Last week, even as Baltimore was burning, our “post-partisan” President used the tragedy as an excuse for a political cheap shot. Suggesting that the riots were caused by a paucity of inner city investment, he averred that his agenda “would make a difference right now,” but that he was being thwarted by parsimonious Republicans in Congress. Obama’s claim, which combined a characteristic lie about his own agenda with the insinuation that the GOP is the party of racism, was despicable. But it does offer an opportunity to compare the record of Obama’s party on race to that of the Republicans.
Let’s begin at the beginning: The first Democrat president was Andrew Jackson, who was not merely pro-slavery. He personally owned 150 African-American slaves who worked his thousand-acre cotton plantation. The first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln. In addition to issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, he persuaded Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the U.S. Sadly, Lincoln didn’t live to see the amendment become part of the Constitution because he was murdered by a Democrat before it was ratified by the requisite number of states.
After the failure of their attempt to preserve slavery by seceding from the Union, the Democrats who had led the Confederacy embarked on a campaign of domestic terror to oppose African-American aspirations to equality. This is confirmed by leftist historian Eric Foner, who debunks a considerable amount of Democrat revisionism in A Short History of Reconstruction. For example, despite attempts by modern Democrats to associate the Republican Party with the KKK, Foner’s book contains this inconvenient fact: “The Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic Party.”
While the KKK shot Republicans and lynched former slaves in the defeated Confederate states, Democrats in Washington, including many from the North, worked diligently to derail any GOP legislation confirming African-Americans as free citizens. Not least among them was Democrat President Andrew Johnson. As Foner recently wrote in the New York Times, Johnson clashed repeatedly with the GOP-controlled Congress: “Over Johnson’s veto, Congress enacted… the Civil Rights Act of 1866, still on the books today. It affirmed the citizenship of everyone born in the United States, regardless of race.”
The GOP won similar battles over the Democrats with the 14th and 15th Amendments, which guaranteed African-Americans equal protection under the law and the right to vote. Although it has long since been forgotten, these and other achievements earned Republicans the electoral support of most African-American voters for the next 75 years. Nonetheless, the Democrats maintained control of politics in what they called “the solid south,” where they created a malignant morass of legal obstacles that prevented African-Americans from enjoying the rights of full citizenship for another century.
These legal obstacles were, of course, collectively known as “Jim Crow.” And many prominent Democrats whose reputations have since been whitewashed supported them. Included among these was that icon of progressivism, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was an unabashed racist who reintroduced segregation to the federal civil service when he took office. And, when a group of African-American professionals came to the White House to protest this outrage, Wilson threw them out after pompously declaring: “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”
Wilson believed this bilge not merely because of his general predilection toward racism, but also because it bore the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, which had legitimized the “separate but equal” doctrine in its notorious Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. This disgraceful ruling was eventually overturned by a later Supreme Court led by a conservative Republican named Earl Warren. Chief Justice Warren, a former Governor of California who had been appointed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in October of 1953, presided over the Court’s unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
This ruling earned Warren the lasting enmity of most Democrats, and set off a two-decade legal war between diehard segregationists and the U.S. Department of Justice. Among these diehard Democrats was future president Jimmy Carter, whose opposition to school integration is well-documented. Another unrepentant opponent of racial integration was the Arkansas Democrat, J. William Fulbright, a signatory to the infamous Southern Manifesto. Yet, when Fulbright died, he was eulogized as “a man who changed our country and our world for the better” by his best-known protégé, President Bill Clinton.
And no discussion of Democrat opposition to African-American aspirations can omit mention of the marathon Senate filibuster, led by Fulbright and former KKK official Robert Byrd, to prevent passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It lasted for 60 Senate working days and seemed likely to succeed until Republican Everett Dirksen convinced 27 GOP senators to join a bipartisan vote for cloture. The Act banned employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin—and it was pulled across the finish line by Republicans over the objections of the nation’s most powerful Democrats.
At this point in any comparison of the two parties, Democrats usually try to prevent further embarrassing revelations by claiming that such contrasts are unfair because the two parties have somehow reversed their positions, leaving Democrats in possession of the moral high ground on race. According to this tale, all the racist Democrats defected to the GOP during the late 1960s. This is revisionist nonsense. In reality, virtually all of them remained Democrats, including those named above and other racist luminaries such as Russell Long, John Stennis, Herman Talmadge, Richard Russell, and Al Gore, Sr.
After these people failed to halt progress, the Democrats hit on the idea of herding African-Americans onto a new type of plantation called the “Great Society.” On this kinder, gentler plantation, African-Americans are encouraged to become dependent on federal largesse. As “unhyphenated American” Lloyd Marcus writes, “Addicting people to cradle to grave welfare is evil, robbing folks of pursuing their God given gifts and potential.” The liberals who run this plantation, Marcus continues, “hope to get as many folks as possible… hooked on welfare to keep the masses voting Democrat.”
The two-word answer that all Democrats and liberals use to defend their long and tawdry legacy of racism is, predictably, “Barack Obama.” Marcus responds to that as follows: “Democrats have played blacks for over 50 years. Obama is simply their latest front man, brilliantly covered in a black skin disguise.” And Baltimore? “The recent Baltimore riots perfectly illustrate my point. Rioters expressed anger over high black unemployment, poor schools, and poverty.” All of these social ills have become measurably worse since Obama took office, of course, and African-Americans have suffered the most.
Yet the President would have us believe that the evil Republicans are the problem. He claims to have a program to cure the disease that afflicts Baltimore and other major cities but says, “I’m under no illusion that under this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities.” But dumping more taxpayer money into demonstrably ineffective welfare programs isn’t going to work. A brief review of GOP and Democrat history on race suggests that the best hope for African-Americans in those cities is to dump the Dems and put Republicans in charge of their local governments.