The Lonely Centrist

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

No Apology Necessary

So there was Ken Mehlman last week, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, falling all over himself to apologize to the NAACP for the fact that, 37 years ago, Richard Nixon actually sought to make the deep south a two-party state. In his mea culpa, Mehlman bought into the view that Republicans tried to benefit from "racial polarization."

I reject that view, frankly. It seems to me that Republicans tried to heal "racial polarization" in the South. Here's the history: After Grant's presidency, the North had been worn down by southern intransigence on the race issue - northerners were simply tired of fighting the fight. No credit there, but at least they weren't the oppressors. As part of the deal to put Hays in the White House after the disputed election of 1876, U.S. troops were pulled out of the South and black Americans were left to their fate. For the next century, southern Democrats, and criminal elements allied with them, did everything they could, legal and illegal, to deny blacks the vote and most other basic civil rights. The South was a one party state precisely because of race - for a white to vote Republican was to betray one's race.

This began to change with Franklin Roosevelt, but while the northern Democrats developed a civil rights record of which to be proud, Southern Democrats remained segregationists. The Northern Democrats were willing to maintain this alliance in order to maintain their majorities in Congress. By the mid-1960s, it was clear that the only reason southern whites were not voting Republican was because Democrats - in the South anyway - were the party of segregation. On most other issues, Southern voters were more in tune with Republicans than with Democrats. Nixon never endorsed segregation, and as his running mate intentionally sought out a southern integrationist (that Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew is the best he could come up with is another story). By campaigning in the South, against the renegade Democrat segregationist George Wallace as well as Democrat Party nominee Hubert Humphrey, Nixon helped to open up the Southern electoral system, break the monopoly of the segregationists, and advance the civil rights revolution.

In any case, now that Mehlman has apologized, I look forward to hearing Howard Dean apologize to blacks for the near century of segregation that Democrats placed on the region.

More on this tomorrow.

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