John Fonte of the Hudson

John Fonte of the Hudson Institute shows that Republicans, and to some extent conservatives, were instrumental in the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fonte is responding in National Review Online, to the claim that conservatives were “missing in action” on the issue of civil rights in the 1960s. Fonte is forced to acknowledge that leading conservative thinkers did not support the 1964 Act, nor did the leading conservative in Congress, Barry Goldwater. In defense of Goldwater, Fonte notes that the Senator had supported previous civil rights legislation, but was concerned that the 1964 Act might cause the federal government to require discrimination against whites. Democrats addressed this concern by adding language that specifcally disavows preferences based on race, and virtually every key liberal in Congress denounced such preferences. To the extent that Goldwater continued to fear that the 1964 Act would nonetheless lead to “reverse discrimination” he was, of course, prophetic. However, I believe that Goldwater’s opposition to the act, which was also based on other concerns and states’ rights arguments, was misguided. At the end of the day, one can conclude that the conservative record with respect to civil rights in the 1960s is mixed, but that in the years since it has been conservatives who have upheld the anti-discrimination principles of the 1964 act and liberals who, in violation of their repeated promises, abandoned these principles almost immediately.

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