We’re supposed to be in the middle of a “culture war”, but it’s really a conflict over how we define social solidarity in this country. It is mainly about race.
In June 1963, prominent Tory unionized newspaper columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrote a surprisingly frank article about a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Denver.
They noted “a conscious lack of support, private or public, for black rights” at the meeting. They said: “A substantial number of party leaders in the North and South see rich political dividends stemming from the negrophobia of many white Americans. These Republicans undeniably want to establish the Lincoln Party as the Party of Whites.
However, there was a reluctance to speak too harshly. They continued, “Obviously, this is not the right kind of political theory to cry out to the world.” Evans and Novak said that opposition to civil rights could be “legitimately” opposed by invoking “the rights of states”, “law and order” and “limited government”. The best messenger would be Senator Barry Goldwater, who was “not segregationist”.
Weeks earlier, on June 11, Alabama Governor George Wallace attempted to prevent black students from enrolling in classes at the University of Alabama. President John Kennedy mobilized the state national guard to force Wallace to step down. Kennedy then asked the three national television stations for air time to give a talk on racial equality. At midnight in Jackson, Mississippi, local NAACP leader Medgar Evers returned home and was murdered in his driveway by a member of the KKK.
History has accelerated. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in August. Then Kennedy was assassinated at the very start of his re-election campaign.
Lyndon B. Johnson was elected in 1964 by the biggest popular vote landslide since 1820. He was challenged in the Democratic primaries by George Wallace, who has done well in the northern states in backlashing against rights. civic. Goldwater, the Republican candidate, spoke about lawlessness and crime in major cities and said nuclear weapons could be used during the Vietnam War. He had voted against the law on civil rights. He won his home state, Arizona, but also swept the Deep South. A Republican had not done this since the reconstruction in 1877. The 1964 election was the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won a majority of the white vote.
While Goldwater and Wallace lost that year, they showed that racial fear can be a powerful weapon. Beginning with Nixon, Republicans have used dog whistle racism to undermine social progress that has been in place for decades since the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The victories of the civil rights movement came when the economic outlook for most Americans declined and the real wages of workers began to decline. Conservatives convinced many white people that fighting racism was a zero-sum game.
The election of Ronald Reagan was a turning point. Reagan summed up his philosophy with the witty but silly comment: “The nine most dangerous words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.'”
We are now faced with the terrible emergencies of the pandemic, the economic crisis and climate change. Damn, we need a competent and responsive democratic government.
Progressive Congressman Ro Khanna (D-California) told the New York Times in January, that Joe Biden “has a huge opportunity to finally move our nation beyond the Reagan narrative that still lingers.” And the opportunity is to show that the government, by getting the vaccines in the arm of every person, by building infrastructure and helping working families, is going to be a force for good.
It’s going to be hard. Democrats have a slim majority in both the US House and Senate.
Republicans are mobilizing for mid-term 2022 by doubling the suppression of voters. The right to vote was once a bipartisan issue. This is no longer the case. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that 253 Republican bills to restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states so far this year.
In their first act, the Democratic majorities of the House and Senate introduced the “law for the people” (HR 1 and S.1). It would institute automatic voter registration, expand early voting, allow postal voting for anyone who chooses to vote this way (with prepaid postage) and restore the right to vote to those who have already been convicted of a felony. It would ban voter purges that kick eligible voters off the registration lists. This would strengthen electoral security by further supporting a paper-based and voter-verified voting system. He would put an end to partisan gerrymandering by creating independent redistribution commissions. It would prohibit providing false information about the electoral process. It would establish a small system of public funding from donors for elections, funded by sanctions against offending companies.
We can create an egalitarian multiracial democracy or we can increasingly become an authoritarian plutocracy.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.