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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