Here’s what a former president of the United States had to say when he eulogized his mentor, an Arkansas senator:
“We come to celebrate and give thanks for the remarkable life of J. William Fulbright, a life that changed our country and our world forever and for the better. … In the work he did, the words he spoke and the life he lived, Bill Fulbright stood against the 20th century’s most destructive forces and fought to advance its brightest hopes.”
So spoke President William J. Clinton in 1995 of a man who was among the 99 Democrats in Congress to sign the “Southern Manifesto” in 1956. (Two Republicans also signed it.) The Southern Manifesto declared the signatories' opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and their commitment to segregation forever. Fulbright was also among those who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That filibuster continued for 83 days.
Speaking of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, let’s review (since they don’t teach this in schools): The percentage of House Democrats who supported the legislation? 61 percent. House Republicans? 80 percent. In the Senate, 69 percent of Democrats voted yes, compared with 82 percent of Republicans. (Barry Goldwater, a supporter of the NAACP, voted no because he thought it was unconstitutional.)
When he was running for president in 2000, former Vice President Al Gore told the NAACP that his father, Sen. Al Gore Sr., had lost his Senate seat because he voted for the Civil Rights Act. Uplifting story — except it’s false. Gore Sr. voted against the Civil Rights Act. He lost in 1970 in a race that focused on prayer in public schools, the Vietnam War and the Supreme Court.
Gore Jr.’s reframing of the relevant history is the story of the Democratic Party in microcosm. The party’s history is pockmarked with racism and terror. The Democrats were the party of slavery, black codes, Jim Crow, and that miserable terrorist excrescence the Ku Klux Klan. Republicans were the party of Lincoln, of Reconstruction, of anti-lynching laws, of the civil rights acts of 1875, 1957, 1960 and 1964. Were all Republicans models of rectitude on racial matters? Hardly. Were they a heck of a lot better than the Democrats? Without question.