How Lincolnesque is the Party of Lincoln? Depends on who you ask.
According to reader Joan Smith of Northridge, the Republican Party that freed the slaves in the 19th century and stood in opposition to civil rights-averse Southern Democrats in the 1960s doesn't deserve a bad rap. In a letter to the editor published Sunday, Smith wrote:
“The Republican Party since the time of Abraham Lincoln has championed civil rights, while the Democratic Party prior to the 1960s — when it was forced to accept civil rights — has a dismal history in comparison. Not only were Southern Democrats crucial to the formation of the early KKK, but the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd served as a leader of his chapter for many years before his entry into national politics.”
Several readers objected. Here are some responses.
Bill Seckler of Corona del Mar says LBJ knew full well the consequences of signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act:
The statement about the GOP being the Party of Lincoln held true right up through a century after Lincoln's time. But when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he noted that his party would lose the South for a generation as a result.
Later, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan adopted the “Southern strategy” to take advantage of this in their presidential campaigns, and, over time, the Southern states turned red. For a time there were “blue dog” Democrats: Reagan-friendly swing legislators who gave him control of Congress.
Similarly, Barry Greenfield of West Hollywood cites Nixon's Southern strategy:
The letter writer is partially correct with her mostly revisionist claim that the Republican Party since the time of Lincoln has championed civil rights.
The GOP did support civil rights — that is, until civil rights started actually happening. After LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Nixon's Southern strategy successfully turned the South Republican in 1968, and many Southern Democrats changed parties and joined the GOP.
The claim that the Republican Party supports civil rights today is ludicrous. It is not Democrats who are doing everything possible to make it difficult for minorities to vote.
Not all Republicans are against civil rights, nor are only Republicans racist. But today's Republican Party cannot be called the champion of civil rights.
Monterey Park resident Ralph Mitchell focuses on modern conservatism:
The “Dixiecrats” of the South were nowhere close to the Democrats of today.
If we are truthful about where present hatred comes from, we must be honest about the residual racism stemming from the Civil War, the continuing isolation of rural populations and the universal blame of the poor for their own circumstances. Today's conservative social and economic forces are best represented by the GOP.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times