Squandering Moral Capital

I haven’t been particularly impressed by France & Germany’s opposition to the U.S. position on Iraq (cooperate or we’ll invade), and I haven’t had an easy time explaining exactly why that was.

Then, over my morning cup of Morning Thunder, I read this column by Jack Kemp – of all people – in my local paper, the Daily Breeze:

I’ve just returned from an extraordinary pilgrimage to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., celebrating and commemorating the struggle for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other vital civil rights legislation for America.

We re-enacted the historic march from Selma to Montgomery led by John Lewis, a young Freedom Rider and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who is now a U.S. congressman from Georgia. The march, 38 years ago on March 7, 1965, never got past the Edmund Pettus Bridge spanning the Alabama River because Sheriff Jim Clark stopped it with Alabama state troopers on horseback and armed with billy clubs and tear gas.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called in to galvanize a nonviolent march to Montgomery in protest of the killing of a young black boy and the attack on the Lewis-led marchers. Believe it or not, only 2.5 percent of Alabama blacks were allowed to register and only after paying a poll tax and answering stupid questions such as how many bubbles are in a bar of soap.

As I joined Lewis, Williams, Ruby Sales, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson, Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and Mayor James Perkins of Selma to march in solidarity with that noble cause across the bridge last Sunday, I asked myself why I wasn’t there back in 1965. Where was the party of Lincoln when called to live up to its founding principles as a party of civil rights and emancipation? Where were the white churches of America, North and South, when our brothers and sisters and fellow Americans were getting clubbed and beaten as they demonstrated for their rights?

Damn right. In fact, the moral credibility the GOP lost that week is a debt they are still paying off.

The GOP had failed to do the right thing for a ninety years up until 1965, and then lost a chance to do the right thing at a critical moment in our history, and that failure taints their positions on issues of race and federal power even today. This is a subject I’ll revisit, and one that I believe is critically important in understanding current politics.

But better, it serves as a springboard in talking about my disinterest in hearing what the French and Germans have to say about Iraq and the Middle East.

They have had forty years to step up and lead the world toward a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. They have had ten years to lead the world toward a resolution of the issues around Iraq. And they haven’t done a damn thing.

And now, when the moment to act is at hand, when if they can’t stand with the U.S., they should be coming up with some realistic third way they hide behind a fig leaf of proceduralism and bless a reluctant sham of compliance that was only granted – grudgingly – by Iraq as U.S. tanks and carriers moved into position over the objection of the French and Germans.

There may be actors who have the moral authority to lecture the U.S. on this issue, but I don’t think they live in Berlin or Paris.

[Update: C’mon folks, I’m perfectly aware of the ‘Dixiecrats’. The Democratic Party, under the leadership of Southerner – Texan LBJ – made a conscious decision to break with them, which is why George Wallace wound up running for President and, as I recall, Richard Nixon got elected.]

10 thoughts on “Squandering Moral Capital”

  1. Except that the party in power almost everywhere in the South in those days was the Democratic party.

    For example, who was governor of South Carolina when they started flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol? Fritz Hollings, Democrat.

    The 1963 Voting Rights Act was passed with Republican support over the nay votes of the southern Democrats.

  2. Q: Who was the governor of Alabama back in 1965?
    A: George Wallace, Democrat

    Q: Who turned the fire hoses on the civil rights protestors in Birmingham?
    A: Bull Conner, Democrat

    Do a little checking and you’ll find that virtually all of the elected officials across the South in those years who systematically worked against civil rights for blacks were ALL Democrats, probably without exception. To blame this on Republicans is to ignore history.

    Also, check into who voted for and against the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and you’ll find that more Democrats voted against it. It would’ve have passed without the strong support of Republicans. Even LBJ admitted as much.

  3. While Larry J is certainly correct that the Democrats had and still have a lot of power in the south. Nationally speaking the Republicans became associated with segregation when Barry Goldwater ran on “States Rights” in 1964. While Goldwater was in no way a racist, his defense of “states’ rights” was perceived by some on both sides of the issues as support from segregation. This started a trend of southerners away from the democrat party in national elections. The “solid south” is thought to have been completed by Reagan in 1980. The Dems have fair poorly in the south ever since. *remember this really only applies to federal election. Local parties are often still run by the dems.

  4. Armed Lib, you might want to remember that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act would not have passed Congress if not for the Republicans, led by Everett Dirksen, who provided the crucial votes to overcome the Dixiecrats.

    Neither party has a sterling record on civil rights; both parties have been despicable at times, and occasionally both parties have done something right.


  5. A lot of attention was given to Confederate flags flying over some southern government buildings a couple years ago. Don’t forget who raised those flags. In every case, it was the Democrats like Fritz Hollings of South Carolina.

    Don’t forget, Democrats controlled the state governments when the infamous Jim Crow laws were enacted. They were all enacted during the years of the “Solid South”, when the term meant solidly Democrat.

    It was a Democrat, Byrd of West Virginia, who belonged to the KKK.

    It was a Democrat, Lester Maddox of Georgia, who issued axe handles to his restaurant customers to beat any blacks who dared to enter his establishment. If memory serves, he was elected governor in the 1960s.

    My point is that, compared to Barry Goldwater running on a “states rights” platform in 1964, the Democrats had a much worse record in regards to civil rights than the Republicans. It seems like some strong historical revisionism to say otherwise.

  6. I agree that popular history has given too much credit to the Democrats as a party for civil rights. Especially the myth of “Camelot.” Kennedy did little for civil rights (and even allowed FBI smear attacks on MLK Jr.) – it was LBJ who took the first moves. And a great deal of the civil rights agenda (busing, affirmative action) was carried under Nixon.

    Nevertheless, I agree w/ the assesment of Franco-German obstructionism. I only wish Tony Blair (or Colin Powell) – and not Bush – was our president. Talk about moral capital!

  7. How about the anti-semitism of black Democratic leaders like Maxine Water, Al Sharpton and even Jesse Jackson. And now we see Democrats/Labour (in the UK) allying themselves against the war with groups that are incredibly anti-semitic. Anyone take a look at the signs being carried at any of the big anti-war rallies?

    Democrats better on issues of race…yeah right.

  8. Agreeing to keep the white house in 1876 by cutting a deal that ended reconstruction and allowed the Democrats to begin a century of one party rule designed to keep blacks as close to slavery as was legally possible was a Republican error. Agree completely that the GOP lost it’s moral authority when it allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to segregate our nation’s capital. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop every thing the Democrats wanted to do to keep the blacks a subservient race.

    It was only the GOP led by Everett Dirkson thatprovided the votes in 1964 (is that before or after 1965?) to pass cloture overriding the filibuster by Democrats against that year’s civil rights legislation. A filibuster led by such liberal luminaries as former Klansman Robert C. Byrd and the mentor to President Clinton, William Fulbright

    Congressional Quarterly reported that, in the House of Representatives, 61% of Democrats (152 for, 96 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act as opposed to 80% of Republicans (138 for, 38 against). In the Senate, 69% of Democrats (46 for, 21 against) voted for the Act while 82% of Republicans did (27 for, 6 against). All southern Democrats voted against the Act. http://www.houstonreview.com/articles/48.html

    I do think Republicans let blacks down in 1876. After that it was the Democrats all the way. Nobody has much to be proud of in this history, but to lay blame on the Republicans or say they failed to do the right thing for 90 years is one sided revisionism.

  9. Just a thought regarding your ‘update’, AL – had Humphrey won the Wallace states, he still would not have won the presidency; in fact, Nixon could have lost all the southern states except VA and still won the white house (by my math – check the Election Atlas).

    So unless southern conservatism swung the midwest, the west, the southwest and the far west, it’s not at all clear that the ‘southern strategy’ got Nixon elected; certainly the Dixiecrat bolt didn’t.

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