Thursday, November 05, 2015

"In Search of a 'Civil-Rights Republican'": Sounds like a very long search!

Dominic Preziosi is In Search of a 'Civil-Rights Republican' dotCommonweal 11/09/2015.

Other potential titles for that post:

"Long, Frustrating Search Ahead"

"What Is Harder to Find Than A Unicorn?"

"Waiting for Godot"

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow"

"To Dream the Impossible Dream"

Commonweal is a progressive-minded Catholic journal. In this post, Preziosi cites an article by Theodore Johnson in the what Charlie Pierce always calls the longtime white supremacist journal National Review that cites the obvious: the Republican Party has worked for decades to brand itself as the anti-black Party, so most black voters don't support it.

Preziosi calls Johnson's position "an eminently reasonable, if less eminently realistic, prescription." The prescription to which he refers is that Johnson would like to see “strong on bedrock conservative principles as well as civil-rights protections [who] will win the support of black voters at levels the party hasn’t seen in generations.” (Johnson's words quoted by Preziosi)

It's hard to imagine what that might look like. It sounds like an abstract libertarian position. Theoretically, a Republican could advocates "conservative principles" like Herbert Hoover economics and Perpetual War For Perpertual Peace and still support a Voting Rights Act and aggressive federal policies to enforce not just voting rights but antidiscrimination laws in private business, public services and employment.

But the closest you're likely to come in today's environment is someone like Rand "Baby Doc" Paul who says he's opposed to discrimination but is also opposed to almost any kind of federal regulations on business and supports the "states rights" position that was the slogan and legal theory of the old Southern segregationists during Segregation 1.0. It's wonderful to be against racial discrimination. But if your "conservative principles" mean that you're also opposed to any kind of government action to enforce equal rights, who cares? Segregation and racial discrimination with a smile and nice white-people's manners is still segregation and racial discrimination.

Preziosi notes that Johnson goes so far as to accuse today's Republicans of "a basic callousness about the black experience in America." And Preziosi goes on to observe:

Grant Johnson his point about inadvisable strategic choices, but might those choices be the inevitable result of such “basic callousness”? These aren’t separate phenomena; rather, one is the cause of the other. Callousness seems woven into the DNA of the modern Republican Party, which is what made “compassionate conservatism” such a cynical sham. “Republicans have allowed themselves to be branded uniquely intolerant,” Johnson says later. In fact, they seem actively to have sought the label. As George Packer writes in the current New Yorker: “Republicans today have given the country conservatism in the spirit of Sarah Palin, whose ignorance about the world, contempt for expertise, and raw appeals to white identity politics presaged [Donald] Trump’s incendiary campaign… Trump may be the bastard spawn of the Republican Party, but his parentage can’t be denied.”

Preziosi also reminds us that the patron saint of modern American conservatism, Saint Ronald Reagan, was down the anti-black branding as much as any major Republican leader:

Conspicuous by his absence from Johnson’s piece is Ronald Reagan. Callousness and “inadvisable choices” might well have merited him mention as a cautionary example next to those others. He helped popularize the image of the “welfare queen” during his 1976 presidential campaign. Soon after receiving the 1980 nomination he gave a speech outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, using the phrase “states’ rights” just miles from where three civil rights workers had been killed in 1964. (Whether it was an intentional appeal to anti-civil rights southerners is still debated, but even David Brooks wrote in 2007 that “It’s callous, at least, to use the phrase 'states’ rights' in any context in Philadelphia. Reagan could have done something wonderful if he’d mentioned civil rights at the fair. He didn’t. And it’s obviously true that race played a role in the G.O.P.’s ascent.”) In 1982, thirty-three state agencies affiliated with the United States Commission on Civil Rights publicly charged Reagan with responsibility for a ''dangerous deterioration in the Federal enforcement of civil rights.'' The same year, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel R. Pierce (“the most the most prominent black official in the administration,” according to the New York Times) acknowledged the “insensitivity” to African Americans by the Reagan administration, citing its decision to let the Internal Revenue Service grant tax exemptions to private schools that discriminated, along with Reagan’s initial opposition to strengthening enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

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