(Guest post by Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative. This post orignally appeared here at Cranky Conservative.)
Michael Zak does what all too many on the left fail to do: crack open some history books and take a real look at the history of the Ku Klux Klan. Zak correctly notes that when the Klan was at its zenith during the 1920s, it was a terrorist wing of the Democratic party, and that since its inception, Republicans were at the forefront in trying to take it down.
It would have been far more truthful for the congresswoman to have admitted the fact that all those who wore sheets a long time ago lifted them to wear Democratic Party clothing. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan was established by the Democratic Party. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan murdered thousands of Republicans — African-American and white – in the years following the Civil War. Yes, the Republican Party and a Republican President, Ulysses Grant, destroyed the KKK with their Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
How did the Ku Klux Klan re-emerge in the 20th century? For that, the Democratic Party is to blame.
It was a racist Democrat President, Woodrow Wilson, who premiered Birth of a Nation in the White House. That racist movie was based on a racist book written by one of Wilson’s racist friends from college. In 1915, the movie spawned the modern-day Klan, with its burning crosses and white sheets.
Inspired by the movie, some Georgia Democrats revived the Klan. Soon, the Ku Klux Klan again became a powerful force within the Democratic Party. The KKK so dominated the 1924 Democratic Convention that Republicans, speaking truth to power, called it the Klanbake. In the 1930s, a Democrat President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, appointed a Klansman, Senator Hugo Black (D-AL), to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 1950s, the Klansmen against whom the civil rights movement struggled were Democrats. The notorious police commissioner Bull Connor, who attacked African-Americans with dogs and clubs and fire hoses, was both a Klansman and the Democratic Party’s National Committeeman for Alabama. Starting in the 1980s, the Democratic Party elevated a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), to third-in-line for the presidency.
I have one quibble with all this. It focuses too much on the partisan aspect of the KKK and not enough on its ideological drive. After all, modern day Democrats could just claim that the Klan represented the conservative wing of the Democratic party. This would be an error.
While most members of the Klan held what would be termed conservative views on social issues, they were hardly purveyors of Burkean conservative values. In fact the Klan typified the Progressive/Populist movement to a tee: “conservative” socially but decidedly left-wing economically and politically. They supported government intrusion into the economy and were backers of the New Deal. Jesse Walker explains some of the areas of overlap between the Progressive movement and the Klan: