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The Future Without John Birch

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"With resignation, but with resolve, I hereby end forty years of Democratic rule of this House." -- Democratic Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, January 4, 1995, on the Floor of the House of Representatives

When Alabama governor George Wallace stood on the steps of the Alabama Statehouse and spoke the words that would define him until the day he died, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," he spoke as Democrat, not as a Republican.

As Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, another Alabama native with deep ties to the Confederacy, uses his power as attorney general of the United States to roll back decades of advancements in civil rights law, he is doing so as a Republican, not as a Democrat.

For 100 years after the end of the Civil War, white believers in the Confederacy refused to vote for Republicans. Lincoln, of course, had been a Republican, and that's all they needed to know. The South voted as a solid, reliable block for the Democratic Party well into the 1960s.

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The Democratic party and the U.S. commercial media disarmingly called southern Democrats "Dixiecrats." All too often they were Klansmen, white supremacists, and segregationists.

When Gephardt handed Gingrich the gavel, major media political pundits called it a "Republican revolution" and a backlash against First Lady Hillary Clinton's attempts at healthcare reform. In reality it was the embodiment of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy. White southern segregationist voters were shifting their allegiance away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party.

Nixon, Goldwater and like-minded Republican conservatives understood two things: the Republican party was and always had been more demographically white, and with the Democratic Party working hard to help Black leaders achieve political power, the Republican Party was a better fit for the segregationists. The passing of the gavel in 1995 was really a passing of the Confederacy from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

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When fingers get pointed on the American political left at the "corporate Democrats" or the "progressives," the fingers often miss the point. The Confederacy is gone, and with it the historic Democratic Congressional majorities. Tweaking the message won't fix that. It's going to take more.

In the 1930s, the Democratic Party was the party of Eleanor Roosevelt; it was also the party of Strom Thurmond. A marriage of political convenience between natural political adversaries. In historical terms, an often disagreeable partnership between slavery defenders and abolitionists, the John Birch/Jim Crow crowd, blacks, and those they referred to as "high-minded white people" (progressives).

Today the Democratic Party, while remarkably diverse, leans in ideological terms mostly on white progressives, along with Labor and African Americans. Those are the two largest and most politically significant blocks in the party.

This leaves the Democratic Party with uphill climb and a weight on their back. The Republican Party today is the party of white voters, by far the largest electoral block in the country. The Democrats need a viable white strategy, an argument, a rationale that white voters can grasp to comprehend the injustice and futility of Republican neo-segregationism.

Which leads us to the core of Democratic Party's dysfunction. The inability of African Americans and progressives to collaborate. African Americans don't trust white progressives, even when their political fortunes and often their lives depend upon it. The Sanders/Clinton split put the rift on full display. No fingers pointed.

Sure, the Democratic Party needs to consider whether they can, as Jill Abramson put it, "Turn the party over to the donors" and still have any voters left. They also need to understand that marketing is not ideology. (Note: Jon Ossoff failed to grasp that.)

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But the biggest hurdle for the black and white/progressive party base is to accept that their very political survival is absolutely, positively tied to their ability to collaborate and achieve consensus.

The Democratic Party can make it without John Birch, but not while fighting like children amongst themselves.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

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Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, now the founder, editor and publisher of Reader Supported News: http://www.readersupportednews.org

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