Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign had not answered by press time an inquiry as to whether the New York Senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination would support a plank in the 2008 Democratic platform apologizing for the party’s extensive past support for slavery and segregation as well as blocking the immigration of Asians.
Press reports have indicated Senator Edward Kennedy endorsed the New York senator’s opponent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, in part because of his anger that former President Bill Clinton had injected race into the campaign.
The two racial issues, plus the mass immigration of Chinese and other Asians to America, played key roles in both the history of the nation and the Democratic Party.
Missed in all the startled furor over what Kennedy and many discomfited liberals are seeing as the Clinton tactic of racializing the fight against Obama, an African American, is the ease with which it happened. With his wife pressed by Obama, the first serious black presidential candidate in the party’s history, without missing a beat the former president simply slid into the rhythm of the old stand-by used by Democrats for generations — the politics of race. Unexpectedly, Bill Clinton’s conduct has now turned attention to what is in fact a very long, very deep and very intimate history between Democrats and the exploitation of racial questions — and not just relationships between whites and blacks, either. For first-time young voters considering voting for Clinton, the history may surprise.
If Senator Clinton were to introduce a plank at the Denver Convention apologizing for the party’s racial history, what specific things would she have the party apologize for?
The race question has most frequently been dealt with at conventions in party platforms, beginning with the very first Democrat Convention in 1840. A review of the platforms that the party has put forward as both settled policy for the party and prospective governing policy for the nation if elected reveals the following about the party’s official views on racial issues:
* 6 platforms, from 1840 -1860, supported the slavery of African-Americans.
* 1 platform, in 1864, called the then on-going Civil War a “failure” and demanded negotiations with the Confederacy that could have led to the retaining of slavery in certain states.
* 1 platform, in 1868, stated the party’s opposition to what it termed “negro supremacy.”
* 1 platform, 1872, called for “universal amnesty” for those who fought against the Union, including slaveholders.
* 10 platforms, 1876-1900 and again in 1908, 1920 and 1924 opposed Chinese or “Asiatic” immigration, claiming Asian immigrants were “a race not sprung from the same great parent stock” and “being unaccustomed to the traditions of a progressive civilization” (1876). In 1880 the platform proclaimed Chinese immigrants as “servile races, unfitted by habits, training, religion, or kindred, for absorption into the great body of our people, or for the citizenship which our laws confer.” In 1908 an entire section entitled “Asiatic Immigrants” was written, stating “we are opposed to the admission of Asiatic immigrants who cannot be amalgamated with our population, or whose presence among us would raise a race issue.”
* 1 platform, 1900, ignored race completely even as segregation was tightening its grip under the guidance of Democratic Party officeholders throughout the South. By contrast, the 1900 GOP Convention stated: “It was the plain purpose of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, to prevent discrimination on account of race or color in regulating the elective franchise. Devices of State governments, whether by statutory or constitutional enactment, to avoid the purpose of this amendment are revolutionary, and should be condemned.”
* 1 platform, 1904, devotes a section to “Sectional and Racial Agitation,” claiming the GOP’s protests against segregation and the denial of voting rights to blacks sought to “revive the dead and hateful race and sectional animosities in any part of our common country,” which in turn “means confusion, distraction of business, and the reopening of wounds now happily healed.”
* 4 platforms, 1908-1920 are silent on blacks, segregation, lynching, and voting rights as racial problems in the country mount. By contrast the GOP platforms in each of those years specifically address “Rights of the Negro” (1908), opposes lynchings (in 1912, 1920, 1924, 1928) and, as the New Deal kicks in, speaks out about the dangers of making blacks “wards of the state.”
* 1 platform, 1924, was the product of the Democrats’ convention known to history as the “Klanbake” in Clinton’s own New York. The 103-ballot convention was held in Madison Square Garden. Hundreds of delegates were members of the Ku Kux Klan, the Klan so powerful that a plank condemning Klan violence was defeated outright. To celebrate the Klan staged a rally with 10,000 hooded Klansmen in a field in New Jersey directly across the Hudson from the site of the Convention. Attended by hundreds of cheering Convention delegates, the rally featured burning crosses and calls for violence against African Americans and Catholics.
THERE WAS A REASON for all of this. With segregationists controlling the entire Old Confederacy and systematically denying constitutional rights to blacks while also playing the race card against Asians, Democrats secured a strangle-hold on a huge block of votes in both the House and Senate, not to mention local offices, state legislatures, governorships. As blacks were literally being lynched, denied the right to vote or even ride in the front seat of a bus, a psychology of racism — and the language that accompanied it — took an iron possession of Democratic Party politics.
Typical of the mentality on the use of race as an issue was that of 1952 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Senator John Sparkman. On one day alone — June 7, 1948 — Sparkman voted in the Senate to 1) oppose the desegregation of America’s armed forces; 2) oppose an anti-lynching bill designed to protect returning black veterans of the armed services; 3) opposed exempting servicemen from paying the poll tax. Additionally, on other occasions, the man Democrats thought would serve the nation well as vice-president in the 1950s voted twice against anti-lynching bills and twice against bans on the anti-black poll tax.
Individually, not to mention collectively, there is a breathtaking history of racism — platforms, legislation, language both blunt and subtle — displayed by Clinton’s party. Is it any wonder that the former President has slipped into racial politics with such nonchalance? One can only marvel at the smiling casualness with which he tried to pigeonhole Obama’s South Carolina victory with votes received by the race-card playing black leader Jesse Jackson. The goal of course was to cast Obama as just a “black candidate” for president as opposed to a serious candidate incapable of getting white votes — or even more slyly, Hispanic votes. Bill Clinton grew up in this kind of racial political culture, admired one of its Arkansas leaders (Clinton delivered the eulogy at the funeral for segregationist Senator J. William Fulbright, a signer of the so-called Southern Manifesto of 1956), and saw the game of race played with both blunt force and smooth sincerity. Like other modern Democrats Clinton uses subtle appeals to race by reversing the game to curry favor with blacks over whites. The habit of racial politics is so apparently hard to break for Bill Clinton that it is now being used to try and torpedo the chances of the first black man with a serious chance to be both the leader of the party (replacing Clinton himself) and, author Toni Morrison notwithstanding, the first black president.
This trade-off of racial politics for political power by Democrats has so infected American politics that there are doubtless many voters who do not realize there are few significant pieces of so-called “progressive legislation” proposed or passed by Democrats from the very beginning of their party until the late 20th century that did not rely on an appeal to racism.
Here’s a short list.
* Social Security. The U.S. Senate, 96 votes strong in 1935 without the presence of Alaska and Hawaii, passed FDR’s groundbreaking program with the votes of 60 Democrats. Yet 22 of those 60 votes came from Southern Senators representing what was then the so-called “Solid South.” But solid for what? Solid for a program of strict racial segregation. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of FDR’s New Deal was Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo. Bilbo, author of the charmingly titled book Take Your Choice, Separation or Mongrelization, was an enthusiastic vote for Social Security. He was, as he wonderfully revealed on Meet the Press, also a proud member of the Ku Klux Klan. Said Bilbo on Meet the Press (hmmm…why doesn’t Tim Russert dig this one out of the show’s radio archives?), “No man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux.” To make sure they got Social Security, Bilbo and his segregationist ways, and those of his fellow Democrat true-believers in the Senate, were never challenged.
* The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance. These were a product of “progressive Democrat” Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Wilson turned to Virginia congressman and fellow Democrat Carter Glass, the chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, to create and pass the legislation establishing the Federal Reserve, which America’s financial system relies on to this day. Glass, the son of a major in the Confederate Army, was an enthusiastic segregationist. A delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901-1902, he played a key role in establishing the Virginia poll tax and literacy test, two measures explicitly designed to deny African-Americans the right to vote in the state of Virginia. Wilson, a Virginian himself, was so enamored of Glass he later appointed him Secretary of the Treasury. It was a position he held until moving on to the U.S. Senate, where he served as an influential member until his death. Among the trade-offs Democrats made in accepting Glass’s racist views as both Senator from Virginia and later President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate (a position now held by the Democrats’ Robert Byrd, a one-time Klan member) was his legislation creating the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
* Other “progressive” programs of the New Deal passing with the support of segregationist Democrats include Rural Electrification, farm subsidies, the Federal Housing Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority.
IT WASN’T UNTIL 1948, in a platform fight led by Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey, that the Democrats began to get themselves on the record in a serious fashion for Civil Rights. Yet the damage, both to the country and the party itself, had been done. Generations of Democrats running for office low and high learned to appeal to race, and Bill Clinton is decidedly no different. The psychology and skills that made him such a hit in front of all-black audiences are precisely the same as white Democrats practiced in front of white audiences for almost two full centuries.
This psychology, and the past that produced it, are unearthed in detail in the recent book by economist Bruce Bartlett, Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past. Bartlett produces one bluntly racist quote or appeal after another from a very, very long list of prominent Democrats. They include party founder Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice Roger Taney (author of the infamous Dred Scott decision that tried to make slavery constitutional), James Byrnes (FDR’s Supreme Court appointee and Truman’s Secretary of State), LBJ (who boasted of opposing both the anti-lynching bill and abolition of poll taxes) and many, many others. Including, yes, the New York Times, which editorialized in 1900 about “the menace of the rule of blacks.”
Is it any wonder that the emergence of Barack Obama, and the Clintons’ use of race to defeat him, has drawn the ire of Senator Edward Kennedy?
The question now is what to do about this. Specifically, what will the Democrats do about their long history of racism as expressed in their party platforms? What will Hillary Clinton — or for that matter Bill Clinton — do? Isn’t it time, in light of the smearing of Barack Obama, to finally get the race issue and its role in the history of the Democratic Party out on the table — with a written apology for all of the considerably extensive damage done — once and for all? Isn’t this, well, a bit of a no-brainer?
Apparently not. I called Senator Clinton’s campaign press office and was quickly instructed, after mentioning I was writing an article for The American Spectator, to e-mail my questions. No one would answer me over the phone.
The questions were submitted. Deadline came — and deadline went.
Standing accused by Ted Kennedy and other Democrats of injecting race into the 2008 campaign, something that as documented has been done for over two centuries in multitudes of Democratic Party platforms, the questions posed to Hillary Clinton were simple ones. As Barack Obama emerges as a genuine non-racial leader in his party and the nation;
* Will Hillary Clinton lead the Democrats to an on-the-record platform apology for its repeated and very much on-the-record insistence on injecting race into American politics?
* Does she feel her party has anything to apologize for in this respect?
* Does she see no need to have it apologize?
This opportunity, along the lines of making lemonade when you’ve been handed a lemon, seems the perfect opportunity for Hillary Clinton to showcase her ability to lead on “Day One” of a new day for the Democrats — and America — when it comes to race.
Yet her campaign’s answer, so far, is silence. No wonder Ted Kennedy supports Obama.