Sunday, April 30, 2017

Curt Schilling's "DemoKKKrats": where's the strike zone?

Change happens. Sometimes it happens fast.

Case in point: I remember when Curt Schilling pitched for the Phillies. He beat the Atlanta Braves in the 1993 NLCS, which was not a good thing because my in-laws were from Atlanta and my son was a Braves fan. But then the Phillies went on to play the Blue Jays for the Series, and I found myself supporting the Phillies. There was something about the team--call it charisma, I don't know--but I pulled for Dykstra and Kruk and Schilling, who did his part to almost pull them out of a 3-1 hole by holding the Jays to no runs (this after a game when they'd scored 15!) before they finally went down in game 6 on that 3-run homer by Joe Carter in the bottom of the ninth.

So that's how fast change can happen. I went from not liking Schilling to liking him, almost overnight.

Years later, I was only vaguely aware that Schilling had become a commentator for Breitbart, but it wasn't until I noticed a Twitter trend that I checked out his current pitch. He had tweeted "why was there even a civil rights movement when the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments provided every right that civil rights afforded"?

This struck me--not quite in the sense of being hit with a pitch--but it made me wonder: was his question rhetorical, ironic, or did he really not know why there needed to be a civil rights movement?

Along with this, Schilling was plugging the idea that Democrats are "DemoKKKrats," the party of the Ku Klux Klan.

This is new? They were indeed: once upon a time. It's no secret. What's more--going back to Schilling's comment about those amendments--it also explains why the amendments by themselves weren't enough, and why there needed to be a civil rights movement.

So it seemed odd to me that Schilling was saying both these things. They didn't match up. With my residual respect for him as an athlete, I decided to help him find the strike zone when it came to history. I was sensitive to Schilling's Twitter demands that people argue with facts, so I thought I'd provide some extensive replay commentary in order to support the right call.

One thing about facts: there are lots of them; the more you know, the better. It helps to be able to identify the cherry-picking that propaganda uses--presenting incomplete facts in less than full context.

For example, the implied answer to Schilling's rhetorical question (if that's what it is) about the civil rights movement--i.e. it was not needed because those amendments were already there--depends on some serious cherry-picking.

He seems to be up in Dinesh D'Souza's basket, especially D'Souza's documentary Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. With a tireless propagandist like D'Souza it's important to call the fouls for the benefit of people who might not otherwise know the difference, like, maybe Schilling.

I watched the trailer and then found the script, which I studied for evidence that the Democratic Party of today is still the party of the KKK, as Schilling is claiming.

(If you're out there wondering, "Why bother? Isn't it obvious?" what I'm offering is lots of good exercise. Even if it's an exercise in folly, exercise is good for you.)

A little overview first: The pitch of the movie is that Hillary Clinton, the spawn of Satan (a.k.a. Saul Alinsky), is the current avatar of a centuries-long conspiracy by a cynical Democratic Party to "run a con" like a gang in order to "steal America." It is a "thievery project to steal everything from everybody." The long, slow windup to the current Clinton con has to do with the history of the Democratic Party as the party of Indian removal, slavery, the Civil War, opposition to woman's suffrage, eugenics, and, yes, the Ku Klux Klan and the sordid history of lynching.

"Today's Democrats don't like hearing about their own history," the movie says. Well no, actually, I have always self-identified as a Democrat (although sometimes, in red-state East Tennessee, it means voting for the most liberal Republican I can find), and I very much approve of people knowing that history.

But they should know all of it, not just part of it. Because what D'Souza leaves out explains why the Democrats are no longer the party of the KKK--and why the civil rights movement was necessary.

Contrary to popular belief, the movie says, the KKK never stopped being Democrat. The supposed "big switch" of racist white politicians in the pattern of Strom Thurmond--the segregationist Democrat turned Dixiecrat turned Republican--"is a big lie." The dual changeovers that happened--blacks to the Democratic party (according to the movie during FDR) and Southern whites to the Republicans--had to do with economic issues, not race. The "proof" is a list in the The End of Southern Exceptionalism (Shafer and Johnston, Harvard, 2006) of 1,600 politicians, from 1860 to 2000, that shows a party-affiliation-switch rate of 1%, including "the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan."

At this point, the movie fizzles out about the KKK. There is no further claim of linkage to Clinton or Obama. It would be easy enough to discredit the film's claim of continuing KKK influence in the Democratic Party simply by pointing to its blatant, heavy-handed, and ahistorical use of "guilt by association," but that's not good enough for me. The story it tells about the "big switch" is incomplete, and since this is one of its big pitches, it needs to be called: inside the zone, or out?

Without the 1,600-politician list in hand, it's impossible to test its relevance to the subject of the currency of KKK influence in the Democratic party. But it doesn't matter--it's not needed, because D'Souza's "proof" ignores something decidedly relevant: the history of presidential elections from 1948 on. (On the other hand, if you're interested in an academic paper that disputes Shafer and Johnston, here you go).

Before 1948, the deep South bellwether states of Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina had voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1880--because the black vote, which since 1868 had rendered them temporarily Republican under Radical Reconstruction, was suppressed.

But in 1948 these states went States' Rights; in 1960 MS and AL went for the Thurmond/Byrd segregationist "independent" ticket; in 1964 all three went for Goldwater (GOP); in 1968 SC stayed GOP, while MS and AL went for segregationist George Wallace; then, except once (Southern boy Jimmy Carter's election in 1976) they were all solid GOP from 1972 on. That's some switch right there.

So, in the transitional period between 1948--before which they were Democratic--and 1976--after which they were Republican--the "KKK" or segregationist or racist presidential voter abandoned the Democratic Party explicitly on race issues in 5 out of 8 elections. It is clear that in national elections, racist voters began looking away from the Democrats in 1948 and didn't look back.

It is simply not credible to say that KKK tunneled into the Democratic Party and is somehow still there today in any significant numbers. There is no way a self-respecting Klokard to the Kludd of the Klokann could have survived the election of 1972, when, with George McGovern, the national Democrats finally and forever became snowflake libtards.

But this still doesn't answer why, or why a civil rights movement was needed. To start answering those questions, it helps to take a closer look at the pivotal election of 1964, when the GOP ran Barry Goldwater against LBJ, who had just passed the Civil Rights Act.

The movie pitches LBJ as a racist cynic who says, "I'm going to have to bring up the Negro bill again ... I want to have them niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years." What the movie doesn't say is that LBJ, after signing the Civil Rights Act, also told then-aide Bill Moyers, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come." To LBJ it was a political gamble that would lose white votes but gain black ones.

Goldwater, an Arizona senator, voted against the Civil Rights Act. Goldwater, however, was no racist; let me add further: unlike LBJ. His was a vote against what he regarded as an overly-strong Federal government. It was a vote for states' rights. But his racial high-mindedness did him no good. Segregationists in the South--those who voted for the States' Rights Party in '48--rallied to his states' rights doctrine, which had been a good fit for white home rule since the War Between the You Know Whats. In the landslide that swept him away, Goldwater's only electoral votes outside his home state of Arizona were five states of the deep South.

Most notoriously, among those who rallied to him was the KKK. Despite the fact that Goldwater personally and directly rejected its offer of endorsement, LBJ made political hay of this with TV advertisements playing up the KKKonnection, including one that had an Alabama Klan leader saying, "The majority of the people in Alabama hate niggerism, Catholicism, Judaism. ... I like Barry Goldwater. He needs our help."

(What does this sound like? It sounds like the 2016 election with David DuKKKe endorsing Trump, except that Goldwater went to far greater lengths to try to repudiate the KKK than Donald Trump did.)

A KKK endorsement, of course, in no way makes the GOP the party of the KKK. It simply recognizes the political reality in America that, in a two-party system, the tents of both parties necessarily cover a lot of ground. Groups who vote a single issue can and do move from one to the other on the hopes of recognition and political success (e.g. feminist voters, who went over to the Democrats in increasing numbers starting in the 1970's, and a similar trend among conservation/environmental voters).

As for the KKK and Southern racists, starting in 1948 and increasingly thereafter, when it came to national politics, the Democrats more and more meant Federal power acting on behalf of blacks. And guess who agreed? African-American voters agreed.

I recommend to Curt Schilling this article from a conservative publication that addresses the lack of black Republicans in current politics. The big-picture history is familiar: it is the same--without the conspiratorial heavy breathing and lurid, ad-hominem demonizing--as in D'Souza's movie, plus the demographic information about "the big switch" is fuller and more nuanced.

And it confirms that, for most of the long history of civil rights, there is no question that the Republican Party were the more willing of the two parties to use Federal power in the fight for African-American civil rights. But here's the clincher:

They stopped. Not just once. Again and again and again.

They stopped back in the Reconstruction. Forty acres and a mule? Go for it, Republicans! Yeah, okay, but, no, we'd better not: we can't keep the South permanently under military occupation in order to accomplish that, and do we really want to re-distribute property?

They stopped to let in Jim Crow. Enforce the 13/14/15th amendments? Go for it, Republicans! Yeah, okay, but, no, we'd better not. That's too much Federal power. We have to let the states police their own suffrage rules and social regulations, the way the Constitution says.

They stopped to let in lynching. Pass Federal anti-lynching legislation? Go for it, Republicans! Yeah, okay, but, no, we'd better not: see above.

Not that anybody'd expect Democrats to be doing any of these things. Heavens no! But what's wrong with the Republicans? Why aren't they protecting the rights of people they once championed?

Black voters (outside the South, where they could vote, and where they were moving in increasing numbers during the early-mid 20th century) started asking these questions. Black scholar/writer/activst W.E.B. Du Bois recognized early on that the GOP was simply harvesting black votes and then doing nothing to benefit their situation, so he advocated (at least occasionally) switching votes to the Democrats (remember the two big tents?) to build pressure on the Republicans to act. Du Bois famously endorsed Woodrow Wilson, who, in D'Souza's movie, watches Birth of a Nation and segregates Federal offices in Washington (as he in fact did). Why would Du Bois endorse someone like that? In the hopes of getting Federal anti-lynching legislation out of somebody. The same reason that the NAACP warned Republican Silent Cal Coolidge: if the KKK endorses you because of your opposition to Federal anti-lynching laws, we're voting for the Democrats.

Which brings us, finally, to the civil rights movement. Why, Schilling asks, was one needed? Because the Republicans backed off on the exercise of Federal power needed to enforce the 13/14/15th amendments. And increasingly--starting in 1948, but speeding up with Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan--they became the party of states' rights conservatism (which had been the province of the Democrats) with a considerable civil-rights downside: that of giving free rein to state and local forms of racial prejudice.

Put yourself in the shoes of a black citizen in the 20th century. Who's responding to our demands for the vote? Who will combat lynching? What about just plain old lunch-counter equality? Who's giving us some recognition? Who's going to move on the issue of the exercise of Federal power necessary to get these things done? The civil rights movement started, kept up, and built political pressure to accomplish these and other goals, pressure in the form of lawsuits, demonstrations, and voting. Over the course of the 20th century, it was the Democratic Party that responded to the pressure and became the more likely of the two parties to follow through with Federal power in support of civil rights. So the votes came their way.

And so, Curt Schilling, did the Democrats become the party of equal rights. Contra your recent tweet that the Democrats were "never" that party, the political lesson that minorities have learned over the past few decades--in answer to the question "who's going to use Federal power to protect my civil rights?"--is "the Democrats." The GOP--particularly in its Tea Party manifestation--offers nothing to minorities who need protection from institutionalized prejudice because the party is currently unwilling to use Federal power for that purpose.

For some reason the Republicans traded civil rights for states' rights. Was it the influence of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms? Maybe Dinesh D'Souza could make a conspiracy movie about it.

Change happens, and sometimes it happens fast, as fast or faster even than me being against Schilling one night and for him a few nights later. I do not doubt, for example, that there were people on Nov. 3, 1964, who went into the voting booth Democrat and came out Republican, and vice-versa, just on the strength of Goldwater's and LBJ's positions on the Civil Rights Act.

But when it comes to history--with its complex ebbs and flows, its many layers and levels, and its dense webs of influence--we have to be open-minded and modest in our claims. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of Du Bois in 1899 when he sees a lynched man's knuckles in a store window in Atlanta and he thinks, "This has to change. And so do I," and then stop to think of the multitude of ways that change came about.

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