My friend Ray Hartwell grew up in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s. He is therefore mindful of the fact, so often forgotten or ignored these days, that the shameful politics of racial division (literal division) were the handiwork of Democrats. As he explains in a Washington Times op-ed:
It was the Democratic Party that conceived, implemented and perpetuated the pernicious system of racial discrimination and preference that arose early in the last century and finally crumbled in the 1960s. They did this in order to sustain their own power. It worked for them, but not for the people. The Jim Crow system not only was morally reprehensible and responsible for much injustice over many years, but also clearly retarded economic growth. This hurt whites and blacks alike for decades.
By contrast, the Republican party had a long record of support for civil rights legislation. And Republicans were far more supportive than Democrats of the landmark civill rights legislation that finally was enacted beginning in 1964.
The Democrats eventually signed on to a color blind society. But, as Ray observes, their support was only fleeting:
The Democrats were the masters of racial patronage; with hardly a hiccup, they took the game to another level. Where once they played on the fears and prejudices of whites, they found new “victim” constituencies to “protect” with pledges of government largesse and favoritism.
So, blacks and perhaps Hispanics, among others, became the new and increasingly dependent beneficiaries of racial preference. Other “peoples of color,” such as Indians and Asians, perceived as intent on self-reliance, generally were not among the favored. Thus, the same old game resumed, with a cynical new arrangement of pieces on the playing board. Once again, the Democrats sought gain through divisive means, playing on fear and resentment.
Ray also sees continuity in the way in which the Democratic practitioners of racial politics deal with their critics:
Then as now, opponents were attacked personally. For a Wallace supporter, it was easier to brand someone as an “agitator,” or worse, than to engage in a substantive discussion about the virtues and vices of racial segregation and discrimination. Better to smear the opposition, especially when your position on the merits is weak.
Today, many Americans are unhappy that Congress has enacted, in a dramatically partisan fashion, sweeping “health care” legislation that entails unprecedented federal interference in doctor-patient relationships, an array of new and higher taxes, and unsustainable increases in government spending. . . .In response, the Democrats revert to Jim Crow tactics: Change the subject via personal attacks. They hurl accusations of “racism,” and use the vulgar sexual innuendo “tea-bagger” to assail fellow Americans who oppose the administration’s aggressive expansion of federal power.
This time, though, the Democrats find themselves demonizing not minority group members and “pointy-headed intellectuals,” but a substantial chunk of mainstream America. Thus, their approach is likely to have even less success than its early 1960s counterpart.