Saturday, December 08, 2012


Thoughts on Seeing Lincoln

Although I think Steven Spielberg has lost a step or two or four as a director over time, and Tony Kushner usually writes horrible, unwatchable tripe, like Angels in America and Munich, their recent work on the new Daniel Day-Lewis vehicle, Lincoln, is pretty good. This is not a movie review.

Slavery existed as a human institution for probably as long as there were humans. And then in the early to mid 19th Century, the nations of the world ended it. Boom. Extraordinary social change in one generation. We, in America, were among the last to do so and it took the greatest slaughter of Americans yet to do it. That ain't so good. I've often used slavery as an example with my children of how things can change for the better. My talking to my children about history and what is right and what are the values I hold is also something that humans have done for probably as long as there were humans.

And we know that, generally, we parents do pass on to our children at least some subset of our beliefs, our heritage, our moral picture of the world and to a lesser degree but still generally, our politics. Most of my family has been Republican since Republicans existed. My paternal grandfather, whom I never knew, was certainly one and his father, also a Republican, was born about the time the Republican Party came into existence; so I don't have to look further back than three generations to know what was the dominant party affiliation of my immediate ancestors.

I don't actually know what was the political affiliation of my great, great grandfather. Most Americans of German extraction were Unionists and most of the Unionists were Republican. On the other hand, although my great, great grandfather did not fight in the Civil War, his brothers did, and for the South. How I feel about that is a subject for another time.

Still, the young ones generally grow up to adopt the politics of their immediate family, but sometimes it takes a while. My children are not Republicans, but one's making the turn and the older girl has the smarts to if only she'd learn some history. My son is an independent, as he has been since birth. Unlike mine, however, there are whole families that are either Republican (the Bushes) or Democrat (the Kennedys) and we know from experience that it generally takes an effort not to be in the same party as your father and mother, and that most people go with the default; just as most adopt the religion of the parents if they adopt any religion at all.

The northern Democrats in Lincoln were accurately portrayed as the loathsome, pro-slavery racists they were, in the main. It goes without saying that the Southern Democrats, actively fighting an unwinnable war to maintain slavery, were obviously the same, or worse. It was the pro-abolition, generally non-racist and thus enlightened Republicans who voted to the man to adopt the 13th Amendment which ended slavery.The Republican efforts to make former slaves equal did not end there, of course.

So what does our common experience and this history (made Hollywood real in the film) mean to the current Democrat meme that they are the progressive, non-racist party and it is the neanderthal, stone racist Republicans who have switched positions over the past 150 years. I think it makes what was always impossible to swallow, for those who knew history, all the more difficult to believe.

OK, so almost all the Democrats were, at the end of the Civil War, the pro-slavery, racists. Over the next century after that, the Democrats generally, but particularly in the South, remained anti-civil rights. They authored the racist Jim Crow laws; they deployed their terrorist, armed wing, the Ku Klux Klan. They kept the blacks in a condition between slavery and full equal citizenship. They opposed all Republican efforts to ensure equality for the black Americans. Then, in 1968, according to Democratic lore, the Southern Democrats all hit their palms to their foreheads and said, "Damn, I'm in the wrong party. I need to switch to the Republicans" and, this is the important part, they did so because they wanted to retain their anti-black heritage, the racism of their fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers. On the actual planet Earth, as opposed to the imaginary one the Democrats figuratively inhabit, there was no place in the Republican party for such feelings, no safe, welcoming home for racists, and no reason for Democrats, whose party did have the history of virulent racism, to think the Republicans would carve out a niche for such feelings. And the Republicans did not and have not.

This is so absurd a story, that I have been generally amazed that otherwise smart Democrats believe it. I have believed it's been one of the most successful Big Lies out there. But is is a lie. There was no wholesale switching of parties for racial reasons. The country as a whole became more enlightened in the mid 1960s, just as it had become more enlightened in the mid 1860s to end slavery. Just as the British became more enlightened in the half centruy before our Civil War and had ended much of the slave trade around the world. The change in the political affiliation of most American Southerners came only after all of the Southern Democrat political leaders to whom race "purity" still mattered, that is, the Segregationsts, all died--and they all died Democrats; they didn't switch parties. There was only one exception (Strom Thurmond).

It was things other than race which changed the South from generally Democrat to generally Republican, and it took a long time after 1964, like into the 1990s, to do it. So what does this switch of parties do to my observation that sons and daughters generally stay in the party of their fathers and mothers? It obviously tests it. But that is a subject for another time.

Go see Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis is extraordinary as usual lately and it's an important bit of history to know or to know more about.


While I'm willing to listen to any concrete evidence you'd like to put forward, I think the "children don't like to have different parties than their parents" argument is a bit weak.

Isn't the "southern strategy" like a pretty well established fact?
We'll revisit this when you're 40 but I don't think it's weak. It's obviously not universal but it is the general trend. And as for the "Southern Strategy," it's neither a fact nor established, well or otherwise.

You're not just taking lefty talking points at face value while doubting everything I say, are you?

It finally got cold here. How are you?
Hey, Andrew, is Indian, woman, Republican Governor Nikki Haley picking African American, Republican Tim Scott to replace Jim DeMint in Democrat, segregationist Strom Thurmond's seat part of the Southern Strategy? Just asking.
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