Sunday, January 17, 2010

Political parties, and growing up

I've been thinking about the Democratic Party, and it's change from its opposition to Whigs and then Republicans (the "liberals" of the day), to the embrace of pro-Jim Crow southern types, to the Wilson (sort-of progressive) and FDR ("New Deal") folks of the earlier part of the 20th Century. And, since Reagan, the people who don't seem to know what the hell is going on. (Never mind that their opponents obviously know less.)

To be sure, people on both political sides are a sorry lot, but since when have people from the past been any dumber (or smarter) than people of today?

As examples, one could expound forever on U.S. presidents, or Congressmen. From "I am not a crook," to "What 'is' means:" From Ike's inability to deal with the "military-industrial complex" to Obama's current inability to do much of anything. From people in Congress from McCarthy to Proxmire to Thurmond to Lott. The list does not end.

So why should the past be any different? I'm currently thinking about the "New South," and the reaction to it, and about Democrats coming off smelling rather rank. Not just Strom, whom I sat beside at a breakfast at Carroll College in Helena in the 1970s, or any of the other Democratic segregationists, but to LBJ, Carter, Clinton, and all the other Democrats unable or unwilling to react to the GOP's racist "southern strategy."

Back in Jim Crow time, before the Civil Rights Movement, southerners liked to think that an agrarian resistance to northern industrialism, not a defense of slavery, was what the Civil War was all about. But we've seen the photos, the hatred on the faces of whites toward black children. And the Democratic Party was in charge.

Just as the Republican Party needs to ascend back to the party of Lincoln, the Democratic Party needs to keep climbing out of the mire of its Jacksonian, Reconstructionist, southern-racist past. It's come a long a way. But it needs the courage to continue the climb. Somebody (like, maybe, the president?) needs to lead the way.

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