How Barry Goldwater undermined the GOP civil rights record
This is another in a series of Black History Month commentaries offered as part of an oft requested dialogue on race. It deals with facts, events and perspectives that Democrats and the political left strive to keep out of their version of a “dialogue.”
The late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater called his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Bill the worst decision of his life. It was a decision that had far greater ramifications than his personal reputation and legacy. It was a major disaster for the Republican Party – a disaster that still plays out in American politics 60 years later.
That single vote enabled Democrats and the leftwing establishment to fraudulently recast the GOP as the Party in opposition to civil rights and the Democratic Party as the proponent of civil rights – even as the latter ruled over Black oppression on a grand scale The false narrative was nothing less than the most monumental reversal in political polarities in American history. One cannot understand the current political debate over civil rights without understanding what happened in the middle of the 20th Century – and earlier.
Following the Civil War, the demarcation between the civil rights of Negro Americans was in stark contrast. Republicans were the Party of emancipation and civil rights and Democrats were the party of enslavement, segregation and oppression of Negroes. Black Americans were overwhelmingly Republicans. No one disputes that historic record.
However, oppression of Black Americans by the Democratic Party continued throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st. But the public perception changed.
The Great Depression resulted in a shift in political allegiance. Between 1932 and 1948, Black Americans shifted their political loyalty to the Democratic Party. However, it was not based on civil rights in the constitutional sense. Rather it was an existential shift based on economic survival – the beginning of what we see today, generational welfare dependency.
Since the 1930s, allegiance of Blacks to the Democratic Party was not based on civil rights… but welfare. Blacks continued to be segregated and oppressed by law, policy and violence in largely Democrat controlled jurisdictions.
The life for Black Americans trapped in the solid Democrat south and the big cities of the north did not improve. Many of the same deprivations of Jim Crow – quality education, good healthcare, decent housing, equal justice, safe neighborhoods, social mobility – remain part of life in the segregated ghettos to this day.
Republicans were the primary driving force behind the civil rights legislation of the mid-20th Century – including the 1957, 1960 1964 and 1965 civil rights bills – passed over the votes and filibusters of congressional Democrats.
Unfortunately for the GOP, Goldwater’s single vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Bill – combined with his being the Republican presidential candidate – created an opportunity for Democrats and a biased media to smear the GOP as an anti-civil rights party. It was a successful political strategy because Democrats were able to recast the civil rights debate over welfare – while continuing to ignore the constitutional rights of Black Americans. By keeping Blacks segregated and poor, Democrats were able to make welfare an existential choice for impoverished ghetto residents. Welfare became a political opiate for those desperate for survival. In the past 50 to 80 years, the primary element in all civil rights debate was some form of welfare.
Ironically, Republicans were cast as anti-civil rights even as Democrats carried on their Massive Resistance campaign against school desegregation for decades after Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights acts of the 1960s. Voting rights continued to be thwarted by Democrat regimes in the south. Blacks were never allowed to integrate and assimilate under Democrat governance in the south or in the big cities.
Goldwater turned out to be a major disaster for the GOP. Not only by losing the election by such a wide margin, but because he empowered the false narrative about the Republican Party and civil rights – a narrative that plays out to this day. His one vote gave the specious narrative undeserved credibility. It became common knowledge.
Lincoln once noted that widely held beliefs – especially false beliefs – have the impact of fact. That could not be truer than the contemporary “common knowledge” that Republicans are anti-civil rights while Democrats have been the benefactors of the Black community.
In fact, Democrats have ruled over – and continue to rule over the most ruthless examples of de facto racism. That was true when they maintained one-party rule in the south – and is true today, where Democrats maintain one-party rule in America’s most racists cities.
Thanks to progress Democrats influence over the communication industries – news, publishing, schools and entertainment – the false narrative has continued to be a matter of erroneous common belief. That has been the case for the past 60 years – thanks to Barry Goldwater’s unfortunate vote back in 1964.
So, there ‘tis.