Political Animal


April 29, 2013 6:10 PM Goldwater And His 1964 Allies

By Ed Kilgore

Via Jamelle Bouie, we learn that Kevin Williamson is at it again: another revisionist take on the history of the two major political parties with respect to civil rights. This time Williamson aims at suggesting that in the 1964 presidential election, one party nominated a brave civil rights champion while the other nominated a bigot and long-time ally of Jim Crow advocates. But surprise! Williamson insists the former was Barry Goldwater while the latter was Lyndon Johnson.

In addressing Williamson’s longer revisionist take last year, I noted that his claim that white southerners gravitated to the GOP in and after 1964 because it was the party of civil rights is patently absurd. But to give him credit, he seems to understand that he’s got to make the case that Goldwater ran as a civil rights candidate in 1964 or his whole case collapses.

But instead of writing about Goldwater’s actual 1964 campaign (or LBJ’s, for that matter), Williamson writes about Goldwater’s local support for desegregation (though largely, when it came to commercial matters, of the “voluntary” kind) as a Phoenix merchant in the early 1950s, which he contrast with Johnson’s contemporaneous membership in the Senate’s southern bloc. That’s all fair enough, as far as it goes. But it has zero to do with 1964, in which it was universally understood that support for or opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964—all of it, not just the parts Goldwater (and every segregationist in America) considered unconstitutional—defined support for and opposition to the civil rights agenda as it was universally defined.

Williamson accuses Democrats of duping African-American voters in 1964 and afterwards into voting for them, presumably via all those federal benefits (including the right to eat in a restaurant alongside white folks) that Democrats used to imprison black folks on a new “plantation” of dependency. It’s an insulting argument, but hardly uncommon among conservatives (see Rand Paul’s recent “outreach” speeches at black colleges). But what Williamson doesn’t deal with is why all those southern racists who voted Democratic up to and in most cases beyond the New Deal moved en masse into the Republican column, for the first time ever, in 1964. At a time (prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965) when black voters were rare in Mississippi, Goldwater won 87% of the vote in that state. He won 69% in Alabama, where Johnson (the hero of segregationists according to Williamson) was not even allowed on the ballot. In general, Goldwater’s vote was directly correlated to the size and intensity of southern segregationist sentiment (and to black disenfranchisement), and within each state directly tracked the old Dixiecrat enclaves of 1948.

So to buy Williamson’s hypothesis, you have to believe that not only were African-American voters universally duped (94% voted for Johnson), but so, too, were southern white racists. In other words, the vast majority of the voters most focused on civil rights fundamentally misunderstood what the two parties and their presidential candidates stood for on this issue—but Kevin Williamson sees through it all!

Mr. Williamson really needs to find a different subject on which to write.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TR on April 29, 2013 6:52 PM:

    I just made the same comment on the other thread.

    Seriously, fix this or just scrap the site altogether.

    And, hand to God, a full screen ad for some jewelry company just blocked the entire damn screen as I tried to write this comment.


  • buddy66 on April 29, 2013 7:40 PM:

    Forget the pop-ups already; you're overreacting. It's only a few seconds of your time. Easier to bear with it.

    Since the ultimate voice in matters historical is the eyewitness, let me assert that Williamson is either nuts or is blustering and lying to a mercenary end. There was no confusion in the civil rights movement in 1964 as to who was who and who was what. Check out the congressional votes in Dixie for that year. LBJ knew he was throwing away the Southern vote by pushing the voting acts, but as Harry Truman said about desegregating the military: "It was the right thing to do." And racists have hated them both ever since. The current revisionist attempts to portray the Dems as the true racists mimic the scurrying antics of rats in heat.

    I can have no respect for their kind.

  • Rick B on April 29, 2013 7:58 PM:

    The super irritating moving ad on the right is too much all by itself. I have detested it for years. That it pops up when I cancel it is worse. But this damned takeover-of-the-screen ad is way too much.

    I have made it a policy not to read any of them but if I do I will boycott their product. Is that really what WaMo is selling to advertisers? Anger, disgust and rejection in potential customers?

    Add that to the disgusting Captcha and what ya got? WaMo.

  • Doug on April 29, 2013 8:32 PM:

    I tend to think papers, "studies" and articles such as this one by Williamson are merely to provide support FROM THEIR OWN BASE for Republican policies. Most of that base already wants to "believe". They certainly aren't inquisitive enough to look it up themselves and actions such as these merely makes it possible for members of the base to quote really truly "scientific" studies...
    Doesn't mean we shouldn't counter such atrocities, though.

    I don't know what the problem with "pop-ups" is. I get one "Emily's List" pop-up on arrival and that's it. I can certainly live with that!

  • Roger Keeling on April 29, 2013 9:42 PM:

    Extremist dogmatists, right and left, ALWAYS do this sort of thing. And as we all know, today the entirety of America's conservative side -- the GOP and all its ideological base -- are in thrall to a dogmatic worldview that year after year has just gotten more rigid, more outrageous, and more intolerant of any kind of challenge.

    That's why when I read of things like this ham-handed attempt to re-write America's Civil Rights political history, I don't see it in any way as a unique or one-off event. Hell, have we all forgotten Jonah Goldberg's imbecilic -- yet remarkably profitable -- book claiming that liberals are actually fascists, complete with the massive historical revisionism required to make his case even remotely plausible.

    A poster up above suggests that Williamson's target is really the conservative market, a mass of citizens and voters who uncritically eat this glop up ... and who need to be continuously "educated" to think these sorts of absurd things. I think he nails it.

    And you know, I can't help but think of The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, which through the decades had the habit of sending out replacement pages to subscribers -- whenever a major political event required it -- with instructions that they cut out offending pages and paste in the new and neatly-sanitized ones, a real-world enactment of a scene from Orwell. (One of the subscribers to get these was the library at the University of California Berkeley, so it's not just a myth).

    Of course Williamson, Goldberg, and the rest of America's rightwing revisionists don't -- to their deep regret -- have the police powers of the state available to enforce their preferred reading of history on us. But as we see, that certainly doesn't discourage them from tossing their swill out on a regular and depressing basis.

  • vf on April 29, 2013 9:51 PM:

    I'm shocked at the number of people on twitter who believe this crap like this. I remember the news from the '60's too even though I was young, there was no question that there was a huge shift in both parties because of civil rights. The tweets about this subject are just nuts, thanks for pointing out the source. It's eerie to suddenly encounter a whole bunch of people who believe nonsense, it's like they're clinging to it. I thought it was all about the Lincoln movie & they just discovered Lincoln was a Republican. What does this guy hope to accomplish? The GOP is and conservatives are what they are now. So what if George Wallace was a Democrat at one time, he quit the Democratic party over civil rights. But you can't argue with people about it, no matter how much history you link to, it's like they've been willingly brainwashed. First their "historians" made up stuff about the Founding Fathers, now they're doing it to modern history. Their own science, their own history, it's like a cult or some weird religion.

  • Oscar on April 30, 2013 12:03 AM:

    Mr. Kilgore's argument presupposes that the modern-day GOP is racist. Would he be brave enough to quantify this hypothesis?

  • ajay on April 30, 2013 5:36 AM:

    Mr. Kilgore's argument presupposes that the modern-day GOP is racist. Would he be brave enough to quantify this hypothesis?

    Quantify?? You mean, "they're racist, but exactly how racist, in rigorously objective terms?" Is there an SI unit for racism? I'd suggest the bilbo: if the presence of one standard black person within one metre produces a repulsive force in the racist of one newton, then the level of racism may be defined as one bilbo.

    The newton and metre are, of course, already defined in the SI system. The standard black person may be defined with reference to the International Standard Black Person, currently Dave Wilson, a 45-year-old advertising copywriter, keen fisherman and father of two, who lives in carefully controlled conditions under a very large glass dome in the Bureau Internationale des Poid et Mésures in Paris, France, wearing a platinum-iridium hat.

  • low-tech cyclist on April 30, 2013 5:55 AM:

    I was ten years old in 1964; I remember it reasonably well. Strom Thurmond didn't switch parties because he favored civil rights; quite the opposite.

    Goldwater wasn't personally a segregationist, but the implications of his more libertarian states'-rights position, in an era where Jim Crow was still alive and kicking but under attack, were obvious to all concerned.

    Odd question after looking at the 1964 electoral map: was Idaho a white-supremacist haven even back then? Goldwater lost it by only 1.8%.

  • James M on April 30, 2013 8:16 AM:

    @Roger Keeling on April 29, 2013 9:42 PM:

    "Extremist dogmatists, right and left, ALWAYS do this sort of thing. And as we all know, today the entirety of America's conservative side -- the GOP and all its ideological base -- are in thrall to a dogmatic worldview that year after year has just gotten more rigid, more outrageous, and more intolerant of any kind of challenge."

    This is what scares me more than anything else about the recent political situation. First Fox News and conservative talk radio create an alternate universe (What else could you call it?)of made up facts and news. Then, conservative 'intellectuals' start rewriting history. Young people exposed to these systematic fabrications from their parents, and who attend schools in areas where the local school boards can block mention of or denigrate concepts like global warming, evolution, sex education, etc., could grow up with an intentionally distorted view of reality.

  • Everett on April 30, 2013 10:14 AM:

    @ajay on April 30, 2013 5:36 AM:


  • Steve P on April 30, 2013 10:14 AM:

    They have a very good memory hole at NR. And we have the net:

    "The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. . . .
    National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence."
    --WFB, 8/24/57

  • millsapian87 on April 30, 2013 11:42 AM:

    I grew up (and still live) in Mississippi, and I watched it happen in real time. The Dixiecrats didn't join the GOP because of their support for civil rights--quite the opposite in fact. And are we to believe for a minute that the likes of Strom Thurmond, who started out as a Democrat, would join the GOP because he was an ardent believer in civil rights for blacks? When he ran for president in 1948 his primary platform plank was opposition to Federal anti-lynching laws! What utter B.S. from this guy Williamson.

  • Roger Keeling on April 30, 2013 1:17 PM:

    Ajay: hilarious and perfect! Thanks!!

    James M: Yeah, exactly. The Nazis also did this exact same thing, just as the Soviets (and, for that matter, the Czarists before them, the Ottoman Turks, etc.)

    "Dogma" in my view is an over-arching worldview or issue position that rejects empirical thinking in favor of some pre-determined "grand truth". Arguing with dogmatists is, for that reason, mostly an exercise in futility because they just simply are NOT willing to intellectually engage with your arguments in an honest way, EVER.

    We most commonly see it among the hyper-religious, of course, and in grand economic debates (Communism v. Capitalism, where moderation and subtlty are not much valued by either extreme). But it's also pretty evident in the abortion and gun control debates. It's a perennial characteristic of cults, of course.

    There's another version, in my view, which is in its own way quite empirical but utterly sociopathic: good old-fashioned greed. The Koch brothers -- along with LOTS of denizens of the 1% and 0.1% -- may or may not actually believe a lot of the rightwing crud they advocate and finance, but they sure know how it directly benefits them. What's the most important thing in the entire world is for them? Money and power (or power and money, they're largely interchangeable). There is no fact, scientific evidence, rational argument, or ethical boundary that is to them more important, and so in practice they do exercise dogmatic adherence to it.

    And like all good cult leaders, they know the key to getting and keeping what they want is convincing all the useful idiots to stay in line. They've been scary-good at doing it. I mean, consider that we might lose the Affordable Care Act now, and if we do we're losing it to millions of Tea Party types who are convinced to their core that it is something horrible ... millions of people the vast majority of whom would actually benefit enormously from Obamacare if it ever gets fully implemented. It's just one of a dozen examples I could cite where mass-produced misinformation aimed at establishing and maintaining a dogmatic extreme is working with terrifying effectiveness.

    We live in terrifying times because of how effective the cold-blooded sociopaths financing the Far Right have been at creating an entirely separate, parallel world of media, "academic research," and political identity. A world in which no tradition, value or demonstrable scientific fact is safe from attack and revision if that's what is needed to preserve and advance the prime dogma.

  • Mojojojo on May 11, 2013 6:13 AM:

    What ads?


    You're welcome.