“They love to engage in revisionist history,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said on the floor of the U.S. Congress, Nov. 19. She was referring to Democrats as she had risen to speak in opposition to an environmental protection measure intended to safeguard a 21-mile segment of Molalla River in Oregon. As she spoke, Foxx set about some blatant revisionism of her own.
Foxx’s began her objection with the bizarre suggestion that the GOP had been the champion of “good” environmental protection laws. Had she stopped there, her floor speech would have justifiably been dismissed as a bit of irony. Instead, Foxx went on to perpetuate the misconception that Republicans were also the champions of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, amid fervent obstruction from Democrats.
Upon the completion of Foxx’s remarks, she was passionately rebuked by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA). “I can’t believe my ears,” Cardoza said, and went on to assign credit for the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) to the efforts to the Democratic administration of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Here is video of the exchange on the House floor from the ThinkProgress.org Nov. 19 post on the subject. (continued below the clip)
While Cardoza’s assessment was factually correct and his tone appropriate, his rebuke of Foxx would have been strengthened by informing her that the Republican Party of which she spoke no longer exists. Indeed, the Republicans whose votes were vital to passing civil rights legislation in the 1960s would be derided as RINOs – Republicans in Name Only – by Foxx and like minded, right-wing ideologues of today’s GOP.
That conservatives have sought to maintain this myth is nothing new. Paul von Hipple addressed it in a 2005 Alternet.org post responding to a taxpayer funded “Republican Freedom Calendar” which presented a one-sided representation of their Party’s historic role as advocates of civil rights. The evidence employed to prop up this argument relies upon the higher proportion of GOP votes for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It’s a far too narrow interpretation of history, as von Hipple indicated in his 2005 post:
In fact, Congressional votes on the Civil Rights Act did not break along party lines – they split along regional lines. In the North, both parties supported the Civil Rights Act; in the South, both parties opposed it. The difference was that the Republican Party had very little presence in the South, which had been dominated since the 1870s by the segregationist wing of the Democratic Party.
This period marks a historical turning point for both political parties. President Johnson and liberal Northern Democrats were ill prepared for the Southern white backlash that followed the passage of civil rights legislation. Of course, the legislation wasn’t the only factor, but it was during this time that the Democratic Party set on a path to shedding its racist elements. In doing so, Democrats lost the political grip on the South it had held since the Great Depression.
The path chosen by the Republicans was altogether different. Interestingly, the GOP underwent a schism, not unlike the one presently in progress.
Republican conservatives, sympathetic to the racist backlash among Southern whites, made their first political inroads in the South around this time. The most significant evidence for this trend was the GOP’s 1964 presidential nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
Before Goldwater’s nomination, the GOP’s regional strength was based in the American North-East. Their party leaders were inclined to support government investment in infrastructure. Having been decimated during their initial struggle against Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (which they decried as “socialist,” sound familiar?) a moderate GOP persisted as a minority party, seeking to improve FDR’s legislation rather than rail against it.
Goldwater lost to LBJ in 1964, but having won his home state and four other Southern states in the contest, the GOP’s course was set. They abandoned their moderate positions — the mantle of which Foxx is presently attempting to claim — in pursuit of the racially divisive “Southern Strategy.”
This political strategy was neatly summarized by Sidney Blumenthal in a 2003 Salon.com post:
With the coming of the civil rights revolution, Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson deployed the federal government to support social equality. In reaction, Republicans — from Barry Goldwater to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan — developed a Southern strategy to win over white voters in the region who felt betrayed. That strategy involved using widely understood code words going back to the Civil War like “states’ rights,” an updating of the well-worn strategy of Southern reactionaries to demagogue on race in order to keep poor and working-class whites divided from blacks on issues of common interest. Thus the party of Lincoln became the party of Reagan.
Indeed, Reagan’s ascendency is instructive. His rise was facilitated by the GOP’s rejection of its moderate voices. Just as Foxx mistakenly claimed the civil rights mantle on Nov. 19, Reagan did also. Yet his true feelings were betrayed by his policies and rhetoric.
From the above mentioned von Hibble Alternet post:
…Ronald Reagan, in his 1966 campaign to become governor of California, endorsed repeal of California’s Fair Housing Act, saying, “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.”
Similarly, Foxx’s own statements over the past year illustrate her departure from the moderate positions of the kinder, gentler GOP of yore. She has more than made herself clear regarding the present-day civil rights issues, most notably in debates over the rights of homosexuals and health care reform.
My Care2 colleague Tracy Viselli understandably called for Foxx’s apology or resignation following her slanderous comments about Matthew Sheppard on the House floor while debating the hate crime legislation that bares his name. More recently, Viselli , rightly, took issue with Foxx’s declaration that the present health care reform proposals pose a bigger threat to America than “any terrorist from any country.” Add to this Foxx’s 2006 vote, along with 33 other Republicans, opposing the extension of the Voters Rights Act, and it becomes clear that any claim of civil rights advocacy exists only in her mind.
Further, these outrageous examples of Foxx’s true beliefs plainly illustrate that the North Carolina congresswoman has absolutely nothing in common with the Republicans who helped advance the cause of civil rights in the 1960s. Rather, Foxx is just another product of the cynical GOP which prospered by exploiting the societal divisions left after their passing.
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