Friday, October 31, 2014

The Collapse of the Liberal Consensus in American Politics

Democratic dominance over American politics from 1932-1968 was born in the economic chaos of the Great Depression, the Allied military victory during World War II, and was strengthened by consensus over Cold War anticommunism and Foreign Policy issues.  This consensus included general agreement over domestic policy before the second stage of the Civil Rights movement alienated many working class Americans after 1965.  With the beginning of the Great Depression, many Americans accepted the idea that government had a greater role to play in regulating the economy and providing social services such as welfare, retirement programs, medical care for the poor, and, ultimately, expanded civil and political rights for African Americans.  This program was the culmination of changes in American political thought stretching back through the Progressive era to the rise of the Populist movement in the 1890s, and bolstered by prominent figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  Support for this agenda was geographically and ideologically dispersed, gathering labor organizers, wealthy liberals, farmers, and southern conservatives under a large umbrella.  This broad coalition frayed and ultimately collapsed when Black Power ideology developed among a radical set of Civil Rights activists, and Americans grew unable to sustain a constant fear of nuclear holocaust during the late 1960s. The Black Power movement frightened to middle and working class whites, and the antics of radicals in the antiwar movement combined with urban riots demonstrated the breakdown of law and order in American society.  American conservatives enjoyed an ideological resurgence relying on a mish-mash of anti-Communism, fiscal responsibility, and law and order rhetoric that carried racial overtones.  The new conservative ideology of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan attracted parts of the Democratic coalition – working class voters repulsed by the excesses of the counterculture, Black Power, antiwar movement, and worried about competition with minorities for jobs and housing.  To do this, the Republican Party appealed to the issues that concerned suburban voters – forced busing, taxation, law and order, and family values.

The Democrats gained electoral dominance with the 1932 elections largely because Herbert Hoover refused to use the power of the Federal government to help Americans through the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the new president, introduced programs designed to boost the economy through Federal spending based on pragmatic attempts not bound by a specific ideology.  The successes of the New Deal faltered in 1937 when FDR attempted to return to a balanced budget, triggering a recession, but the combination of New Deal programs and the full employment brought on by World War II in 1941, definitively showed Americans that government could beneficially play a larger role in the economy.  During the Second New Deal, Federal programs moved beyond mere jobs programs to include benefits like Social Security. 

Barton Bernstein argues that a large part of the reason that the New Deal helped Democrats forge such a diverse coalition was that it built on the basically conservative agenda of the Progressive era.  New Deal reforms were ultimately conservative in nature because they worked to protect American capitalism rather than replacing it with a truly managed economy.  While the New Deal extended both welfare benefits and federal power, most benefit helped the middle class rather than the impoverished.  The most conservative measure of the New Deal was the Social Security Act of 1935, which forced people to pay into retirement pensions.  The effect was that while the Federal government administered Social Security, individuals were ultimately responsible for their own future, and the government would not be burdened with their upkeep.

In this same vein, Lizbeth Cohen argues that both the New Deal and workers were basically conservative in their outlook.  Workers held a reformist, but not anticapitalist, vision due to their participation in corporate paternalist welfare programs during the 1920s.  The New Deal fit with workers’ ideas of a “moral capitalism” – the idea that their participation in electoral politics, wars, and hard work entitled them to government programs that provided economic security and support for unions that balanced the power of employers.  Workers believed that the wealth of the capitalist system should be distributed more equitably as a matter of reciprocity and justice, which melded well with Catholic doctrine on social justice.  Cohen argues that these ideas developed organically from the welfare capitalism of the 1920s, which acclimated workers to the idea that business and government should provide certain benefits.

The consensus did not rest solely on domestic policy.  Wendy Wall argues that government and business mounted a deliberate campaign to create an American Way that served to unify the nation from 1945-1965.  The new American identity that was supposed to bind Americans together was based on a view of political and civil liberties that emphasized the idea of “freedom” over the concept of “democracy”, and was developed as a political project by groups desiring a coherent national identity.  The chaos of the Great Depression led a coalition of advertising executives, government officials, and business leaders to work together to develop a uniquely American outlook as a counter to the “alien” ideologies of fascism and communism.  This new American Way relied on two components.  The first was the conservative nature of New Deal reforms that worked to support business rather than to nationalize or democratize business on the socialist model, and argued that economic freedom was the basis for all other civil rights, and cultural debates over how to successfully integrate immigrants and minorities into American society.  The Depression was accompanied by a rise in racial and ethnic bigotry, which needed to be countered to ensure stability, but homogeneity had been discredited by totalitarian movements abroad, so the American Way was defined as the ability of diverse groups to live together in harmony.  The United States became a nation of immigrants on the melting pot model, with some arguing that Americans were united by their Judeo-Christian beliefs.  This definition of the American Way became a useful tool for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, as it tried to counter the wedges Communists attempted to exploit in American society by focusing on civility, and lending African Americans another tool to use when arguing for equality.

Americans associated the military and economic dominance the United States enjoyed after the end of World War II with Democrats and the liberal agenda as it developed under the New Deal.  The Cold War allowed the liberal agenda to include anticommunism in the form of George Kennan’s theory of containment, which depicted the Soviet Union as an expansionist power that the United States must contain in all areas – economic, diplomatic, and military.  Containment provided a reason for continued government spending on defense, which boosted local economies, especially in the South and West, where a third of Californians were employed by defense-related industries by 1960.  With the exception of Eisenhower’s election in 1950, this combination of domestic policy, anticommunism, and conscious efforts to create an American Way, ensured that the Democratic Party controlled the Presidency through Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968, and the Congress through the 1994 Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich.

Cracks in the diverse liberal consensus developed as a result of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The first problems for the liberal consensus developed with the adoption of a civil rights plank by the Democratic Party in 1948, which was accompanied by President Harry Truman’s integration of the armed forces by executive order.  That led Strom Thurmond and other New Deal Democrats to split off into the States’ Rights Democratic Party, or Dixiecrats.  In the 1948 election, Thurmond challenged Truman and Dewey for the Presidency, capturing only four states in the Deep South (Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi).  Thurmond and other Dixiecrats returned to the Democratic party, but many switched parties after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 desegregated public schools.  1964 was the tipping point for the liberal consensus.  Strom Thurmond switched to the Republican Party to support Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, which focused on states’ rights and anticommunism.  Dan Carter contends that George Wallace pioneered what became known as the “politics” of rage in his 1964 presidential campaign, which showed that northern voters who were becoming frustrated with civil rights legislation, and could be wooed by playing on their fears.  Despite claiming that he no longer supported segregation in his 1968 and 1972 presidential bids, Wallace continued to play on racial fears by arguing against forced busing for desegregation.  His success with northern voters provided Richard Nixon with a valuable tool, which he refined by using more veiled language to hint at the racial concerns of working and middle class voters across the country.

After the Civil Rights movement became identified with the national Democratic Party during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, southern Democrats began to vote for their party in state and local elections, but with the GOP in national elections.  Earl and Merle Black argue that this voting pattern made it progressively easier for southerners to begin voting for Republican candidates at the state and local level, as well.  Race became a central issue for southern Democrats, though by 1968 they preferred moderate sounding politicians to those that outwardly race-baited during their campaigns. Race played such a large issue that in the Senate that the majority leader had to use unusual parliamentary procedures to bring the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the floor of the Senate for a vote because the chair of the Judiciary Committee was a Mississippi Democrat who did not want the bill to pass.  Even once it reached the floor of the Senate, Georgia Democrat Richard B. Russell filibustered the bill for 54 days before the Johnson administration found enough votes to break the filibuster

Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the development of the Black Power movement created even more problems.  Earlier Civil Rights activists had concentrated on ending segregation and gaining voting rights, but in 1966 radicals began to advocate for Black Power and black militancy.  During a protest march to protest the 1966 shooting of James Meredith during his March Against Fear across Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael led the crowd demanding Black Power.  Carmichael’s new philosophy coincided with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s rejection of nonviolence as a strategy, and used the armed Deacons of Defense to ensure security during the.  In the following weeks Huey Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panthers in Oakland to defend African Americans against police brutality.

The aggressive turn in the Civil Rights movement occurred at the same time the Supreme Court ruled for expanded civil rights for criminals, women, homosexuals, atheists, and pornographers.  “New” protections included the rights to have an attorney, against self-incrimination, to due process, to a speedy trial, and protection against illegal search and seizure.  Privacy rights protected the use of contraceptives and abortion appeared.  The controversial verdicts, arriving in the midst of turmoil about traditional values and the breakdown of law and order in the cities caused more Democrats to leave the party – working class voters disagreed with protections for homosexuals and bans on prayer in schools, and worried about the maintenance of order in society when confronted with new rights for criminals.

This was especially true of the issue of abortion, which developed into a national controversy when California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Law in 1967, only to have the California Supreme Court rule all restrictions on abortion unconstitutional.  This was follower by New York’s legalization of abortion in 1970 by a margin of only one vote.  When legislators in Western New York led a campaign to make abortion illegal in the state, Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller vetoed the bill.  Despite this, abortion became a rallying issue for social conservatives, as Eyal Press described in his depiction of the abortion debate in Buffalo.  This issue drew in many Catholic voters at the grass roots level, and separated them from the Democratic party as they became single-issue voters.  Working with conservatives to ban or limit abortion exposed these voters to more conservative opinions, a phenomenon that only increased after the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Roe v Wade.  Abortion continues to be a divisive issue that the Republican Party uses to mobilize voters.

Expanded rights for  criminals an alarming issue for working and middle class voters as urban rioting spread after 1965, beginning with the infamous Watts Riot, which the media used to showed television viewers violence in poor, black, urban areas.  Violence in cities across the country showed that civil rights legislation was not enough to fix the economic and social challenges facing African Americans. Riots also showed that many young blacks had run out of patience with the slow pace of change.  The successes of 1964 and 1965 had not magically fixed things for the black community, or quashed dissent in the way that white supporters of the movement had expected.  Coming at the same time the United States Supreme Court gave greater protection to criminal suspects, the riots alienated working and middle class voters, and pushed them toward the right side of the political spectrum where Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” preached a message of law and order in a manner palatable to the frightened electorate.  These development of these issues coincided with the development of civil rights and antiwar protests in Northern and Western cities where the core of the Democratic electorate resided.  The extension of forced desegregation to cities like Boston further aggravated the cracks in the liberal consensus.

Thomas and Mary Edsall argued that a plethora of social problems were magnified in what conservatives labeled the era of permissiveness. Crime rates rapidly increased from 1966-1971, arrests of blacks for homicide more than doubled during the 1960s, and illegitimate births to African American women increased by a third. Democrats had no response and offered no solutions for these problems because their concerns over racial equality and the equitability of the system prevented them from seriously discussing issues that combined race, crime, and social structure.  Media depictions of poor blacks, increased crime, and illegitimacy kept most Americans from seeing the successes of African Americans who moved into the middle class.  The GOP offered working and middle class voters a clear ideological alternative – reduced governmental social support for the “able poor” and increased emphasis on law and order.

Exacerbating the influence of the issues were competition working class whites felt from blacks moving into Civil Service jobs, moving out of ghettoes, into working class neighborhoods, and enrolling children into now-desegregated schools.  That the migration of African Americans was funded by Federal welfare and rental assistance programs further frustrated working class whites, who saw their tax dollars used to help other compete against them for housing and jobs.  Forced busing of students out of their neighborhoods to desegregate school systems rather than relying on parents to proactively choose alternate schools for their children further disenchanted many Democrats.  Population shifts from urban areas to the suburbs provided further fuel for Americans threatened by the changes they saw.  Matthew Lassiter argues that many suburbanites tried to abide by the Brown decision by allowing “meritocratic” black students into their schools, or accepted the idea of busing, as long as it was one-way, bringing minority children into their neighborhoods, but not sending their children to schools in poorer areas.  Suburban living also had the effect of leading toward tax revolts like the one that Robert Self describes in Oakland, where suburbanites were swayed by conservative candidates arguing for reduced property taxes on suburban homes, which they believed should not pay for improvements in nearby cities.  The net effect was to identify Democrats with minority groups and their agenda.

If issues of race and culture were not enough to destroy the liberal consensus, the Vietnam War dealt the final blow.  The war siphoned off the funding available to President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs and forced tax hikes that included a surcharge on income that led many to  Americans feel the burdens of both war and anti-poverty programs.  The increasing radicalism of antiwar protesters also alienated these Democrats.  The news media focused on the most radical members of the antiwar movement, showing the radical minority shouting profanities, destroying offices, and committing other outrageous acts.  While this behavior inspired other members of the movement, it alienated the majority of Americans, even though most Americans were against the war by 1968.

The end of the liberal consensus may have been sealed at the Democratic National Convention in August 1968.  Held in Chicago, the Democratic convention erupted in chaos, initially highlighted by the lighthearted hi-jinks of the Yippies, led by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who nominated a pig named “Pigasus” for President.  Other protesters exacerbated the situation with a series of antiwar protests that paralyzed downtown Chicago in what later became known as the Siege of Chicago.  Democratic mayor Richard Daley threw fuel on the fire with his efforts to present a powerful image to the nation.

After banning marches and rallies and setting curfews in the city, Daley used thousands of police officers in an attempt to limit negative television coverage.  Daley’s efforts backfired when protestors refused to disperse on August 25, taunting and insulting the police.  Perhaps predictably, the police attacked protesters with tear gas and truncheons.  The resulting street fighting lasted the three days of the convention, ending with what officials later described as a “police riot” on August 28th when the crowd against taunted the police.  This time the police attacked without regard to who they injured, targeting protesters, journalists, bystanders, and even convention delegates.

These scenes horrified television viewers, who were treated to images of the bloodbath while the nominating speeches were underway inside the convention center.  The result of the media coverage was to give the public the visceral feeling that the Democrats were the party of disorder, which played directly into the rhetoric of Richard Nixon and other republicans as they denounced the most shocking violence in the country since the Watts riots in 1965.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Influence of Population Shifts on American Life

From the 1870s to the 1990s the United States experienced a series of dramatic demographic changes as the result of immigration and emigration. The major changes included rural to urban migration from 1870-1900, the two Great Migrations of African Americans fleeing the South, and the seemingly simultaneous growth of suburbs in the Sunbelt after World War II.

During the last tree decades of the 19th century, the populations of cities exploded. Cities grew at double the rate of total population growth. Immigration from abroad contributed to the rise of cities as 14 million immigrants arrived on the east coast of the United States, mostly from southern and eastern Europe. At the same time, many Americans migrated from rural areas to cities seeking work as modernization of agriculture required less labor. Andrew Carnegie took advantage of this migration, hiring farm kids to work in his first steel mill.

The growth of cities led to dramatic changes in the nature of urban areas and in Americans' expectations of the role of government in their lives. Crowding in cities, outbreaks of disease in the 1880s, combined with reformers belief in using science to change society for the better led to changes in the role of government. After an 1882 typhoid outbreak killed 20,000 people in Chicago, city engineers expanded sewer and water systems. When the depression of 1893 struck, Detroit mayor Hazen Pingree hired the unemployed to build public facilities and railed against corruption in government as a threat to everyone. City problems also drove the development of the settlement house movement of reformers like Jane Addams, who used statistics to bring reforms to housing, to end child labor, and to protect workers. The huge growth of cities had a dramatic influence on American politics, helping to inspire the development of the Progressive movement.

The technological and demographic changes of the Gilded Age transformed the nature of American cities. In the 18th and 19th centuries Americans followed the trend of cities worldwide by placing houses as close to each other as possible because it made for shorter distances to travel and allowed all of the dwellings to be inside city walls. Historian Kenneth Jackson argues that the rise of domesticity during the 19th century led Americans to want a different style of housing, with more privacy and separation from work.

The development of transportation systems helped Americans to realize the dream of suburban living. Omnibuses and horse-drwan streetcars were the first examples of what became mass transit. These devices extended the ability of people to commute to work, changing cities from places where people lived within walking distance of their workplaces to having a central business district surrounded by rings of residences divided by income. No longer did the wealthy have to interact with poorer residents as they lived their lives. This economic segregation of housing increased as local trains, cable cars, and electric street cars increased the number of people who could commute.

The second great demographic shift after 1870 was the pair of Great Migrations of African Americans leaving the South for better lives in the North and West. Historian Jonathan Holloway argues that much of the first phase of the Great Migration, occurring from 1905-1930, started when blacks sought to escapee the Jim Crow laws that developed in the South between 1890-1905. he contends that the first phase of the Great Migration was understood as a political act in which African Americans changed how they claimed their citizenship rights because it reflected blacks' refusal to accept the South's social hierarchy. Holloway believes that in addition to disfranchisement, that it had become clear that sharecropping guaranteed life-long indebtedness, a situation worsened by the boll weevil's devastation of southern agriculture.

As European immigration declined during the early part of the 20th century while governments prepared for war, opportunities for industrial jobs in the North appeared. Not only did southern blacks discuss the availability of jobs and better housing, but the right to vote was a motivation for leaving the South. Northern factories, needing cheap labor, actively recruited African Americans. Like the earlier aves of migrants into cities, the arrival of blacks from the South changed the demographics of the places they went. Haarlem and the South Side of Chicago became centers of African American culture asa result of the Great Migration.

These changes were not without difficulty. Housing in cities became scarce and even more crowded. Racial violence erupted when black workers were brought in as scabs to break strikes, or even just as competition for jobs, peaking in 1919 following a resurgence of the KKK in northern and western cities. The release of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation in 1915 just inflamed tensions between the races. Holloway does not draw a direct connection between the rebirth of the KKK and increases in racial violence, but it accompanied race riots in East St. Louis, Chicago, and elsewhere.

The Second Great Migration, from 1940-1970, saw five million African Americans leave the South and West for place that allowed them to live, work, an vote without pressure from southern whites. Historian James Gregory argues that this wave of black migration mostly followed the patterns of those who had migrated north and west from 1905-1930. Even more than before, the new migrants fled the South to cities on the West coast, leading to huge demographic changes in Los Angeles, the Bay area, San Diego, Seattle, and Portland. This process also changed the makeup of those living in the South. In 1940, forty-five percent of blacks living in the South lived in rural areas/ By 1980, only eighteen percent of southern blacks lived on farms. One major result of this immigration was that some cities achieved African American majorities for the first time.

After World War II, the major changes in population were the growth of the suburbs and of the Sunbelt. The suburbs have been symbols of affluence since their massive growth during the 1950. Eleven million of the thirteen million houses built during the 1950s were constructed in the suburbs. By 1960, twenty-five percent of all Americans lived in suburban areas. The development of the suburbs came as a result of increased need for housing as veterans returned home from World War II. Federal housing policies dating back to the 1920s also fueled suburban growth. Historian Adam Rome argues that Herbert Hoover set the stage for suburban expansion as Secretary of Commerce. Hoover believed homeowners provided a solid core for society due to their work ethic and community involvement. Because he wanted more homeowners, Hoover wanted to make it easier for working Americans to buy a home, and argued that the construction industry should become more efficient so it could build large numbers of affordable houses.

Calls for federal involvement in the housing industry to help it meet demand went unheeded until the passage of the National Housing Act of 1934 created the FHA, which made it easier for workers to get mortgages. The FHA also set standards for the homes it insured and provided developers meeting its standards acceptance of their home designs. That allowed builders to get the funding they needed for large projects and led to the development of cookie-cutting suburbs like Levittown. Kenneth Jackson also believes that government policy pushed the development of suburbs by funding interstate highways that made it possible to quickly drive to work in the city. Other government efforts included taxing city residents to finance improvements in the suburbs, and by offering huge tax deductions on mortgage interest that renters could not get. The development of suburbs had some unexpected consequences - they further polarized American society along the lines of race and income.

Levittown housing contracts forbade their owners to sell their homes to nonwhites in order to protect property values, a requirement enforced by FHA and VA loans, which would not allow the purchase of a home in a "mixed" neighborhood. Suburbs thus attracted families worried about desegregation of schools. Historian Matthew Lassiter argues that suburbanites were not against busing and desegregation in principle, as long as it was one-way, and they tried to cooperate with Brown v The Board of Education by allowing "meritocratic" black students into their schools. They especially did not want there kids to leave their neighborhoods to desegregate schools. The Charlotte, North Carolina, schools system started out with this model of desegregation, but developed over time to include two-way busing for desegregation in what became recognized as the most successful example of desegregated schools in the United States.

The suburbs, especially those in the Sunbelt, seem responsible for dramatic changes in American politics during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. For example, historian Adam Rome credits the development of the environmental movement to quality of life issues that Americans faced as the result of profit-driven decisions made by developers. Builders determined house design and features based on profitability rather than in response to consumer choices. Profit led developers to choose septic systems over sewers despite any consideration of geographic appropriateness for the systems, and more generally eliminated geographical adaptations for cooling and heating in order to save money on construction costs, and chose electric heating and stoves to get discounts on wiring despite the increased long-term costs to consumers. Rome argues that housing practices that led to over saturation o soil with septic run-off ad houses sliding off hillsides in California led mothers, reformers, and even the Nixon administration to create the modern environmental movement.

Suburban and Sunbelt population growth also had large effects on the balance of political power in the United States by shifting American politics to the right as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's liberal consensus came apart under the strains of the civil rights movement and Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy," which appealed to the fears of suburbanites across the country. Te West and Southwest played an important role in this process as the population of California doubled, surpassing New York. The surge in population was caused by the development of air travel, air conditioning for industrial uses, and the ubiquity of the automobile. The defense industry was critical to the economic development of the South and the West, leading to prosperity in Sand Diego and San Antonio. The lion's share of Cold War spending went to the Southwest, so that by the 1960s, one third of all workers there were in defense related industries. Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors and Thomas and Mary Edsall's Chain Reaction describe the political process involved - which I'll deal with in the next post.





Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Southern Move to the GOP, 1948-1972

Before 1948, Southern Democrats largely believed that the party was the defender of their way of life, which was based on an ideology of states' rights and traditional values. They had generally warned northern liberal reformers, Republicans, and civil rights activists to stay out under the broad label of "outside agitators." The adoption go the civil rights plank at the 1948 Democratic National Convention and President Harry S. Truman's integration of the military with Executive Order 9981 created a split between northern and southern Democrats.

This pair of civil rights actions began the prices of not only moving many southern Democrats to the Republican party, but also in destroying the national New Deal liberal consensus. The first concrete illustration of the split in the Democratic party came with the establishment of the States' Rights Democratic party to scare the larger Democratic party into dropping its civil rights plans. When that failed, the Dixiecrats ran Strom Thurmond against Truman and Dewey in the Presidential race, winning in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Historian Kari Frederickson argues that Thurmond, and possibly other New Deal Democrats from the South, favored some reforms that would benefit blacks, but found Truman's intention to use Federal power to enact civil rights reforms insulting. Thurmond ran from U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1954, but switched to the GOP in 1964 to support Barry Goldwater. The creation of the Dixiecrats and politicians switching parties seemed to give permission to southern voters to consider alternatives to the Democratic party. As southerners left, the Democrats became even more liberal.

Eisenhower's use of Federal troops to assure the safety of African American students at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, temporarily prevented southern Democrats from switching to the GOP during the 1950s. Despite this, President John F. Kennedy's slow acceptance of the Civil Rights Movement, followed by Lyndon Baines Johnson's full-throated support, changed the Democratic party in the South. The key moments were Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Goldwater presidential campaign that year. Johnson understood the potential for domestic political consequences, reputedly saying after the signing of the Civil Rights Act that he had just delivered the South to the Republicans for a generation.

A hard core of southern Democrats resisted civil rights changes from the Brown decision in 1954 through the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lester Maddox, Orval Faubus, and George Wallace were the visible spearheads, relying on populist appeals to less-educated, blue-collar voters who liked Democrats' economic policies, but opposed desegregation. If Johnson's civil rights legislation gave southern Democrats a policy dispute with their national party, Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign seemed to offer an alternative.

Not only did segregation opponents like Strom Thurmond begin to switch parties in 1964 to lend their support to Goldwater, but Earl and Merle Black argue that southern Democrats supported Goldwater at the polls due to his opposition to the Civil Rights Act and his support for states' rights. This trend continued in 1968 and 1972 due to the Nixon Campaign's "Southern Strategy," which used veiled appeals based on race to woo southern voters. The Black brothers argue that as southern voters became comfortable voting for Republican presidential candidates, it made it easier for them to vote for GOP candidates in Congressional and state elections. This occurred despite Republican support for the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Mary and Thomas Edsall also not the trend of southern Democrats rallying to the GOP as the national Democratic party became increasingly associated with not just legal equality for African Americans, but with Affirmative Action and IRS threats to tax private schools created to preserve segregation in education. Images of violence, chaos, rising crime rates, and riots became associated with Democratic politics in the southern mind, allowing Nixon and other Republicans to use the language of law and order as code for racial issues, drawing even more Democrats, North and South, to vote for Republican candidates.

The issue of race, or at least the southern incarnation of the race issue, does not wholly account for the shift of southerners from the Democratic party to the GOP. Earle and Merle Black are joined by Joseph Crespino, Matthew Lassiter, Kevin Kruse, and Thomas Segrue, in this discussion. They argue that the rise of the suburbs played an important role in changing the allegiances of southern Democrats, just as they changed the rest of the nation. Demographic changes in the South were an important part of this process. Black voters, who supported the changes in the Democratic party's focus on civil rights, left the South in high numbers, with five million African Americans moving North and West between 1940 and 1970. The growth of industry and military bases in the South drew northerners to relocate to the South, further boosting the GOP, which did best in the fastest growing cities. In the 1952, 1956, and 1960 elections, Virginia, Florida, and Georgia voted for Republican candidates. Eisenhower was the second President in U.S. history to get a plurality of southern votes. Many of the South's new residents were already Republicans, explaining their voting patterns in those elections.

The politics and demographics of the suburbs reinforced segregation and resistance to forced change. FHA loans and VA loans were only available for segregated neighborhoods. Economic factors based on low taxes and avoidance of crime typical of suburban life also led to a southern switch to the GOP according to Lassiter and Kruse. By 1970, according to Lassiter, southerners preferred moderate language and candidates who used seemingly moderate language, as can be seen by centrist-Democratic candidates who defeated race-baiting Republicans. Rather than massive resistance, Southerners opted to oppose busing as unfair because they had bough houses near good schools on purpose. They opposed busing as southern suburbanites, not as southern racists. Nixon commercials in the South during the 1968 election played on this theme, emphasizing crime, busing, and the Supreme Court. All were issues coded as focusing on race since 1954, but also coding to issues most important to suburbanites in both the North and the South.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Origins of the Civil Rights Movement

As with all great social movements, the Civil Rights movement that peaked in the 1960s built on much earlier traditions of African American organization, protest, and legal action.  Although it did not begin to make dramatic impacts on American society until the 1930s and 1940s, the origins of the Civil Rights movement can be traced back to the 1880s.  The modern Civil Rights movement should be traced from African American legal actions during World War II.

What eventually developed into the modern Civil Rights movement began even before the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v Ferguson, which established the principle of separate but equal.  Clarissa Myrick-Harris argues that the Civil Rights movement began with the 1881 Washerwomen’s Strike in Atlanta, in which black laundresses organized a strike to get better wages and more autonomy in their working conditions.  The washerwomen drew financial and moral support from Atlanta’s churches and fraternal organizations, setting a pattern that would hold true for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  1881 was an important for African American efforts to protect their rights in Atlanta, as the city’s black residents organized for collective self-defense to protect themselves from police brutality and false arrest.  In one such occurrence, African American men and women gathered to protect James Burke when he was arrested for allegedly pushing a white woman from a sidewalk.  Not only did his mother brandish a gun at white authorities, but also the crowd followed the police to the jail to ensure that Burke was safe.

From 1890-1910 black Atlantans reacted by the rash of lynching in and around the city by holding mass rallies and launching petition drives to get police protection.  They failed to produce significant results, but provided the model of nonviolent direct action that was successfully used during the 1950s and 1960s to finally take concrete steps toward equality.  This episode of black protest also drove Atlanta University professor W. E. B. Du Bois to become a civil rights activist.

After the 1906 Atlanta riot, black and white city leaders formed coalitions to provide a fa├žade of peace and civility for the city.  African American activists allied with moderate politicians to use their limited electoral power to oust conservative from city government. Although others argued that the need for civility worked against progress in civil rights in other areas of the South, Myrick-Harris believes that the desire to keep the peace in Atlanta allowed it to become the home bases for organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Students’ Nonviolent Coordinating Committee a few decades later.

Glenda Gilmore also seems to argue for a very early periodization for the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement.  She argues that in North Carolina, African American men were successfully involved in North Carolina politics from 1890-1898.  The primary factor driving conservative white politicians to seek segregation and to limit their voting was due to the political participation and economic success of black men in the state, but also as a measure to limit the ambitions of white women.  Gilmore argues that the result of legal segregation in North Carolina was to force black women to act as ambassadors to the white community through their churches and civic organizations in an effort to gain a modicum of respect for their community.  As a result, black women helped to develop the organizations that would be so critical to the success of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 

While legal segregation from 1890-1954 may have delayed legal and political equality for African Americans, Darlene Clark Hine argues that it gave African Americans the time and space to gain dignity, develop positive self-images, and develop expertise because they were forced to develop parallel institutions.  Professional organizations gave blacks an arena to develop strategies of resistance.  This was especially true for lawyers, who had to learn how to survive in court rooms dominated by whites, and experience that Doctors and nurses did not undergo until the fought to desegregate War Department hospitals during World War II.

In what is probably the best argument for an earlier periodization of the Civil Rights Movement, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall believes that the Civil Rights Movement developed during the 1930s as a result of the New Deal.  Hall contends that both the First and Second Great Migrations provided the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement, a process that was exacerbated by World War II and the vast social and economic changes that it brought.  In the North, African American men got stuck with the worst jobs, while black women could only get domestic work.  In the West, African Americans had to fight to prevent Jim Crow-style restrictions on their freedom from following them from the South.  In addition to these issues, African Americans faced racism in social welfare and New Deal programs.

To fight these problems, Hall argues that a social movement of labor, civil rights activists, progressives, and black and white radicals developed.  The Communist Party of the USA was also associated with this movement, forming a “Black Popular Front”.  This black-labor-left coalition tried to extend New Deal policies to cover African Americans.  In order to do this, southern Democrats had to be forced out of Congress, but to gain that, the franchise had to be returned to the South’s blacks and poor whites.  The Double V campaign was one incarnation of this struggle, which combined millions of workers and returning African American veterans that provided a powerful moral, moral rights-consciousness that was used later to pursue real gains.

National liberation movements that developed during the 1940s and the horror of the Holocaust provided these Civil Rights activist even firmer moral ground to stand on.  Hall argues that the Allwright v Smith decision of 1944, desegregation of the military, outlawing racist housing covenants, and ending segregation of graduate education all developed out of this New Deal-era Civil Rights movement.

John Egerton also argues that the Civil Rights Movement started during the 1940s.  During the decade of the 1940s Mary McLeod Bethune was and outspoken and fearless opponent of the Ku Klux Klan and lynch mobs, even appearing on streets with a placard to protest lynching.  By the end of the decade, the NAACP had launched its assault on legal segregation in education and voting, culminating in the Allwright v Smith (1944) and Brown v Board of Education (1954) decisions by the Supreme Court.  Charles Zelden also seems to support this periodization through his discussions of the Allwright decision ending the white primary system.

As part of its system of Jim Crow legislation, Texas had enacted legislation implementing a primary system in which African Americans could not participate.  In the solid South, this meant that African Americans were effectively barred from really participating in the electoral process since the real decisions were made during the primaries.  Black Texans began their assault on the law during the 1920s, but gained little concrete success.  While the law creating the white primary was struck down in consecutive decisions in 1927 and 1932, the Democratic Party enacted its own internal rules preventing African Americans from participating in primaries.  Initial court challenges ended with rulings that as a private organization, the Democrats were entitled to enacting their own membership rules.

After significant turn-over in the Supreme Court, a second round of challenges to the white primary met with success when the justices ruled that Texas statutes related to primary elections made the Democratic Party significantly more than just a private organization like a club or fraternal organization.  The victory in Allwright v Smith did not provide equal voting rights for African Americans, but it represents a critical first step toward equality even before President Harry Truman integrated the armed forces in 1948, or the Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Aldon Morris also argues for a very specific periodization for the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement that places it earlier than might be traditionally recognized, contending that it began in 1953.  Morris also asserts, contrary to popular conceptions, that the Civil Rights movement was not a spontaneous and ad hoc proliferation of protest by African Americans, but an organized, collective form of protest that involved large groups of people in boycotts, meetings, and other disruptive, nonviolent tactics.  Segregation had forced blacks to develop their own organizations and close knit communities.  The churches were the dominant institution, and social networks connected individual churches, while ministers coordinated the mass movement.  By the time the Civil Rights Movement as a mass phenomenon developed, the NAACP was the dominant protest organization that was not a church.  Its court cases through the first half of the 20th century set the stage that developed leaders for the mass, public, phase of the Civil Rights movement.

The Civil Rights Movement, according the Morris, began with the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott, which showed the movement’s leaders that it needed large scale planning and organization.  In Baton Rouge, the boycott was mobilized through the churches by Reverend T. J. Jemison, and differed from the NAACP’s tactics because it was a mass protest that focused on direct action, not a legal one.  This is the form of protest that spread across the South to organizations that planned protests and devised the tactics that led to the December 1955 Montgomery bus boycott that launched Martin Luther King as the Civil Rights Movement’s charismatic leader.

The Civil Rights Movement hit its next major signpost in Oklahoma at a 1958 lunch counter sit-in, the precursor to the much more famous Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in of 1960.  That sit-in spawned hundreds of sit-ins in 70 southern cities.  The sit-ins developed into a mass movement of their own, which strengthened the organizational base of the larger Civil Rights movement, and led to the development of SNCC and the white student protests of the 1960s.


Looking at the three major possible time periods to place the beginnings of the modern Civil Rights movement, it is relatively easy to dismiss arguments for the early time period of the 1880s and 1890s.  Developments at that time period were undoubtedly important for setting the groundwork that allowed African Americans to develop the skills and organizations they needed to successfully demand their legal and political rights in the 1950s and the 1960s.  It is significantly more difficult to make a choice between the arguments Jacqueline Dowd Hall and John Egerton make for a start to the Civil Rights movement during the 1930s and 1940s, and the later periods argued by Aldon Morris and others.  Morris especially makes a persuasive argument for placing the beginnings of the mass Civil Rights Movement in 1953 with the Baton Rouge bus boycott.  The real question is whether that either the Baton Rouge or Montgomery bus boycotts could develop without the progress made earlier.  Hall and Egerton’s argument for a black-liberal-left coalition that began to advocate for changes during the Roosevelt administration is quite persuasive.  If not for those advocates, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party adds its civil rights plank in 1948 or that President Truman integrates the armed forces by executive order in 1948.  Those events provided the inspiration for the bus boycotts and sit-ins of 1953-1960.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Wasn't There a Worker's Revolution in the United States after 1880?

Marx and Engels never quite figured out why the United States didn't have a serious worker revolt, but they suspected that the United States' lack of a feudal experience and early adoption of political democracy for large sections of society prevented the development of class consciousness. Think about it: although colonial America maintained property requirements for voting, they were low enough that all free, white males could aspire to political participation even before independence. By the 1820s, Jacksonian democratic ideals essentially enfranchised free white men across the country. That meant that despite the rhetoric of the pre-Revolutionary years that England sought to turn colonists into political slaves, most white Americans had no experience of being downtrodden without some hope of social and economic mobility.

Others also argued against the development of class-based politics in the United States. As early as 1867, E. L. Godkin argued that workers were not the same in America as they were in Europe where laborers were members of an order in society that was arrayed in conflict with higher economic classes. Eric Foner argued that In the United States, workers simply wanted better wages or working conditions. The social line between capital and labor was faintly drawn, so that successful laborers could hope to become employers themselves.

David Montgomery argues that while American workers had intense conflicts with employers, they didn't wrap those conflicts in class consciousness. Even when a revolutionary ideology did appear, it focused on control of the work place rather than political change. Despite this, in the first fifteen years of the 20th century, Americans elected more socialists than the English did. So despite the distance between worker objectives and politicos, socialists were successful in elections. One significant issue was that American capitalism simply worked better for workers, who had better wages, housing, and diet than their European counterparts. Americans also enjoyed more social and geographic mobility, which meant they could go West and fame if they grew weary of factory work and city life. This extension of Turner's frontier thesis rendered socialism mostly irrelevant in American politics.

Another thesis, proposed by Louis Hartz, argued that American life was inherently hostile to revolutionary ideologies. harts claimed that Americans never had to fight a revolution simply in order to gain political equality - they took it for granted because it had existed before the American revolution. In effect, the United States had only retained the bourgeois portion of the European social order, not the aristocratic, religious, or peasant portions. That simple fact meant that Americans simply had no need for radical revolutionary further because we were already equal in the eyes of the law - if you ignored the status of African Americans and women, that is. Aileen Kraditor extended Hartz's theses to include recent immigrants. She argued that even immigrants felt no great need for political change. In part this was because they created their own ethnic enclaves that allowed so much self-sufficiency that they had no real need for radical political change. Radicals trying to organize immigrant communities were most often seen as misfits who had rejected their own cultures.

Access to voting was the key to preventing radical revolutions in the United States after 1880, accordion got Selig Perlman and Alan Dawley. The mere act of being able to go to the polls and cast a ballot kept class consciousness from becoming a significant political issue. Perlman contends that unlike the situation in England, Americans gained the right to vote before their Industrial Revolution, meaning that they never had the conception of being anything other than full citizens. Taking a different tack on the issue, Dawley argued that not only did the franchise give workers a vested interest in the existing social order, but that political parties were quite adept at absorbing worker demands in their party platforms, as evidenced by the Democrats co-option of Populist Party agenda items in the 1890s and some Republican acceptance of Progressive political goals under Theodore Roosevelt and Taft.

The nature of workers organizations during the 1880s also worked against revolutionary change. In 1878 the Knights of Labor emerged as an group that tried to organize workers regardless of skill, gender, ethnicity, race, or ideology. Twenty percent of their membership were women, and 95,000 were African American. The Knights advocated worker democracy that included public ownership of railroads, an income tax, equal pay for women, and the abolition of child labor. They preferred boycotts and negotiation, but were most famous for the 1885 strike against the railroads. Samuel Gompers' new American Federation of Labor competed with the Knights for members, but focused on skilled workers, and using strikes as a tool to gain better working conditions.

The groups came together to advocate for the eight-hour work day as part of a nationwide strike on May 1, 1886, with the leaders of both the Knights of Labor and the AFL in Chicago. When strikers and scabs fought on May 3rd outside the McCormick Reaper works, the real trouble began. A rally of angry radicals was scheduled for May4th, but drew only 3,000 people. As the crowd dwindled, a bomb was thrown, leading Chicago police to shoot into the crowd. News of what became called the "Haymarket Riot" repulsed the nation, turning it against unions, workers, anarchists, and strikes. The eight-hour day movement died, the Knights of Labor collapsed, and the AFL focused on incremental economic improvements for its skilled workers.

The lack of a revolution in the 1930s is perhaps easier to explain. A significant factor was the splintering of the American socialist and communist parties after World War I. American socialists did not support World War I, unlike European socialists, which cost it many native-born workers and intellectuals. Daniel Bell argued that the revolutionary parties failed to gain support because they were obsessed with ideological purity rather than political success, leading them to oppose the war. In addition to these weaknesses, Paul Buhle argued that the party didn't bring in new immigrants and focused on elections rather than their issues. The final straw during the 1920s, according to Eric Foner, was that opposition to the war opened American socialists to prosecution under the Espionage and Sedition Acts.

Workers' experiences with 1920s welfare capitalism may have also helped ward of revolution in the United States. Lizbeth Cohen argued that the Depression did not make workers anti capitalist after the paternalism of the 1920s. What workers desired was "moral capitalism" that provided workers the security and compensation they deserved. Participation in wars and voting led workers to believe that they were entitled to state support and protection from the excesses of business. Unfortunately, welfare capitalism largely disappeared with the onset of the Great Depression - businesses no longer saw a need to keep workers so happy, and many could not afford the expense of providing housing and other services to their workers.

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election in 1932, the United States would seem ripe for a revolution, but faith in FDR's attempts at reforms should get credit for American political stability during the Great Depression. FDR was able to absorb some labor militancy in the New Deal and led the Democratic party to develop a broad coalition that included Communists. James Weinstein argued that the Communists saw themselves as the left wing of the New Deal ruling coalition. As long as the goals of socialism and nationalism were the same, the Communists prospered. Their influence waned as those two sets of goals diverged.