Many people on the political left seem to be committed to a full-scale purge from state and local governments of all symbols related to slavery, the Confederacy, Jim Crow, segregation, and racism. But for some reason they seem to be overlooking a really big one. A two word phrase that for a hundred and forty years was tied die-hard virulent racism more than any other single symbol, an ugly banner under which black men were lynched, black churches were burned, and African-Americans were deprived of the most basic of civil rights. That ugly phrase? “Democratic Party”.
Before the Civil War, the Democratic Party fought a decades-long dogged defense of slavery up to the time of Southern secession. The Confederacy was a one-party state and that party was Democratic Party. Jim Crow laws, the first and second Ku Klux Klans, Segregation, Literacy Tests—all Democratic Party achievements. Those laws mandating the display of the Confederate flag in the 50s and 60s. Democratic Party, too. It was those awful racist Republican governments of the new South that finally pulled most of those Confederate flags down.
The answer is clear. Just as Confederate flags must come down from public spaces, the Democratic Party must change its name to distance itself from it’s horrific history of slavery, segregation, and racism. But wait, you might say, the modern Democratic Party doesn’t stand for those things. Well, that’s the exact same thing supporters of the Confederate flag say about it!
And the Democratic Party’s name is as tied to a history of racism as the Confederate flag. Defenders of the name “Democratic Party” will retort that such comparison is nonsensical, that the party has changed. But to insist on that is to say the meaning of symbols you embrace changes over time, while the meaning of symbols you abhor is fixed forever.
Modern members of the Democratic Party seem to believe that they can mutter the three word incantation of “Nixon-Southern-Strategy” and by doing so magically transfer all the weight of the historical sins of the Democratic Party to the Republicans. This, of course, is sound bite history. There was essentially no Republican Party in the South until the mid-1980s. The change of political control of the South from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party was a generational process that took over thirty years.
If you would believe the official history, every racist in the South tore up their Democratic Party registration in 1964 and immediately stated voting Republican. That didn’t happen. The reality is that the South became less racist as it became more Republican and it took decades. It was only after the state-mandated legal second class status of black people was eliminated by the Civil Rights Acts of 1950s and 1960s and major Supreme Court decisions such as Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board of Education, Bailey v. Patterson, and Gideon v. Wainwright, that the Republican party began to take root and grow in the South.
The name “Democratic Party” is irrevocably stained. The barest shred of intellectual consistency requires that those demanding that the Confederate flag be taken down, also demand that the Democratic Party must change its name. (I would propose that they revive the honored “Federalist Party” name from the early days of the American republic)
Do I think this will happen? Really damned unlikely. The current media-crafted firestorm over the Confederate flag is a carefully designed distraction from real issues. Issues like the state-sanctioned violence of police against African Americans or the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Democratic and Republican wings of the Permanent Party in Power is so desperate to pass.
On a personal level, I believe that state and local governments should not fly the Confederate flag. It is not for nothing that I chose the “stars and bars” as a component of my Offend Everyone flag. It is offensive. I’m also not a great fan of the Republican party either. They seem determined to stake out the position of “less worse” in American politics, and stand for nothing save for different versions of the same anti-freedom, corporatist policies that the Democratic Party embraces.
But the hypocrisy and scapegoating surrounding our country’s current moral panic over the Confederate flag just makes me sick.