Many pundits attributed yesterday's midterm election results to the rise of the modern Tea Party movement. But a political scientist argues that the Republican advances of 2010 have their roots in 1948. That notion hits close to home because those roots of 62 years ago were planted in my home city, Birmingham, Alabama. And it reminds us that white resentment over integration and associated issues never has gone away.
Wilmer J. Leon III argues in an essay at Truthout that the Republican uprising of 2010 is just an extension of the Dixiecrat movement that split the Democratic Party in 1948. Leon, a political scientist at Howard University, says Tea Partiers are Dixiecrats dressed up in new clothing.
No one should be surprised that modern-day Dixiecrats would rise up just two years after the election of America's first black president. Writes Leon:
When you take a step back and look at our political landscape from a broader historical perspective, what you see is that our current dysfunctional situation is not a recent development, but the culmination of a conservative backlash that can be traced back to 1948 and the rise of the States' Rights Democratic Party, which quickly became known as the Dixiecrats.
What drove the Dixiecrats of 1948? The answer is simple, writes Leon:
The Dixiecrat Party was formed after 35 Democratic delegates from Mississippi and Alabama walked out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention. These delegates were protesting the adoption of Sen. Hubert Humphrey's (D-Minnesota) proposal of civil rights planks calling for racial integration and the reversal of Jim Crow laws in the party platform.
For a progressive living in Alabama, the Dixiecrats are like the crazy uncle we try to forget is living in our attic. We've written before about the Dixiecrats and noted their transformation into the Goldwater supporters of 1964, the Reaganites of 1980, and the Tea Party of 2010.
This is history that rises up to our back door because the Dixiecrats held their convention in 1948 at Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham, about 15 miles from where I sit writing this post. What was that convention about? Leon describes it:
They met in Birmingham, Alabama, and nominated Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president. They opposed abolition of the poll tax, while endorsing segregation and the "racial integrity" of each race. Their campaign slogan was "Segregation Forever!" and their platform also included the call for "states' rights." Like the modern day Tea Party, the Dixiecrats called for freedom from governmental interference in an individual's or organization's prerogative to do business with whomever they wanted. Thurmond received more than one million votes in the 1948 election, won four states and 39 electoral votes.
Today's Tea Party message is cloaked mainly in fiscal terms, with concerns about the "deficit" and "out of control spending." But Leon says something darker is going on:
The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights report "Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope and Function of Its National Factions" says from the outset, "... the majority of Movement supporters are people of good will." But integrated into their calls for a reduction of the budget deficit and smaller government are concerns about race, sexual orientation, national identity, national birth rights and who qualifies to be an American. As the Tea Party Movement has taken shape amid this fiscal rhetoric; racist, white nationalist, anti-immigrant, homophobic and anti-Semitic elements have found their way into the "Movement."
Tea Party's keynote Sarah Palin calls for "states rights" and says, "it's pretty simple. It's a smaller, smarter government, not growing government to control more of our lives and our businesses and make decisions for us." This sounds a lot like a page taken right from the Dixiecrat playbook.
Yes it does. And after yesterday's election results, it makes us wonder how much progress we've really made in 62 years.