Saturday, August 3, 2013

A History Lesson on Civil Rights for the New York Times

Followed (Republican) Party Line on Civil Rights

Earlier this week William Scranton, former Governor of Pennsylvania, passed away at 96.  A New York Times obituary chronicled Governor Scranton's life, which also included one term in Congress and service as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  At the same time, the Times exhibited some historical amnesia, incorrectly characterizing Scranton's support for Civil Rights as somehow "liberal" or otherwise inconsistent with the ideology of his fellow Republicans.

After accurately portraying Scranton as a moderate Republican, the Times opined that "his independence as a fiscal conservative who supported civil rights and other liberal programs, proved popular with voters."  Moreover, the Times described Scranton's one term congressional career as follows:

"[H] ran for Congress in a Democratic stronghold, but won easily. In his 1961-63 term, he voted with the Democrats on foreign aid, civil rights and the Peace Corps."

Casual readers unfamilar with the historical record may infer that Democrats and "liberals" strongly supported Civil Rights during this period and that Scranton's support for Civil Rights put him out of step with fellow fiscally conservative Republicans.  On the contrary, during this era, Republican members of Congress were more supportive of Civil Rights than Democrats.    For instance, as previously explained on this blog, every Republican Senator, including Barry Goldwater, supported the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which President Eisenhower had proposed.  In the House, 90 percent of Republicans supported the legislation,  compared to a mere 52 percent of Democrats.  (See here for the House tally.)  Moreover, while most Democratic Senators, including Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, supported the 1957 measure, 18 Senate Democrats voted "no."  18 Democratic Senators also voted against President Eisenhower's 1960 Civil Rights Act, while no Republican Senator voted "no."  (See here for the Senate tally.)  In the House of Representatives, nearly 90 percent of Republicans voted "aye," compared to only 66 percent of Democrats.   (See here for the House tally.)  Moreover, in 1962, fifteen Senate Democrats voted against the Senate Resolution proposing the 24th Amendment, which eliminated state poll taxes on citizens voting in federal elections.  Only one Republican Senator voted "no."  (See here for the tally.  Note that this source may require a subscription.)   In the House, nearly 90 percent of Republicans, including Congressman Scranton, supported the measure, compared to just under 70 percent of Democrats.  (See the source just cited for the tally.)   Moreover, while majorities of both parties voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Republican majority was more commanding in both Houses of Congress.  In the House of Respresenatives, 80 percent of Republicans voted "aye," compared to a mere 62 percent of Democrats.  In the Senate, 82 percent of Republicans voted for the measure, while less than 70 percent of Democrats voted "aye." 

It should come as no surprise that such lopsided Republican majorities supported Civil Rights.
For instance, the 1960 Republican Platform devoted several paragraphs to Civil Rights, including the following language:

"This nation was created to give expression, validity and purpose to our spiritual heritage—the supreme worth of the individual. In such a nation—a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—racial discrimination has no place. It can hardly be reconciled with a Constitution that guarantees equal protection under law to all persons. In a deeper sense, too, it is immoral and unjust. As to those matters within reach of political action and leadership, we pledge ourselves unreservedly to its eradication.  Equality under law promises more than the equal right to vote and transcends mere relief from discrimination by government. It becomes a reality only when all persons have equal opportunity, without distinction of race, religion, color or national origin, to acquire the essentials of life—housing, education and employment. The Republican Party—the party of Abraham Lincoln—from its very beginning has striven to make this promise a reality. It is today, as it was then, unequivocally dedicated to making the greatest amount of progress toward the objective."

1964 Platform, hardly a "liberal" document, echoed these themes, calling for "full implementation and faithful execution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and all other civil rights statutes, to assure equal rights and opportunities guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen."  This same platform also called for "improvements of civil rights statutes adequate to changing needs of our times," as well as "such additional administrative or legislative actions as may be required to end the denial, for whatever unlawful reason, of the right to vote."  The platform also promised "continued opposition to discrimination based on race, creed, national origin or sex. We recognize that the elimination of any such discrimination is a matter of heart, conscience, and education, as well as of equal rights under law."  Finally, the platform promised that "[i]n all matters relating to human rights it will be the Republican way fully to implement all applicable laws and never to lose sight of the intense need for advancing peaceful progress in human relations in our land. The Party of Abraham Lincoln will proudly and faithfully live up to its heritage of equal rights and equal opportunities for all."

The very next sentence of the platform rejected liberal "tax and spend" policies and embraced fiscal restraint:

"In furtherance of our faith in the individual, we also pledge prudent, responsible management of the government's fiscal affairs to protect the individual against the evils of spendthrift government—protecting most of all the needy and fixed-income families against the cruelest tax, inflation—and protecting every citizen against the high taxes forced by excessive spending, in order that each individual may keep more of his earnings for his own and his family's use."

In short, Civil Rights, then defined as equality of opportunity, was not a "liberal" cause rejected by most Republicans.  On the contrary, the party was, like the modern Republican Party, fully committed to equal opportunity, with both conservatives and moderates embracing the era's Civil Rights legislation.   Congressman Scranton did not "vote with Democrats on Civil Rights."  Instead, over time, a growing number of Democrats voted with Scranton and his fellow Republicans.