 years, railing against the public schools in Chicago is a bipartisan activity.

  • It’s only – unbelievably – gotten worse. Teachers, librarians, bus drivers, certified electricians – anybody who’s job can be sold to a teenager or a hungry college kid to benefit the banks that roll Rahm’s funds…

  • wendy

    Neither Democrats nor Republicans were champions of racial equality. Some members of each party (I’m thinking Eleanor Roosevelt and…?) moved toward equality, but neither made it part of any platform.

    Eisenhower sent the troops to Little Rock — and not just any troops, he was making a very public political statement when he chose the unit who led the way on D-Day to force integration. He introduced several very strong civil rights bills; especially one in 1957 that was watered down then locked up in committee by then-senate-majority-leader LBJ. We’re supposed to not remember that, because Johnson did end up changing his mind a few years later. 

    As for party platforms… here’s a 1960 Republican ad that might surprise you.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAlZHfaksQM

  • Anonymous

    It’s weird that the comments on blog about experimental theology include such gems as an exit poll showing overwhelming support for Barack Obama among black voters as an example of black racism.

  • Anonymous

    Fifty years?  Why… it seems like it was only yesterday….

  • Nathaniel

    The fact that John Kerry got over 90% of support from blacks would be treated as a coincidence, I’m sure. 

  • P J Evans

    Truth. (Granny’s father was a Republican because he was a Civil War veteran – he turned 21 the week after Appomattox Court House.)

  • vsm

    At least the main US parties have rather non-descriptive names. In Denmark, the party stubbornly calling itself Left has morphed over a hundred years into the major right-wing party. It can get a bit confusing at times.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Happy Birthday, President Reagan!

    On the side of the underdog, always and everywhere.

    No, wait, that was Dickens.

  • Tanjaw68

    Thanks for the article. I find it amazing the many ironies that exist in the history of the 2 Parties. I also find it interesting as one who was born as a US citizen abroad to see how easy it is for each party to try and stereotype the other to the point where we try to put every world view of all US citizens on this linear line of either left or right with all the many stereotypes that get attached. For example, I know of a few “extreme right” leaning individuals that have given up their wealth in support of social causes. I know some on the far left that seem quite fiscally conservative in many ways in their views . Though politics tends to type caste people, History and “worldview” tend to make us all a little more complex. It seems to me that when you meet real people without political axes ro grind, I find that the Party of Lincoln is still alive and well in the Rebublican Party as is the Party of Jefferson in the democratic Party.

  • Syllogism… The article is syllogism.

    Today’s GOP is moving towards the the party of Jefferson and Lincoln, e.g. state’s rights and smaller and less oppressive federal government that provides only the security and law enforcement that we cannot provide individually while promoting, not providing, the general welfare.

    Today’s Democratic Party is becoming the party of Obama and his favorite (he said), Lyndon Johnson. It is Great Society in full bloom, complete with the Federal government sticking its nose into places it never did. Opening the borders, taking control of healthcare and education. This is not the vision of Madison and Jefferson.

    The stereotypes are all wrong as stereotypes usually are. The ‘tragic’ ones with money like to give their money to worthy causes, but don’t like to be told when and where to give. The ‘annointed’ like to tell everyone what to do with their hard earned wealth through taxation, but you seldom see Warren Buffet types scratching out extra checks to the IRS.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Uh, you do know Warren Buffett is advocating for higher taxes for people who make as much as Warren Buffett, right? And there is this thing called a ‘tax refund’: if Buffett pays the IRS more than the IRS says Buffett was supposed to pay for that year, the IRS sends money back.