When President Carter returned from his well earned obscurity to again ruin my weekend, a blog post to that effect resulted in some bewilderment about why an argument from 1980 should be so important today. To me, and I think to others who remember those days, what this twerp, who I voted for twice (holding my nose the second time) said about one legislative battle over health care insurance said so much about today, and why things seem so bleak, that a fuller explanation seemed to be required for those who think that if only Senator Reid would allow the Senate to vote on the extension of the tax cuts enacted at the insistence of President G W Bush, things would be different.
This is that explanation, but it requires a quick, fractured review of history which, hope spring eternal, will at least hold the attention of a dozen people:
It is considered one big yuck from the black and white thirties: Will Rogers’ famous remark about not belonging to an organized political party, but when he said it shortly before he was killed in an airplane crash in 1935, the Democratic Party to which he belonged had truly become two separate factions, bound together for electoral purposes, but hardly by philosophy. There was the newer factions, New Dealers who were remaking the country and the party as the country veered from the edges of revolution to recovery from a global depression that had thrown Europe into turmoil.
Then there was the historic Democratic Party: the remnants of the southern opposition to Lincoln’s determination to keep the country together even if it meant the end of slavery and the party that was able to replace “reconstruction” with “Jim Crow” so as to maintain as much of what was described benignly as a “southern way of life” as was possible even after the forced labor which made that possible was nominally ended.
This “marriage of convenience” was on the path to destruction when the New Deal it made possible began to change the relationship of the federal government to the people who needed its help. President Roosevelt knew this: at the first opportunity he forced a change in how the party nominated its presidential candidates to rid it of the 2/3rds rule which essentially gave the southern “Democrats” veto power of the nominee since nobody could win until at least some southern states agreed.
The final end came, of course, after the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts in 1965 and 1966. As President Johnson famously told Bill Moyers those pieces of legislation would finally cost the party the south, but since the “Dixiecrats” nominated Strom Thurmond for president in 1948 after a civil rights plank was adopted in the Democratic Party platform was adopted, the die had been permanently cast.