Monthly Archives: July 2019

Kevin Williamson Redux, Part 2

Williamson writes that it is “remarkable how far back the ideological-partisan lines of U.S. politics are at least partly visible and comprehensible. In the Wilson era, you have a Democratic party pursuing centralization and central planning, suspicious of free markets and competition, allied with academic elites, and pursuing an agenda of regimentation that Democrats presented as ‘scientific’ and supported by dispassionate, empirical evidence. Against that, you have a Republican party allied with business interests, hostile toward taxes and redistribution, promising a restoration of an idealized prelapsarian American order—the ‘return to normalcy.'” As stated in my previous post, this only deals with economic issues, not social issues–more on that later. But even if we only focus on economics, this is an oversimplification. For one thing, “Progressivism” was promoted and opposed by different members of both parties. As Williamson himself references, Teddy Roosevelt left the presidency four years before Wilson entered it and was also a “progressive.” (“Progressive” refers to those who shared the progressives’ economic vision of greater regulation. A progressive in this era could be a social conservative like Wilson, a social moderate like Roosevelt, or a social liberal like Robert LaFollette, Jane Addams, and John Dewey.) As I discussed previously, some of the major supporters of black rights in Congress during this era were Republican progressives. In the nineteenth century, some Republicans, such as Orville Platt and William P. Frye, supported increased rights for black people and government support for American industry mixed with “up by your bootstraps” capitalism for working class and poor Americans. Others, such as Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, and George Frisbie Hoar, were economic leftists, sometimes even backing radical labor union groups. Democrats in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were similarly divided. Grover Cleveland, the last Democratic president before Wilson, was a social and fiscal conservative with certain fascist tendencies. In 1924, Democrats nominated another social and fiscal conservative, John W. Davis, for president.

It is certainly true that some socially conservative Republican did defend black rights during these years. For example, Senator Boies “Big Grizzly” Penrose of Pennsylvania was anti-women’s suffrage, anti-Chinese immigration, and pro-suspension of civil liberties in wartime. He also opposed segregation, including bans on interracial marriage. Meanwhile, his 1914 Senate Election opponent, Representative A. Mitchell Palmer, was seen as a progressive Democrat and favored women’s suffrage but voted to ban interracial marriage. Still, close analysis does not support Williamson’s assertion. Firstly, Palmer became infamous as Attorney General for his suppression of leftists’ civil liberties via the “Palmer Raids” that were a precursor to the Red Scare. He may have leaned left, but he was hardly a Robert LaFollette. Additionally, the 1914 Pennsylvania Senate race was a three-way contest. Penrose and Mitchell also ran against Gifford Pinchot. While Pinchot was nominated by the Progressive Party in this election, he spent most of his career as a Republican and was liberal on most domestic issues besides crime. He was also generally supportive of African Americans’ rights. Conservatives like Penrose did not support civil rights because they were conservatives. They supported it because they were Yankee Republicans. I previously argued that Southern Democratic support for segregation was so entrenched that even a liberal Southern Democrat like Bilbo could champion it. I would also submit that support for black rights was entrenched enough among Northeastern and Great Lakes Republicans that even conservative Republicans from those parts of the country often subscribed to it.

What about Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s Republican successor. Williamson says he was “allied with business interests, hostile toward taxes and redistribution, promising a restoration of an idealized prelapsarian American order—the ‘return to normalcy.'” Again, while Harding was fiscally conservative, his social views were moderate. In addition to being markedly less anti-black than Wilson, he voted against the Sedition Act and pardoned Eugene Debs, a Socialist presidential candidate arrested in the Wilson Administration for encouraging draft resistance. Williamson goes on to reiterate his points about Wilson’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s racism, which I have already discussed at length in my previous essay. He then continues conflating social and fiscal liberalism and conservatism, which, again, has already been throughly covered by me. Williamson poses the question: “If the southern Democrats were ‘conservatives,’ then the New Deal was passed on conservative support, which is a very odd claim to make. What do we call the Republican anti-New Dealers, then?” Based on the facts of their record, I believe we should call them social conservative-fiscal liberals or populist authoritarians. But it begs another point. Throughout the bulk of their history, Southern Democrats have generally opposed not only emancipation and later desegregation but also such liberal ideas as women’s suffrage, nonEuropean immigration, Separation of Church and State, and civil liberties for leftist radicals. They generally favored suspension of individual rights in the name of national security, capital punishment, harsh “law and order” policies generally, traditional views on gender, etc. If they are labeled “liberal” or “left-wing,” what, then, do we call the people who disagreed with these social views? Similarly, before the 20th century, many Republicans favored not only more rights for black people but also women’s rights, nonEuropean immigration, environmentalism, ending the death penalty, and Separation of Church and State. They also voted for many of these policies at a much higher rate than Democrats. The support by many Republicans of keeping religion and government separate is worth looking at in some depth. It was Charles Sumner who helped kill a constitutional amendment that would have virtually declared Christianity the State Religion. It was Republican president and 1884 GOP presidential nominee, Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine, respectively, who were some of the most prominent opponents of taxpayer funding for religious schools. In Illinois and Wisconsin, Republican state Supreme Court judges were pivotal in ending or severely scaling back official Bible readings, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and Devotional Hymns in state public schools. (This, of course, was different from students choosing to recite and read religious texts themselves, which most social liberals have favored allowing.) My previous post discussed both Teddy Roosevelt’s and Robert Taft’s support for separation of Church and State. If being pro-black rights, pro-women’s rights, pro-nonEuropean immigration, pro-environmentalism, pro-Separation of Church and State, and anti-death penalty in the 19th and early 20th centuries makes one a conservative, then the term loses much of its meaning.

 

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Kevin Williamson Redux, Part 1

I want to first apologize for the lateness of this blog. I have been very busy recently with a 10-day trip to Maine and a new puppy named Wendell Phillips Boyd. IMG_2251.jpeg

Anyhow, I have finally gotten around to responding to another article by National Review‘s Kevin Williamson. I plan on writing another two rebuttals to other essays written within the last couple of weeks or so by James Kirchick and Tom Woods as time permits. I also feel that while the article by Williamson that I am responding to is from June 23, the claims he made are repeated frequently by conservatives and have become effectively a timeless issue. Williamson recently attempted to further argue that segregationist Democrats were liberals. After touting his admiration of William F. Buckley as a disclaimer, Williamson writes that, “Professor Kevin Kruse of Princeton, pretending to correct my assertion that it is a mistake to call the segregationist Democrats of the Roosevelt era ‘conservatives,’ correctly notes that WFB believed he had found a kindred conservative spirit in some of those Democrats and thought that they might be pried away from the Democratic party by the Republicans, among whom self-conscious conservatism was ascendant by the middle 1960s.” Williamson then insists that Buckley was wrong, because “with a tiny handful of notable exceptions (the grotesque opportunist Strom Thurmond prominent among them) the segregationist Democrats remained Democrats.” While I agree that Thurmond was a grotesque opportunist, it is not at all true that only a “tiny handful” of white Southern Democrats left the party. Kruse gave a rather lengthy list of racist Democratic defectors here, while also pointing out the problem with focusing only on politicians who switched parties and ignoring rank and file voters. And it has been demonstrated that racism is critical to explaining why so many white Southern voters left the Democratic Party. It is also worthwhile to consider ticket splitting. In the 1968 presidential election, George Wallace won a plurality of votes in Georgia, with Democrat Hubert Humphrey coming in third place in the Peach State. At the same time, Georgia voters reelected Talmadge in a huge landslide. In North Carolina, voters backed Republican Richard Nixon for president and Sam Ervin for Senator. In 1972, Alabama voters backed Nixon for president and Sparkman for Senate. Arkansas did the same with Nixon and McClellan. Mississippi reelected Nixon and Eastland. Similar patterns could be observed with other segregationist Democratic Senators. Interestingly, a parallel pattern took place with antiracist Republicans in liberal Northern states. In 1968, New York voters supported Humphrey for president and reelected Javits to the Senate. In 1972, Massachusetts was the only state to vote for Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, yet also reelected GOP Senator Edward Brooke. In 1976, both Democratic presidential nominee, Jimmy Carter, and Republican Senate nominee, John Chafee, handily won in Rhode Island. In 1988, Minnesota voters backed the Democrat Michael Dukakis for president and Republican David Durenberger for Senate. Thus, even if many racist, white Southern voters did not stop voting for racist Democratic Senators after 1964, they did often begin voting for Republican presidential candidates. And even if many pro-civil rights Republican voters in the North did not stop voting for pro-civil rights Republican Senators after 1964, many voted for Democratic presidential candidates.

After repeating his old points about Dixiecrats’ support for left-wing economic policies–which, as stated in my last post, give no insight into the Dixiecrats’ social liberalism or lack thereof–Williamson writes, “WFB helpfully published a list of those Democrats he thought possibly ready to defect to the Republican party. You would have done well to bet against him. James Eastland? No. John McClellan? No. John Stennis? No. Sam Ervin? No. Herman Talmadge? No. Allen Ellender? No. Spessard Holland? No. John Sparkman? Strike . . . eight.” Let’s consider the 1962 ratings for these Senators by Americans for Democratic Action, a group dedicated to advancing liberal positions in the party. Eastland and Stennis of Mississippi both either abstained or voted against the ADA’s position on every issue used for ratings purposes. McClellan voted with the ADA two times out of twelve. Ervin voted with the ADA one time out of twelve. Talmadge abstained once and voted against the ADA’s position eleven times. Ellender voted with the ADA only twice. Holland voted liberal three times out of twelve. Sparkman voted liberal four times, making him look like the radical lefty of the group. What about some of the Republicans who had pro-civil rights voting records? Were they basically Tom Cottons who just voted liberal on race issues? Not quite. Take Jacob Javits and Kenneth Keating of New York, two of the great civil rights champions of the Senate, both Republicans. Javits voted conservative twice, abstained twice, and voted liberal…eight times. Keating was less liberal but still voted with the ADA half the time. Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey voted liberal eight times out of twelve. Representatives Frank Morse and Silvio Conte of Massachusetts voted liberal four times out of eight. Robert Stafford of Vermont, William Scranton of Pennsylvania, and William Cahill of New Jersey voted liberal six times out of eight. Representative Florence Dwyer of New Jersey voted liberal seven times out of eight. Representatives Seymour Halpern of New York and Stanley Tupper of Maine voted liberal eight times out of eight. Even many pro-civil rights Republicans who received lower ratings scored higher than most of the Dixiecrats mentioned above. Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut voted liberal four out of twelve times. Senator Thomas Kuchel of California voted liberal five times out of twelve. Diehard conservatives they were not. What about the man Buckley referred to as “liberal,” Olin Johnson? Johnson voted liberal four times, abstained once, and voted conservative seven times. Not a diehard conservative voting record, but not a strong liberal one either.

 

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