Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Original Gang of 14: Honoring the Senators Who Voted “Nay” on DOMA, Part 2

And now, for the other 7 courageous Senators who opposed the Defense of Marriage Act.

8. Bob Kerrey: Kerrey’s story is in some ways like Inouye’s from a different generation. A Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War, Kerrey became both the recipient and the dispenser of double entendres due to a war injury that necessitated amputating the lower part of one of his legs. But unlike Inouye, who represented the liberal state of Hawaii, Kerrey represented Nebraska, a state that voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004. Still, trapped between the homophobic Devil and the deep red river (Nebraska, after all, has no seas,) Kerrey showed just as much courage as he had in the military and voted against DOMA. In 2012, Kerrey unsuccessfully attempted to regain his old Senate seat, and in this election, he confirmed what most people had suspected and announced his support for gay marriage.

9. John Kerry: Kerry had advocated for gay rights reforms since joining the Senate. Still, out of all the Senators on this list, Kerry probably ended up being the most cowardly. Like Feinstein, he would disavow any support for gay marriage when casting his “nay” vote. However, Kerry’s cowardice would go far beyond that. To my knowledge, Kerry is the only of the 14 “no on DOMA” Senators who would later claim his vote had been a mistake. In 2004, Kerry claimed that he had been incorrect to label DOMA unconstitutional. Of course, some years after losing the election to George W. Bush, Kerry would once again change positions and support gay marriage. In essence, Kerry has been a friend to gay Americans through thin but not so much through thick. Still, it is hard to dispute that in his heart, Kerry believes in equal rights.

10. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Despite being a longtime Democratic Senator from the liberal stronghold of New York, Moynihan was always fairly popular among conservatives. The main reason for this is that while serving as an assistant secretary of labor in the 1960s, Moynihan gained notoriety for claiming that the Johnson Administration’s liberal welfare policies were leading to fewer two-parent homes. Orson Scott Card, a science fiction writer who vehemently opposes gay rights labeled himself a “Moynihan Democrat.” However, Moynihan  joined Senators like Ted Kennedy, Daniel Inouye, and Lowell Weicker to introduce gay rights legislation in the 1980s, and in 1996, he was the only Senator to vote both against DOMA and in favor of passing a ban on partial birth abortion over Clinton’s veto. Moynihan died in 2001, before legalizing gay marriage was widely discussed by politicians at the national level, and conservatives would later attempt to quote his writings about two-parent homes while opposing gay marriage. However, his wife, Elizabeth, stated her belief that Moynihan would have favored gay marriage.

11. Claiborne Pell: Less well known than the Pell Grants that bear his name, the senior Rhode Island Senator was 77 years old when DOMA came up for a vote, making him the oldest Senator to vote against the bill. He was also perhaps the most eccentric, being a firm believer in the paranormal and wearing threadbare suits along with his much bulkier father’s belt that had to wrapped around his waist twice in order to make it fit. While Pell was a reliable supporter of civil rights for other minorities, the issue of gay rights was exceptionally personal to him. In 1972, rumors circulated that he had been arrested in a raid on a gay bar. In 1981, his openly gay close friend and former campaign manager, Raymond Nels Nelson was murdered in Washington, D.C., prompting Pell to eulogize him on the Senate floor the following day. 1981 marked the beginning of a decade-and-a-half of gay rights advocacy. In 1993, he helped Roberta Achtenberg become the first openly gay federal appointee to be confirmed by the Senate by speaking of his gay daughter. In 1996, Pell had decided not to run for re-election and ended his thirty-six year career in the Senate by defending the rights of his daughter and honoring the memory of his old friend through voting against DOMA.

12. Chuck Robb: The son-in-law of Lyndon Johnson and Virginia’s junior Senator in 1996, Robb was the only Senator representing a former Confederate state who voted against DOMA. He was also almost certainly the most moderate on political issues overall. His “liberal” rating from Americans for Democratic Action sometimes went as low as 60%. He voted for every portion of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” conservative wish list and in favor of the first Gulf War. However, Robb also demonstrated that he was not simply a typical conservative Democrat. After having cosponsored the Boxer Amendment in 1993, Robb publicly stated, “I feel very strongly that this legislation is wrong. Despite its name, the Defense of Marriage Act does not defend marriage against some imminent, crippling effect. Although we have made huge strides in the struggle against discrimination based on gender, race, and religion, it is more difficult to see beyond our differences regarding sexual orientation. The fact that our hearts don’t speak in the same way is not cause or justification to discriminate.” According to Robb, Barbara Boxer herself warned him not to oppose DOMA, fearing it would destroy his political career. Still, Robb would not be deterred. In all probability, though Boxer’s encouragement to vote for DOMA was wrong, her prediction that Robb’s “nay” vote would destroy his political career was probably correct. Robb lost his next bid for re-election to George Allen, making him the only incumbent Democrat to lose his Senate seat in the 2000 elections. This was probably due in no small part to his support for gay rights as well as his opposition to a ban on flag desecration.

13. Paul Simon: Not to be confused with the singer from Simon and Garfunkel, the senior Senator from Illinois and 1988 Democratic primary candidate for president, Simon was at times described as a traditional Democrat. The truth is that Simon, like many other Northern Democrats who began their political careers in the 1950s, departed strongly from the Democratic Party’s traditional support for the supremacy of heterosexual white men. Perhaps this is why Simon wrote a book about President Abraham Lincoln rather than President Andrew Jackson. And as Simon voted against DOMA in the last year of his last term in the Senate, Simon imitated the 1864 Abraham Lincoln who favored a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery rather than the 1860 Lincoln who favored banning slavery in new states while allowing it to exist in the South. Two months before his death in 2003, he published a book called “Our Culture of Pandering,” perhaps having DOMA in mind.

14. Ron Wyden: Wyden was the most recently elected Senator to vote against DOMA, having won a special election to replace Robert Packwood as an Oregon Senator less than seven months earlier. Packwood was a powerful five-term Senator who had been forced to resign in disgrace after being exposed as a sexual predator. Wyden had no desire to keep a low profile in either his Senate campaign or his first year in the chamber. He became the first Senator to publicly support gay marriage and gave a speech denouncing DOMA on libertarian grounds, calling the bill “Big Brother to the core.” Now in his fourth Senate term, Wyden recently applauded a judge’s decision to strike down Oregon’s ban on gay marriage, writing, “Judge Michael McShane’s decision marks a significant moment in Oregon’s civil rights history, and it’s an important step toward equal rights for all Americans. Every American deserves the freedom to marry the person they love, and, starting today, all Oregonians will have that choice. I am proud to have stood with Oregon’s same-sex couples in this struggle for marriage equality for nearly 20 years, and it’s important to keep pushing until that right extends to all Americans.”




Filed under Uncategorized

The Original Gang of 14: Honoring the Senators Who Voted “Nay” on DOMA, Part 1

“Let’s face it: anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on.” This quote comes not from a Democrat or a moderate Republican. It comes from Orrin Hatch, who co-sponsored the Federal Marriage Amendment ten years ago, and is a leader among conservative Republicans in the Senate. I am reminded of the scene in the Ten Commandments where Ramesses II is returning to his palace after his entire army has taken a fatal bath in the Red Sea thanks to the miracle that Moses has performed on behalf of Yahweh. As Queen Nefretiri tauntingly asks to see Moses’ blood, Ramesses resignedly says of the prophet, “His god is God.” In other words, Ramesses has done everything he possibly can to stop the Jews from being freed and has to acknowledge that none of it has worked, and that there is nothing left he can do. Like the bald-headed Pharaoh doing double duty as the King of Siam/Thailand, Hatch has done everything he can to stop gay marriage and has come to the realization that he cannot prevent gay couples from eventually being treated equally any more than he can prevent the Sun from rising in the morning. Meanwhile, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a longtime opponent of gay marriage and a man widely talked about as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, has stated with regard to challenges of his state’s ban on gay marriage, “Any federal judge has got to look at that law not only with respect to the state’s constitution but what it means in terms of the U.S. Constitution, as well . . . again, I’m not going to pretend to tell a federal judge in that regard what he or she should do about it.” Yet not long ago, politicians from both parties were falling over themselves to strongly oppose gay marriage. In 1996, eighty-five U.S. Senators voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. Many of these Senators–Patrick Leahy, Chris Dodd, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Olympia Snowe, Patty Murray, Alan Simpson, Nancy Kassebaum, Bill Bradley–have changed positions. I commend them. But it was a lot harder for the 14 Senators who voted “nay” on DOMA in 1996. They have not been properly honored, probably because of the embarrassment that it would bring to all the Senators who voted “yea.” However, I would like to do a three-part blog series honoring the courageous 14 as well as listing some bits of trivia about the 1996 vote. This blog post covers the first seven, listed alphabetically:

1. Daniel Akaka: Akaka represented Hawaii and bears the unusual distinctions of being his state’s junior Senator until he was 88 and only serving as senior Senator for 17 days. In 2006, Time Magazine acknowledged his reputation among Senate colleagues for being a kind-hearted man but listed him as one of the country’s five worst Senators for “being a master of the minor resolution and the bill that dies in committee.” The article also described him as living in the shadow of Hawaii’s senior Senator Daniel Inouye, forgetting that most Senators who served between 1963 and 2012 lived in Inouye’s immense shadow. I think Time Magazine’s characterization was grossly unfair. In 1996, Akaka was one of only 14 Senators who chose not to further enshrine anti-gay discrimination in federal law. If that makes someone one of the worst Senators, I’d love to see more of them.

2. Barbara Boxer: Elected to succeed Senator Alan Cranston of California in 1992, Boxer seems to have been aware from the beginning that she had big shoes to fill, as Cranston had been an early supporter of gay rights. In 1993, as Bill Clinton began throwing gay soldiers under the bus by colluding with Republicans, conservative Democrats, and Pentagon officials to craft “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Boxer sponsored legislation called “the Boxer Amendment” that would have allowed the president to issue an executive order repealing the military’s anti-gay ban completely. When the amendment failed, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was included as part of the NDAA, Boxer was one of just four Senate Democrats to vote against the Act. In 1996, Boxer further demonstrated her commitment to gay rights by voting against DOMA. Like certain other Senators who voted “nay,” Boxer initially stopped short of favoring gay marriage, saying as late as 2004 that she supported California’s gay marriage ban. In 2006, however, Boxer endorsed marriage equality, six years before Barack Obama and Joe Biden and seven years before Hillary Clinton.

3. Carol Moseley Braun: Braun’s election to the position of junior Senator of Illinois in 1993 was a moment of great historical significance. She was the the second African American to be elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote, an event that has only happened twice since then. Furthermore, of the four popularly elected black Senators in the history of this country, she is the only woman. 1996 was a rough year for Braun. She made the bizarre decision to pay a visit to Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha–without bothering to notify the Justice Department. But in 1996, Braun also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, showing that she herself was strongly committed to human rights, even if not everyone she palled around with was. In 2004, Braun ran for president in the Democratic Party primaries and was one of only 3 candidates, along with Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, to favor gay marriage.

4. Russ Feingold: In the eighteen years that Feingold was Wisconsin’s junior Senator, there was a rule that generally held true with votes on legislation: when a conservative-leaning bill passed with only a few or just one Senator casting dissenting votes, Feingold would probably be in the “nay” camp. He was one of 8 Senators who voted against the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the only Senator to vote against the original Patriot Act. He also co-sponsored the aforementioned Boxer Amendment and, like Boxer, voted against the NDAA passed in 1993, due to the fact that the Act included “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Especially given that he cites Martin Luther King, Jr. as a childhood hero, it is no surprise that Feingold voted against DOMA. On April 4, 2006, Feingold formally announced support for gay marriage, and on May 18, he stormed out of a Senate Judiciary Committee Meeting after an argument with political chameleon Arlen Specter. In my view, Feingold’s decision not to run for president was a national tragedy.

5. Dianne Feinstein: One of the most surprising “nay” votes on DOMA, Feinstein had actually vetoed legislation to enact domestic partner benefits for gays 14 years earlier while serving as Mayor of San Francisco. When Feinstein rose as a California Senator to denounce DOMA, she did not assert that the bill was wrong because gays deserved equal rights. Rather, she argued that it was a violation of states’ rights and unnecessary, since states already had the right not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. 12 years later, Feinstein would come out in support of gay marriage during the controversy over Prop 8 in 2008, and in 2011, she helped introduce legislation to repeal DOMA.

6. Daniel Inouye: A one-armed World War II veteran and a forty-nine year veteran of the Senate and the president pro tempore at the time of his death on December 17, 2012, Inouye used his keynote speaking slot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention partly to champion racial equality. 13 years later, in 1981, he took up the torch for gay rights and never put it down until his death at age 88. Indeed, it would have been shocking if Inouye had voted for DOMA. 16 years later and 7 months before his death, Inouye stated, “I am very pleased that the President affirmed his support for marriage equality. I think everyone who wishes to enter into marriage and start a life together should be allowed to do so, regardless of sexual orientation. How can we say call ourselves the land of the free, if we don’t permit people who love one another to get married? I look forward to working with the President to ensure his position on marriage equality becomes law in this country.” In 2013, when Hawaii legalized gay marriage, I immediately thought of how happy Daniel Inouye must have been looking down from Heaven wearing a hula necklace.

7. Ted Kennedy: Ted Kennedy had become distinguished for his stances in support of African Americans’ rights early on in his Senate career, and like Inouye, he began publicly favoring gay rights in the 1980s. Kennedy was a vocal critic of DOMA from the beginning, labeling the bill, “a mean-spirited form of Republican legislative gay-bashing,” and stating, “whether senators are for or against same-sex marriage, there are ample reasons to vote against this bill because it represents an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power.” Nine years later, in 2005, it would become apparent where Ted Kennedy himself stood on the issue when he announced that he favored marriage equality at a time when virtually no sitting Senators had come out in support. The long-time Senator from Massachusetts was a deeply flawed man, as the Chappaquiddick Incident helps underscore. But it is hard to argue with the assessment that when Ted Kennedy died in 2009, the Gay Rights Movement lost a great ally.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss the other seven Senators who voted against DOMA!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fiscal Conservatism and Race, Part 2

The 1950s marked a turning point in the relationship between fiscal conservatism and racism in public discourse. In 1953, Robert Taft, the passionate moderate on civil rights and critic of the New Deal, passed away, leaving a leadership void among fiscal conservatives. This planted the seeds for a new “conservative movement” that was conservative on social as well as fiscal issues. In 1955, a magazine called National Review was formed by a thirty year old pundit by the name of William F. Buckley.

One of Buckley’s early articles was a condemnation of Brown v. Board of Education. At times, his rhetoric was framed in terms of support for states’ rights. But in 1957, Buckley wrote that, “the central question that emerges… is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” James Kilpatrick, a writer Buckley hired for National Review, defended the alleged right of states to disobey Brown. In 1963, Kiplatrick would state categorically that blacks constituted an inferior race.

As National Review condemned Brown and most of the other instances of federal intervention in the Civil Rights Movement, a new star was rising in the Republican Party: Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. In contrast to more fiscally moderate Republicans, Goldwater positioned himself as a hardcore fiscal conservative who desired to roll back the New Deal. In 1960, Goldwater published the book “Conscience of a Conservative,” ghostwritten by Buckley’s brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell, Jr. Most of the book focused on non-racial issues such as economics and foreign policy. However, Goldwater devoted a short chapter to civil rights. While he stated that he personally opposed segregation in public schools, he also said that the Brown decision had been unconstitutional and wrong. Goldwater was a different man than Strom Thurmond, James Eastland, or any number of other Southern Democrats. He favored the modest Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and integration of the Arizona National Guard and Phoenix public school system. Yet there has been a claim by some Goldwater admirers that he was simply a consistent libertarian who only opposed the civil rights laws applying to private businesses, due to reasons that had nothing to do with racism. Goldwater’s 1960 opposition to Brown, a libertarian decision that applied only to discrimination by government, gives lie to this claim.

In 1964, Goldwater was one of just six Republican Senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just as he seized the presidential nomination in a bitter primary battle, supported by conservative writers like William F. Buckley and James Kilpatrick and old guard Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond. The primary battle pitted Goldwater against liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller and, after Rockefeller dropped out of the race, another liberal Republican named William Scranton. The differences between Goldwater’s faction and the “Rockefeller Republicans” are crucial to examine in detail. Goldwater Republicans were to the left of Southern Democrats on racial issues but generally opposed strong federal civil rights bills, while Rockefeller Republicans were staunch supporters of equal rights for blacks at the state and federal level and supported legislation outlawing discrimination in the private and public sectors. But their differences extended beyond race. While Goldwater Republicans tended to be staunch fiscal conservatives, Rockefeller Republicans generally accepted most of the New Deal and even supported new economic programs. In other words, Rockefeller, Scranton, and other liberal Republicans of the Cold War era–Clifford Case, Jacob Javits, Hugh Scott, Kenneth Keating, Irving Ives, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., etc.–were not only liberal on civil rights but also liberal or at least moderate on economics. New York Congressmen Ogden Reid was a stalwart supporter of civil rights who might be classified as a fiscal conservative early in his career, but he seems to have become fairly liberal on fiscal issues after becoming a Democrat. (His party switch was prompted, in no small part, by the Republican Party moving the Right on race issues.) Another New York Congressman Charles E. Goodell also arguably showed some fiscally conservative tendencies early in his career and strongly favored civil rights, but his economic stances also appeared to become more liberal later in his career, especially after he became a Senator. Goodell’s and Reid’s fellow New York Congressman Barber Conable was one of only a small number of politicians in this era who was consistently a strong civil rights supporter and a strong fiscal conservative. While many staunch fiscally conservative Republicans in the House and Senate, including Everett Dirksen, Gerald Ford, and Karl Mundt, voted for strong civil rights legislation in the 1960s, they generally had to be cajoled into offering support. This was in stark contrast to the Rockefeller Republicans who were liable to complain that the civil rights legislation proposed by JFK and LBJ did not go far enough. Meanwhile, Democrats who were both fiscally liberal and strongly pro-civil rights, such as Hubert Humphrey, Paul Douglas, Robert and Ted Kennedy, and Gaylord Nelson, were becoming increasingly prominent in their party. In short, among politicians, there was emerging a strong correlation between fiscal liberalism and support for civil rights.

Also in the 1960s, an actor and former Democrat had allied himself closely with Goldwater. His name was Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s state of residence, California, had recently passed a law against racial discrimination in housing, called the Rumford Fair Housing Act. At the same time that he campaigned for Goldwater, Reagan came out publicly against the act, which was repealed in a referendum by a heavy majority of California voters–paradoxically, at the same time that they overwhelmingly rejected Goldwater’s candidacy. And in the 1966 governors’ race, Reagan defeated the pro-civil rights incumbent, Pat Brown. Reagan ran on a platform supporting fiscal conservatism and opposing anti discrimination laws for the housing market. During the 1960s, Reagan also at various points publicly criticized the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Reagan and his defenders painted his opposition to civil rights bills during the 1960s as motivated by a belief in limited government. This was proven false by the fact that during his run for governor, Reagan also advocated stricter obscenity laws–hardly the position of a man concerned about government overreach. This strange inconsistency further demonstrated that most of the prominent Goldwater Republicans who opposed anti discrimination laws were not libertarians. They were not consistent supporters of small government. They were racists who used limited government rhetoric as a cover. In 1980, Reagan successfully ran for president and became synonymous in the public mind with lower taxes and free enterprise (though not, of course, low federal spending or balanced budgets.) He also described Jefferson Davis as a personal hero. As president, Reagan initially favored granting Bob Jones University tax-exempt status despite the fact that the school maintained restrictions on interracial dating, and he later vetoed a bill that would have imposed economic sanctions on South Africa as a means of opposing apartheid. Many of the individuals and institutions Reagan was allied with among the Religious Right—Jerry Falwell, W.A. Criswell, Bob Jones University—had records of defending segregation. Indeed, many Christian evangelicals, such as Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms, backed Reagan’s leniency toward South Africa. Reagan also tried to appoint Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and appointed William Rehnquist to be Chief Justice. These two men had, in their capacity as constitutional scholars, both discouraged Goldwater from voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964–and neither one of them were real proponents of small government either, defending policies such as bans on sodomy, bans on gay marriage, and bans on flag burning.

Claiming that a person is racist because they are a fiscal conservative is illogical and downright slanderous. But fiscal conservatives, including this author, must acknowledge that fiscal conservatism is lumped together with racism in the minds of many people largely due to the fact that the two presidential candidates of the last fifty years most strongly associated with rock-ribbed fiscal conservatism also fanned the flames of racial bigotry far more than even Richard Nixon ever did and were two of the individuals most responsible for causing the GOP to lay down its mantle as the party of civil rights. We must also acknowledge that many conservative pundits, from William F. Buckley and James Kilpatrick to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, have made their living partly through racist diatribes. And lest anyone think that my criticisms of Reagan are simply parroting of liberal hatchet jobs, I would like to end with a 1989 quote from a politician: “one of the gravest mistakes the Reagan administration made was its failure to lead aggressively in civil rights.” This quote comes not from Ted Kennedy or from Lowell Weicker but from Newt Gingrich.
















Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fiscal Conservatism and Race, Part 1

Unfortunately, in recent decades, there has been an alarming trend in American political dialogue. Many people have come to link fiscal conservatism with bigotry, especially racism. A widespread perception seems to be that if a person favors low government spending and a laissez-faire economy with most economic programs being provided by the private sector, they are a racist. This idea is rather strange. How does opposing national health insurance, favoring food stamp cuts, and wanting to privatize Medicare and Medicaid indicate that one also believes in racial profiling, thinks the Bell Curve is good science, and is convinced slavery and segregation were no big deal? In order to understand how this strange association came about, it is important to look back through history.

For a long time, there seems to have been no strong association between support for conservative civil rights policies and conservative economic policies. George Fitzhugh, a social theorist from Virginia, defended slavery while despising capitalism. (He dreamed of a Communist society in which all workers, white and black, would be slaves “for their own good.”) Racially egalitarian abolitionists included both Socialists like Wendell Phillips and supporters of the interests of big business like William Lloyd Garrison. Roscoe Conkling (R-NY), a politician and lawyer, was one of the original proponents of “corporate personhood,” i.e. the idea that corporations have the rights of people–a concept despised almost universally by fiscal liberals. He also vehemently opposed the Dred Scott decision, was a member of the “Radical Republicans” faction calling for increased rights for ex-slaves, and lamented the end of Reconstruction. One story in particular showcases the fact that Conkling’s views on race were probably as liberal as almost anyone outside of the abolitionist movement. When the Mississippi state legislature, under the influence of Northern Republicans, appointed a black man named Blanche K. Bruce to the Senate, Mississippi’s senior Senator James L. Alcorn refused to escort Bruce to the front of the chamber to take his oath of office, despite the fact that it is a tradition for the senior senator to escort the junior senator. Roscoe Conkling, who was then serving as New York’s junior Senator, accompanied Bruce instead, leading to Bruce naming a son after him.

In the 20th century, other historical figures further illustrate the danger of tying fiscal conservatism with racism. Consider Ben Tillman and James K. Vardaman. Tillman was a governor and later Senator from South Carolina. Vardaman was a governor and later Senator from Mississippi. Both men were rabid segregationists who defended lynching. And both were economic populists who battled the fiscal conservatives of their era. The most racist president of the 20th century was the big business-regulating Woodrow Wilson. His successors, Harding and Coolidge, were much more fiscally conservative and less reactionary on race. William Jennings Bryan, the man who was nominated three times for president on a platform of left-wing economic populism, accused Theodore Roosevelt of being too liberal on race. Meanwhile, Moorfield Storey and Louis Marshall, two of the leading NAACP lawyers in the 1910s and 1920s who persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down laws mandating residential segregation, were both strong opponents of the progressive and populist movements. Joseph Foraker had opposed Jim Crow laws in Ohio while serving as governor, and as a Senator in the early 1900s, he stood up for unjustly discharged soldiers from an African American infantry regiment in Texas and staunchly supported the interests of big business.

During the New Deal, the Roosevelt administration followed a policy of segregation. Wisconsin wished to have its Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps integrated. CCC Director Robert Fechner responded that this was unacceptable and deported black CCC workers living in Wisconsin to segregated camps in Illinois. The Social Security Act was written in such a way as to make sure that as few black workers as possible received pensions. Huey Long, the Louisiana governor who attacked the New Deal from the Left, refused to stop a lynching for the stated reason that, “we just lynch the occasional [racial slur],” and that it was necessary for the whites in Louisiana lynch mobs to get the desire for racial violence out of their systems every once in a while. Both of the men who represented Mississippi in the Senate during the 1930s, Pat Harrison and Theodore Bilbo, were New Dealers and segregationists. Bilbo in particular was so reactionary on race that he was quite conservative even compared to other segregationists and almost universally considered an extremist by Northern politicians. Even Claude Pepper, whose fierce devotion to New Deal reforms and praise of the Soviet Union earned him the nickname “Red Pepper” won re-election partly by defending the right of state Democratic parties to have white-only primaries after the Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Congressman Hamilton Fish III (R-NY) opposed both FDR’s liberal economic policies and his neglect of civil rights. Senator Robert Taft (R-OH) was known for his anti-New Deal views and favored federal legislation against poll taxes and lynching. Indeed, he was involved in a successful attempt in 1945 to prevent Bilbo from being seated by the Senate, largely due to the Mississippi Senator’s extreme race-baiting. To be sure, Taft was not exactly a hardcore supporter of racial equality, opposing strong anti discrimination laws. Most of the Republicans in the New Deal and World War II era who strongly supported racial equality, such as Harold Stassen, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and Irving Ives, were moderate economic progressives, not doctrinaire anti-New Dealers. Still, Taft and other Republicans of similar fiscal views were more liberal on race than most white Southern New Dealers. And some supporters of racial equality did also take a hard line against the New Deal. Branch Rickey, the baseball mogul known for signing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers and less well-known for saying, “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball,” was a staunch opponent of the New Deal. Rose Wilder Lane, a writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, denounced racism and the New Deal with equal vitriol.


Filed under Uncategorized

Trivializing Atrocities: Why Cliven Bundy is a Man of Moral Turpitude

It is not my intention to examine in-depth the issue of “free-grazing” on public land. My position on public land is that we should return as much of it as possible to Native American tribes who had it plundered from them, so when asked whether I support or oppose free-grazing by ranchers on public land, my response is, “Option C.” What I want to talk about is a quote from Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has become the flashpoint of a controversy over free-grazing. Initially, Bundy was touted as a hero by many conservatives for standing up to the federal government, though, of course, he would not have been touted as a hero by many of these same conservatives if he had stood up to the federal government in opposition to bans on, say, gay marriage or marijuana.. Many libertarians, who are mistrustful of government power whether it involves telling people where their cows can eat grass or telling people that they can’t smoke grass, whether it involves telling people what kind of gun they can own or telling people what gender of person they can marry, also expressed admiration for Bundy. But then, something happened. Like the Octomom of yesteryear, the more the public learned about Bundy, the less favorably he was viewed. The source of Bundy’s dip in popularity was a quote he made on video. The New York Times sums it up thusly: “‘I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,’ he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, ‘and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
‘And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?’ he asked. ‘They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.'” Now, granted, Bundy did express a desire not to return to the pre-civil rights era. Yet he displayed a callous, flippant, and downright racist attitude toward slavery. In essence, he said that while slavery was bad, it might have been preferable to living on the government dole. After all, in Bundy’s deluded mind, slavery did have positive points, such as teaching slaves to pick cotton and giving them something to do. I have no qualms about calling Bundy a racist, because only a racist individual would make any value judgments about slavery other than that it was a reprehensible institution. Slavery, the Holocaust, the genocide of Native Americans, Jim Crow, apartheid are all phases of history that are so horrific that any coda, semicolon, or qualifying statement as to just how horrific they were is a slap in the face to the victims of these atrocities, as well as their descendants. This is, of course, not the first time that someone has felt the need to trivialize slavery. Back in 2012, Arkansas legislator Jon Hubbard wrote that, “the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.” Considering the fact that Hubbard came from a party founded largely to stop the expansion of this so-called “blessing in disguise,” his statement was rather astounding. Even more astounding was the fact that conservative website ran a column by Walter E. Williams defending Hubbard. And while conservatives with any ounce of sense have disavowed Bundy’s statement, another writer named Doug Giles described the comment as “obtuse” and “the ramblings of an inarticulate old man” and mocked liberals for being so offended by it. “Obtuse” is an adjective you use to describe Alan Simpson’s comparison of Social Security to a milk cow. “The ramblings of an inarticulate old man” imply that the comments were simply silly and poorly phrased. The fact that a writer for a mainstream conservative site essentially shrugs his shoulders at the comments shows why all too many people use “conservative” and “racist” interchangeably. (Then again, Giles once wrote a piece claiming that LEGALIZING gay marriage was a policy of big government, a piece that involved such mental gymnastics that I almost got a migraine wading through it. I wonder how conservatives would feel if liberals copied their tactics and started saying the Affordable Care Act was a “small government” policy even though it clearly isn’t?) Racism is still a major problem in this country. And one thing that must be done to address this problem is to STOP DEFENDING SLAVERY. If any significant number of people persist in seeing slavery as a regrettable institution with some positive aspects to it, instead of the unmitigated evil that it really was, this country’s racial problems will never even come close to being fixed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized