As he unveiled his Lincoln biopic that is being released next month, director Steven Spielberg proclaimed that he did not want the film to be a political football and then promptly made it into one with this remark:
“Because it’s kind of confusing. The parties traded political places over the last 150 years. That in itself is a great story, how the Republican Party went from a progressive party in 1865, and how the Democrats were represented in the picture, to the way it’s just the opposite today. But that’s a whole other story.”
This would be funny if the historical ignorance were not so vast. The Republican party, from its inception, has held that the government may not discriminate on the basis of race.
From the 1856 Republican platform, the first Republican platform:
Resolved: That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution are essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions, and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the States, and the union of the States, must and shall be preserved.
Resolved: That, with our Republican fathers, we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior design of our Federal Government were to secure these rights to all persons under its exclusive jurisdiction; that, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished Slavery in all our National Territory, ordained that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing Slavery in the Territories of the United States by positive legislation, prohibiting its existence or extension therein. That we deny the authority of Congress, of a Territorial Legislation, of any individual, or association of individuals, to give legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States, while the present Constitution shall be maintained.
Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery.
The Republican party has been true to this position throughout its history. From the Republican platform of 1932:
For seventy years the Republican Party has been the friend of the American Negro. Vindication of the rights of the Negro citizen to enjoy the full benefits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is traditional in the Republican Party, and our party stands pledged to maintain equal opportunity and rights for Negro citizens. We do not propose to depart from that tradition nor to alter the spirit or letter of that pledge.
From the 1944 Republican platform:
We pledge an immediate Congressional inquiry to ascertain the extent to which mistreatment, segregation and discrimination against Negroes who are in our armed forces are impairing morale and efficiency, and the adoption of corrective legislation.
I know it may come as a shock to many of our readers but Time magazine, that traditional mainstay of dentist waiting rooms throughout the country, is still being published. It has a piece by an author who aspires to one name status: Toure.
In his article Toure explains how Republicans, no doubt while chortling evilly, are engaged in using racist code words, while the Democrats are paragons of racial enlightenment:
Another classic code word — that hasn’t cropped up in this election yet — is “crime.” Like welfare, even though more whites commit crimes than blacks, the word is more associated with blacks who have historically been stereotyped as wild, violent, animalistic and immoral. As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, “What it means to be criminal in our collective consciousness has become conflated with what it means to be black, so the term white criminal is confounding, while the term black criminal is nearly redundant.” The classic example is President George H. W. Bush’s famous ad using inmate Willie Horton as a way to portray Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis as soft on crime and thus unable to protect us from wild black criminals.
There’s also the cornucopia of terms and concepts created to de-Americanize Barack Obama, from calling him “Muslim” or “Socialist” to Romney surrogates like John Sununu saying things like, “I wish this President would learn how to be an American.” There is also a return to birtherism, with Romney recently joking, “Nobody’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.” The subtext of all this is: Obama, like other blacks, is not one of “us.” He is other.
Do Democrats use racial code? No. The Democratic party is a racially diverse coalition. There would be no value to playing this game. In fact, the party has risked alienating white working class voters by fighting for people of color, a tightrope perhaps best symbolized by President Johnson signing the 1964 Voting Rights Act and then famously, and presciently, saying to an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation.” Continue reading
Easily the most controversial figure in the Civil War, probably the most controversial figure in American history, Nathan Bedford Forrest has always been the subject of fierce debate. Self-made millionaire who rose from poverty with much of his money made as a slaver trader; a semi-literate whose tactics and strategies as the most successful cavalry commander of the Civil War are still studied at military academies around the world; a brilliant general celebrated by the South and condemned by the North as the perpetrator of a massacre at Fort Pillow; a man who killed in combat 31 Union soldiers in the War but who after the War constantly had former Union soldiers visit him to shake his hand; and a racist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan after the War, but who also made a remarkable speech near the end of his life.
In 1875 Forrest was invited to address a meeting of the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early black civil rights organization in Memphis, at their Fourth of July barbecue on July 5. Forrest was told by many whites that he should not accept, but Forrest went. Just before he spoke he was presented a bouquet of flowers by Miss Flora Lewis, a daughter of one of the members of the Pole Bearers. Here is Forrest’s speech. Continue reading
The nation (or at least, that portion of it which follows the news cycle) suddenly found itself in one of these “national conversations” about policing this week, after President Obama accused the Cambridge, Mass. police of having “acted stupidly” in arresting his friend and supporter Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside his own home for “disorderly conduct”. The police report, minus some privacy data such as addresses, can be viewed here. The short version, is as follows: Prof. Gates returned from a trip to China and found himself having trouble getting into his house, so he and his cab driver forced the door open. A passerby saw this, feared a burglary was taking place, and called the police. Officer James Crowley of CPD arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, saw Prof. Gates in the house as he approached it, and though he looked to be a resident, but knocked, explained the situation, and asked for ID to be sure.
Here the two versions of the story diverge. According to Prof. Gates, Officer Crowley repeatedly refused to identify himself, lured him out onto the porch, and then arrested him. (You can read the Professor’s version in an extended interview here.) According to Officer Crowley, Prof. Gates did provide identification, Crowley was satisfied that he was the homeowner, but Gates had immediately taken an angry tone (repeatedly accusing Crowley of treating him this way because he was black) and that Gates followed him outside, accusing him of racial bias and generally shouting at him, until after a warning Officer Crowley arrested him for disorderly conduct.
Now, I think it’s pretty appalling to be arrested at your own house for yelling at someone, even a police officer. At the same time, the police report rings a lot truer to me that Prof. Gates’. And while even given that account, I don’t like the idea of arresting someone in front of his own house for being loud and rude towards the police, it strikes me that Prof. Gates violated a lot of the very basic rules that everyone knows about interacting with police. Perhaps I can best explain with an example:
Imagine a white male conservative making the same comments that Judge Sonia Sotomayor made:
A wise White man with his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina female,”
The mainstream media (old media) would have a field day recounting how racist Republicans are. It would be nonstop media coverage not seen since Trent Lott’s infamous statements.
Now here are Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s comments. Keep in mind that when she said these comments that she was dead serious:
A wise Latina woman with her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male,”
… Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom, and justice for all.
When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.
And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes — even when we differ. …
On the other hand, is it making too much to note that Rev. Joseph Lowery’s Benediction (Video), in its general indictment (even perhaps in jest) of the white man, closed somewhat on a sour note — as well as contrasting with Obama’s message of racial unity? Continue reading
“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.