“Let’s face it. Our ass is in a crack. We’re gonna have to let this nigger bill pass.” —Lyndon Johnson to Sen. John Stennis, 1957
The transformation of the Democratic Party from the party of racism and segregation to the party of civil rights is, according to historian Eric Rauchway, the central political arc of the 20th century. Rauchway is a left-wing historian, and what he means is that it is the central theme of progressive history about the twentieth century. Yet progressive history has become conventional wisdom, and it is that conventional wisdom I challenge in this article, excerpted from my new book Death of a Nation.
The progressive narrative begins by crediting President Lyndon Johnson almost single-handedly for passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This focus on LBJ is critical because progressives don’t want to admit that proportionately, more Republicans in Congress voted for those laws than Democrats. The main opposition to the civil rights movement didn’t come from the Republican Party; it came from the Democratic Party. These inconvenient truths are skipped through a singular focus on LBJ.
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