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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