Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Waving the bloody shirt

Caveat Bettor quotes a Democrat - either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton:

“Our party has been on the front line of every civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, workers’ rights movement and other movements for justice in America.”

But the word "every" may be a little too strong:

Because there is no filibuster rule in the United States House of Representatives, the southerners opposed to civil rights had no way of stopping the Eisenhower civil rights bill in the House. All four of Herbert Brownell's recommended provisions were, with only minor amendments, passed by the House on June 18, 1957....

The first major problem confronting the Eisenhower civil rights bill was the Senate Judiciary Committee and its strongly segregationist chairman, James O. Eastland of Mississippi. Eastland had used his powers as committee chairman to kill every civil rights bill that came to the committee during the 1950s. Eastland and his Judiciary Committee thus were famous as the "burial ground" in the Senate for civil rights bills....

The vote to bypass the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1957 received only lukewarm support from Democratic senators. Only ten of them voted to bring the bill directly to the Senate floor for debate. The Republicans in the Senate were virtually unanimous in their support for the 1957 bypass motion, however, and that support is what enabled it to be narrowly adopted. Senate Republicans probably supported the bypass motion so strongly because it was a Republican president's civil rights bill.

This technique for bypassing the Senate Judiciary Committee, pioneered in the Eisenhower years, was quite well established by 1964. When the bill that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reached the Senate from the House, the southerners decided to filibuster the motion to bypass the Judiciary Committee. Incredibly to civil rights supporters, this southern filibuster of the motion to bypass the committee lasted for almost three weeks. Then the filibuster of the civil rights bill itself began.

It should be noted, as we have all learned over the last few days, that in the 1964 case, the major push behind the bill came from a Democrat - a Southern Democrat.

But if we go back in history a little bit, we find this statement in a party platform:

Resolved: That...we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior design of our Federal Government were to secure these rights to all persons under its exclusive jurisdiction; that...when they had abolished Slavery in all our National Territory, ordained that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing Slavery in the Territories of the United States by positive legislation, prohibiting its existence or extension therein. That we deny the authority of Congress, of a Territorial Legislation, of any individual, or association of individuals, to give legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States, while the present Constitution shall be maintained.

This was not written by the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was written by the Republicans in their 1856 platform. And the Democrats received grief for this failure for decades afterwards (in fact, until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt). As Alan Keyes' website notes:

"Waving the bloody shirt" is political slang for a Republican political tactic used successfully after the Civil War for winning votes, particularly black votes. The shirt being, for example, the shirt of a black man, freed by the Civil War, thanks to the righteous Republicans, but whipped to death in the reconstruction South, by despicable Democrats. Republicans enthusiastically "waved the bloody shirt," both figuratively and literally. In 1868, Republican Representative Benjamin Butler took the floor of the House of Representatives to display the bloody shirt of an IRS tax collector who had been whipped by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi.

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