Monthly Archives: June 2019

Kevin Williamson Lumps Together Social Liberalism and Fiscal Liberalism With Erroneous Results, Part 2

Furthermore, some of the fiscally conservative Republicans who opposed the Dixiecrats on race and economics in the Progressive Era and New Deal Era were definitely not social conservatives. Williamson does not bring up Robert Taft, but the Ohio Republican was famous for his fiscal conservatism. He was no champion of black people, but as I have argued elsewhere, Taft was a “passionate moderate” on race and one of the few politicians to denounce Japanese American internment. Unfortunately for his modern conservative admirers, Taft’s social views were Centrist. He spoke out against a bill to require daily Bible readings in Ohio public schools, called strict separation of Church and State “the whole basis of the American Constitution,” and opposed public funds for religious schools. Going back further to the Progressive Era, we have New Hampshire Senator Jacob Gallinger. As early as 1902, Gallinger was calling on Congress to investigate lynchings. In 1916, he called for federal protection of black voting rights. For these stances, he was mocked by Southern Democrats. Gallinger also largely opposed the economic reforms of the progressives, favoring the interests of big business. But he was also a believer in women’s suffrage, an environmentalist, and an advocate of animal welfare, including tighter restrictions on animal testing. He spoke out against efforts to further crack down on Chinese immigration and voted against the Sedition Act. If anything, he could best be described as a social liberal-fiscal conservative.

Williamson goes on to approvingly cite the inestimable Ta-Nehisi Coates’s description of rabid Mississippi segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo as a liberal. On most issues except race, Bilbo was liberal. He even broke with most fellow Southern segregationists by backing women’s suffrage. However, he also came from a very socially reactionary Southern state. And in his case, it might be said that there was a conflict between his Southernism and his liberalism, and his Southernism won out. This is evidenced in part by his decision to call Eleanor Roosevelt “the greatest [n word] lover in the North.” Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, was the bleeding heart liberal that her husband was portrayed as at the time. But unlike Bilbo, she was from the Northeast. Please understand that I am well aware that racism was and is rampant in the North. But there were and are still marked differences in aggregate racial attitudes in the North versus the South. And in the Jim Crow era, white Northern liberals tended to see civil rights differently from Southern liberals. Pro-civil rights white Southern writer, Lillian Smith once estimated that 75 percent of white Southern liberals favored “separate but equal.” But that was not because they were liberal. It was because they were Southern. Indeed, Northern fiscal conservative Robert Taft joined forces with the diehard Northern liberal Senator Glen Taylor to prevent Bilbo from taking his seat after his last election victory. Taylor would go on to run as the 1948 vice presidential candidate for the Progressive Party, which called for civil rights, leftist domestic policies, and an end to the Cold War. During the campaign, he would be arrested for violating Alabama segregation laws.

I would like to close this essay with two final points. In the first place, going back to at least 1860, support for increased rights of African Americans was understood as a liberal or radical position, while opposition was understood as conservative. The New York Times used Abe Lincoln’s stated support for fugitive slave laws and opposition to racial equality as evidence of his conservatism. Lincoln would go on, of course, to back a constitutional amendment ending slavery. To quote Dinesh D’Souza in one of his rare moments of honesty, “that is why the right wing can never forgive him.” During Reconstruction, moderate Republicans who wanted to uphold at least some civil rights for black people while returning sovereignty to the former Confederate states were called “Liberal Republicans.” This title appears to have been their attempt to position themselves to the left of conservative Democrats but to the Right of the “Radical Republicans” who pushed harsh terms for ex-Confederate states and strong federal protection of civil rights. George Wallace had nothing but contempt for liberals in the 1960s. And what about William F. Buckley, the right-wing founder of National Review? By now, many of you probably know his 1957 defense of the Jim Crow South. To hear his old compadres at National Review tell it, he became a civil rights champion in the 1960s. Not quite. According to historian Kevin M. Schultz, “‘My position on the moral aspect of segregation,” Buckley wrote to a sixteen-year-old correspondent in 1964, is that “[s]egregation is morally wrong if it expresses or implies any invidious view of a race, not so if it intends or implies no such thing.’”

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Kevin Williamson Lumps Together Social Liberalism and Fiscal Liberalism With Erroneous Results, Part 1

Since getting hired and fired from The Atlantic faster than Donald Trump can change his mind about attacking Iran, then un-ironically taking to The Wall Street Journal to complain that he was being silenced, Kevin Williamson is back to writing columns for the dumpster fire of political magazines we call National Review. In a recent column titled “Joe and the Segs,” Williamson uses Joe Biden’s self-inflicted controversy about his old Dixiecrat work friends to argue that the traditional, segregationist Southern Democrats were primarily liberal, not conservative. In response to claims from historians such as Dr. Kevin M. Kruse that the parties have largely shifted and that the Dixiecrats were conservatives, Williamson writes, “That is, of course, false. Conservatives largely opposed the New Deal, while segregationist Democrats were critical to making it happen. Most of the segregationist Democrats of the FDR–LBJ era were committed New Dealers and, by most criteria, progressives. They largely supported welfare spending, public-works programs, the creation of the major entitlement programs, and, to a lesser extent, labor reform.” This is true so far as it goes, but it involves a key oversimplification. All of the issues that Williamson cites here are fiscal issues. None of them provide any evidence that these Southern Democrats were socially liberal. And, of course, being liberal or progressive as we understand those terms today requires being at least left of center on fiscal and social issues. With his denunciations of corporate excesses and proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security and support for strong regulation of businesses, Tucker Carlson is arguably at least Centrist, if not slightly leftish, on fiscal policy. But we don’t call him a liberal or progressive, because he’s very conservative on most social issues. Putting aside the Dixiecrats’ conservative views on race, what were their views on certain other social issues? During the New Deal era, Congress passed the Smith Act, a bill which made it illegal to advocate overthrowing the government and required non-citizen adults to register with the government. On July 29, 1939, 48 members of the House of Representatives voted to recommit the bill to the Judiciary Committee without instructions as a method of preventing it from being passed. Not one of those 48 came from a former Confederate state. In 1940, Southern Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of a peacetime draft. Meanwhile, this draft was opposed by many liberal/left-wing members of Congress, such as Vito Marcantonio, Burton K. Wheeler, Warren Magnuson, Charles Wolverton, Merlin Hull and Usher Burdick, as well as other liberals and far-left radicals such as John Dewey, Norman Thomas, Bayard Rustin, A.J. Muste, James Farmer, and John Haynes Holmes.

According to Williamson, “Many of the Democrats who were instrumental in the reforms of the Wilson years, the golden age of American progressivism, were virulent racists, prominent among them Woodrow Wilson himself. Given such figures as Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, one might as easily write that progressives of both parties were racists.” Wilson was, again, an economic progressive. But he was a social conservative. Setting aside his support of segregation, Wilson was conservative on most social issues except for immigration. As I discussed here, Wilson was very much a latecomer to women’s suffrage and either outright opposed it or wanted it left to the states for most of his career. He also signed a Selective Service Act, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act to suppress civil liberties in wartime, all of which provoked massive opposition from people well to the left of him and were pivotal in the formation of the ACLU. Indeed, prominent conservative and National Review contributor, Ben Shapiro, once argued for essentially a reinstatement of Wilson’s wartime (anti) free speech policies until he reversed positions to begin arguing that they were an example of leftist intolerance. Teddy Roosevelt is a bit more of an interesting case. He was undoubtedly a white supremacist. He also favored school desegregation, proudly sent his children to school with black classmates, invited a back man to dine at the White House, and closed a local Mississippi post office for a year after residents reacted violently to a black postmaster. And Teddy Roosevelt, while not a social conservative, was not a flaming liberal on social issues either, favoring both liberal and conservative social policies, such as the death penalty, separation of Church and State, immigration restrictions, and women’s suffrage. I have previously argued and will continue to argue against the idea that the post-World War II alliance between many fiscal conservatives and the socially conservative, bigoted Right means that fiscal conservatism is inherently bigoted. I will now argue against the idea that the racist views of Wilson and Teddy (and Franklin) Roosevelt give us any special insight about the nature of economic progressivism. James W. Wadsworth, Jr. was a staunch socially and fiscally conservative Republican who entered politics in the 1910s and went on to become a dogged foe of the New Deal. He was also one of the most racist members of his party, breaking with the vast majority of fellow Republican Representatives to vote against a federal anti-lynching bill. Furthermore, other prominent progressive Republicans during the days of Wilson and Roosevelt, including Moses Clapp, Ira Copley, and arch-liberal Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette were quite supportive of civil rights for black people.

Williamson goes on to contrast the fiscal liberalism of Biden’s old work friend, Herman Talmadge, with Ronald Reagan. He points out that, “when Ronald Reagan was out denouncing the proposal for Medicare as the camel’s nose of socialism in America, Senator Talmadge was . . . voting for it. Other signers of the Southern Manifesto, though by no means all of them, voted for it, too.” There are a couple of problems here. As I’ve discussed here, here, and here, Reagan viciously race-baited from the 1960s all the way through his presidency. On racial issues, he was to the Right of every Democratic candidate he ever ran against. Talmadge’s vile segregationist views do not change that. Furthermore, Williamson once again offers no evidence for any socially liberal stances by Talmadge and his ilk. When the Supreme Court ruled that teacher-led prayer in public schools was unconstitutional, Talmadge, James Eastland, and George Wallace all vehemently denounced the decision, while pro-civil rights Republican Jacob Javits defended it and cautioned against Congressional action to reverse it. Williamson stated anti-New Deal Republican Senator Frederick Hale “voted against FDR’s nomination of Hugo Black to the Supreme Court because of Black’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan, and also declared: ‘If Mr. Roosevelt is renominated next year it will be unnecessary for the Socialist party to put up a candidate.’ If on one side of the vote you have free-spending patrons of entitlement programs and on the other side you have a man denouncing those as socialism, it is clear enough who is the conservative in the sense we use that word.” I have been unable to find any evidence of Black espousing socially liberal policy positions prior to his Supreme Court nomination. Admittedly, he was generally though not uniformly a social liberal while on the Court, supporting causes such as civil liberties for leftist radicals (except schoolchildren), an end to teacher-led prayer in public schools, and greater due process for accused criminals. The problem for Williamson is that for whatever reason, Black also became quite liberal about civil rights for black people as a Supreme Court judge. So attempting to tie his socially liberal jurisprudence in with his Klan membership won’t wash. Looking at Dixiecrats post-World War II era, we find that they not only tended to oppose Separation of Church and State, they also frequently favored other socially conservative policies such as abortion bans, suppression of gay rights, censorship of Communists, “law and order” legislation, and thwarting the Equal Rights Amendment. Robert Byrd, for instance, was one of the most conservative Democrats on gay rights during the 1990s and early 2000s. James Eastland fought both Roe v. Wade and the ERA in his later years as a Senator. Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms went from being socially conservative Democrats to being some of the most socially conservative members of the GOP.

 

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There Is No Upside to Slavery

Sooner or later, modern defenses of the Confederacy or the Confederate Flag tend to devolve into defenses of slavery. While there are reasonable arguments for and against reparations, I have also all too often seen arguments against reparations descend into defenses of slavery. The claim bandied about some of the more reactionary opponents of reparations is that African Americans today are better off due to the enslavement of their ancestors, because it caused them to be living in the United States instead of Africa. This argument is not a new one. During the days of slavery, it was argued that slaves were better off in America, where they could be exposed to Christianity and civilization, than in Africa. In 1838, future U.S. president-turned Confederate Congressman John Tyler declared that God “works most inscrutably to the understandings of men; – the negro is torn from Africa, a barbarian, ignorant and idolatrous; he is restored civilized, enlightened, and a Christian.” Robert E. Lee himself wrote that, “the blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.” One speculates that this may have been part of the reason, along with refuting “scientific” racism, that some abolitionists, including Lydia Maria Child and William Lloyd Garrison, tried to counteract the negative image of Africa that most Americans probably held.

It is frightening to see this argument about slavery continue to come up in the twenty-first century. James Edwards, an outspoken white supremacist radio host, once opined that, “For blacks in the Americas, slavery is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Unfortunately, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to white Americans,” One might dismiss Edwards as a fringe figure, but past guests on his show include Congressman Walter Jones, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and Donald Trump, Jr. These days, only a very small number of people, such as Neo-Confederate authors Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins, along with former Arkansas legislator Jon Hubbard, argue that slavery benefited slaves. Rather, a significant number of more mainstream conservatives, not all of whom claim to side with the Confederacy, argue that slavery benefited the descendants of slaves. Some of the conservatives who have explicitly made this claim include Dinesh D’Souza, Michael Medved, and Walter Williams. While most rational people recognize that these assertions are racist cockamamie, those of us in the historical community can no longer be content with dismissing them as such. To do so gives bigots a chance to claim that we are incapable of rebutting their arguments. Thus, it is my intention in this essay to refute the idea that the impact of slavery was in any way positive, either for slaves or for their modern descendants.

When assessing whether members of most other marginalized racial and ethnic groups in the United States are worse off today due to historical oppression, even the most fervent believers in American exceptionalism tend to distinguish between their arrival in this country and the oppression that followed. (This, of course, excludes Native Americans, whose arrival here predated every other group by millennia.) Many people may feel (and others disagree) that the descendants of Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Czech, Asian, or Hispanic immigrants are better off here than in the countries that their ancestors came from. Most conservatives would not try to claim, however, that the descendants of these immigrants are better because of the discrimination their ancestors endured. Yet a significant number argue that if black people are better off in America than Africa, this somehow means that they have benefited from their ancestors’ enslavement. Clearly, there is some faulty logic going on here.

Most social liberals understand—and even many social conservatives at least pay lip service to the idea—that everyone who comes to the United States is entitled to have their liberties fully respected by government and society. Of course, unlike every other non-indigenous ethnic/racial group, most African Americans’ ancestors were brought here against their will to be sold as slaves. But it would be both reprehensible and nonsensical to try to claim that, because black people were brought here to have their rights violated, this somehow relieved America of its obligation to respect their rights. If anything, the fact that African Americans were not given a choice about whether to come here made the further denial of rights that happened upon arrival even more egregious. Thus, the question must be not “Are African Americans better off today due to slavery than they would be in Africa?” but rather “Would African Americans be better off now if they had ended up in America but not been enslaved?” Conservatives may insist that any possible alternative history scenario for black people to have come to America without being enslaved would be unlikely to have occurred, but this is retroactively changing the rules of the debate. A scenario in which slavery never happened here, and black people remained in Africa would also require drastic changes to the sociopolitical landscape of the Atlantic World from the colonial period to the Civil War, yet that does not stop some conservatives from trying to use it as a cudgel in arguments.

Let us consider a thought experiment that more enlightened thinkers have advocated. Imagine for a moment that most white people prior to the Civil War had sincerely wanted to help black Africans by giving them a chance to enjoy the blessings of American freedom and opportunity. This scenario is outlandish, though as stated earlier, many white Americans claimed duringslavery that the institution was beneficial for the slaves themselves, not just their descendants. Under this scenario, they could have offered African people free or cheap passage to America, where they could have lived un-enslaved. This would have been impossible in the sense that most white Americans would have never considered it, but it is not literally impossible in the sense that, for example, walking on water or pulling the moon out of orbit is impossible. Under this scenario of free immigration, it is obvious that African Americans would be far better off now than they are in the aftermath of slavery. Even free people who came to America with no property or money would have had far more opportunities than slaves to pursue economic opportunity, accumulating assets to pass down over generations. Second and third generation immigrants would have had a significantly better chance of receiving an education than slaves, who were frequently forbidden by law from learning to read. They would not have had the same level of trauma and other psychological impacts that come with multigenerational chattel slavery, which is discussed by African American scholar Joy DeGruy in Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. These are just some examples of the ways in which black people would be better off today if their ancestors had been able to live free in America.

Additionally, it is very questionable whether they would have been subjected to Jim Crow laws or social discrimination, at least to the same extent that non-enslaved black people prior to the Civil War and ex slaves and their descendants were following the Civil War. The first Jim Crow laws in America, interracial marriage bans, originated in the late seventeenth century as a method of preserving slavery by legally labeling black people as an inferior race. Jim Crow and the accompanying social discrimination that can be linked largely to slavery played a role in continuing to perpetuate economic inequality between black and white Americans that persists to this day. Average wealth for white families is about seven times greater than wealth for black families, with median wealth about twelve times greater.

Finally, even the idea that black people would be worse off if they had not ended up in the United States is questionable. Black captives were taken from sub Saharan Africa for several hundred years by European and American slavers and at least a thousand years by Arabic slavers, unfortunately with collaboration of some black African political leaders and traders. As others have pointed out, it is difficult to dismiss the possibility that Africa would have a significantly higher standard of living were it not for the long-term impact of this slave trading. Just as importantly, black people who were transported by slave traders to the United States came largely from countries such as Angola, Ghana, and Senegal that became part of European empires, such as Britain, France, and Portugal. If these African nations had been colonized without the native inhabitants being enslaved, far more blacks might have eventually immigrated to Britain, France, or Portugal, all of which have a standard of living that is in many ways equal to that of the United States. Certainly, many people would argue that there are advantages to living in the United States compared to Britain, France, or Portugal. But it is hard to argue that these even come close to outweighing the advantages of not being descended from slaves. Thus, it is far from certain that they would be worse off if they had never come to America. Nor can we say for sure that they would have never ended up in America, given that there are currently over two million African-born immigrants living in the U.S. now. What we do know is that African Americans are worse off due to having enslaved ancestors. And it is absurd and, yes, racist to argue otherwise.

 

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Gabbard, Biden, Bernie, and Brock

Time For David Brock To Take The Foot Out of His Mouth

Last week, David Brock of MediaMatters, a conservative-turned-liberal Clinton supporter, called for the various Democratic candidates and their supporters to understand that they needed each other to beat Trump in 2020 and avoid alienating each other. I agree with that sentiment, but it’s a bit hollow coming from Brock. In 2016, Brock responded to an ad featuring primarily white crowds of Bernie Sanders supporters. As you may recall, Clinton got the majority of black primary voters in 2016, just as Obama got the majority in 2008. Interestingly, Clinton fans who use Bernie’s lower levels of black support to accuse him of racism virtually never use Clinton’s lower levels from 2008 to make the same accusation against her, but I digress. Brock stated, “From this ad it seems black lives don’t matter much to Bernie Sanders.”image.png

The guy pictured above is a much younger Bernie being arrested by Chicago cops for protesting segregation. With that in mind, Brock’s comment was really rather disgusting. In fact, if we label as sexist dogwhistles any comments about Hillary Clinton’s credentials or statements such as Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver’s quip that she would at least be interviewed for a vice presidential spot, then we could make a similar claim about Brock’s comments being anti-Semitic dogwhistles. After all, there’s a long history of everyone from white supremacists to Malcolm X trying to ascribe bad motives to Jewish people in the Civil Rights Movement. With that in mind, I tweeted to Brock today that, “I do think you should apologize for saying black lives don’t matter to Bernie if you haven’t already—in fact, maybe you should a second time if you have. That was a pretty horrible comment about someone who got arrested protesting segregation.”

Memo to Gabbard: Even the Moderate Establishment Septuagenarian Candidate Is Woker Than You

I had to lay this out in a conversation recently, and I think it bears repeating. It’s true that Tulsi Gabbard’s extremely homophobic comments were made in the early 2000s and that she’s since disavowed them. Unfortunately, when some months back, a group of liberal Democratic Senators criticized a judicial nominee for involvement with the anti-gay Knights of Columbus, Gabbard was outraged–that the Senators dared to bring this up. According to Gabbard, even questioning whether someone’s Knights of Columbus membership might be evidence of homophobic amounted to anti-Catholic prejudice. By her logic, criticizing someone for being in ISIS is anti-Muslim bigotry, since ISIS is an Islamic group. Of course, many, many Muslims don’t agree with ISIS, and many, many Catholics don’t agree with the Knights of Columbus. This faux pas by Gabbard happened this year. Not 15 years ago, not 5 years ago, not last year, this year. Anyhow, as I pointed out, for all his flaws that make me not support him in the primary, Biden doesn’t engage in overwrought, hackneyed defenses of groups like the Knights of Columbus despite BEING CATHOLIC HIMSELF. How bad does it make Gabbard look that Biden is way better than her in this area?

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