Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Was Wrong About Republican Support for Civil Rights in the 1960s

In a post (The NM Republican Party: A Moment of Truth) on Saturday May 22, I wrote that the Republican Party had opposed Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. It turns out that Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964--the greatest civil rights action by Congress since the Civil War--by greater margins than the Democrats, giving it 80 and 82 percent support in the House and Senate, respectively. Similarly, Republicans supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 overwhelmingly. It is also true that these landmark civil rights actions were initiated by Democrats, but could not have passed without Republican support.

In the 1970s many Southern Democrats, who opposed the civil rights acts of the 1960s, migrated to the Republican Party in a movement that produced a fairly solid Republican South, which had previously been Democratic. Ever since, the overwhelming majority of blacks in the South are Democrats, and the strong majority of whites are Republicans. The white majority has not been overly concerned with addressing black issues.

There was a backlash in the 1980s and 1990s--not just in the South--against what some felt was a tendency to use the potential threat of an accusation of racism as a weapon by some minority members, reflected primarily within Republican Party circles. Today many of my students are so exhausted with the vapid, insincere (on all sides) rhetoric of race they simply refuse to discuss it, even though race and ethnicity are very much a part of the forces that shape our lives (the see two posts immediately below). It would be nice for leaders of both parties to find a more consensual language to deal with race so that public discussion of it might actually lead somewhere. That I teach politics and still could make a whopper mistake about Republican support for civil rights in the 1960s, is, I think, at least in part a symptom of widespread, and sometimes mistaken, perceptions (not just among Democrats), derived from an inane discourse that nevertheless can skew your thinking about what the facts might be.

I stand by my argument about ethnic politics in New Mexico: Republicans, some notable exceptions notwithstanding, have not been attractive as candidates to the vast majority of Hispanics, who migrated to the Democratic Party in the late 1930s and 1940s. This has made the Democratic Party the default winner, since in most races Hispanics have enough votes to make the difference between winning and losing in a statewide race. If there is a single point I wanted to make in the posting, it was that I don't think this ethnic lop-sidedness is healthy for the state, and this year Republicans have a choice to address this disparity.

1 comment:

GF Alexander said...

Interesting reading! No doubt the current racist overtones from the right would suggest a different result if the vote were held today. In a recent WSJ-NBC poll, 70%, of Hispanic respondents said they are opposed to the Arizona immigration law. No doubt this should cause concern for both parties as Hispanics could tilt election outcomes in November and again in 2012. To attain this, however, more Hispanics need to register and vote.