If GOP Was Anti-Racist, Why Wasn’t Buckley a Democrat?

The conservative National Review, which has had a longstanding attachment to racism (FAIR Blog, 4/11/12) which it has lately shown signs of regretting, now has a cover story (5/28/12) by Kevin Williamson that argues that the Democratic Party is now and always has been the party of racism, while the GOP has always been the party of civil rights.


That is because those Southerners who defected from the Democratic Party in the 1960s and thereafter did so to join a Republican Party that was far more enlightened on racial issues than were the Democrats of the era, and had been for a century. There is no radical break in the Republicans’ civil-rights history: From abolition to Reconstruction to the anti-lynching laws, from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960 and 1964, there exists a line that is by no means perfectly straight or unwavering but that nonetheless connects the politics of Lincoln with those of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I’d always wondered why Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms left the Democrats for the GOP. Now we know.

Jonathan Chait has a rebuttal of the National Review piece in New York (5/22/12). One key point to add to his response explaining why many Democrats did not immediately jump to the GOP over 1960s civil rights legislation: congressional seniority.

Many Southern Democratic legislators, by virtue of being from the South where only one party mattered, had been in office forever, and thus, through seniority, had high-ranking committee positions. If they switched parties, they would lose the seniority and power. So old racists like senators James Eastland and John Stennis remained Democrats their entire careers, leaving the Senate in 1978 and 1989 respectively.

The history of Stennis’ seat in the Senate pretty much tells the entire story. Stennis was preceded by the monumentally racist KKK member and Democratic Sen. Theodore Bilbo, and succeeded by the racist, Thurmond-revering Republican Trent Lott.

And speaking of Trent Lott, the interview he did with the magazine Southern Partisan in 1984 is worth noting. There he spoke of the Civil War as the North’s “War of Aggression” and attempted to convince the magazine’s neo-Confederate readers that the GOP was no longer the party of Lincoln, but the party of “the South’s sons” and “Jefferson Davis’ descendents.” As Lott told a gathering of the Sons of Confederate Veterans the same year, “The spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican platform.”

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.