Changing of the guard
When I was growing up, our two major political parties were nothing like they are today. Most of who we are we learn from our family and I was no different. They were very active politically so I became enamored with politics too and at a very early age. I remember how political persuasions were in the 1950s. As most of you know, I grew up in Arkansas, a solidly Democrat state that hadn't voted for a Republican for President in over a hundred years. It was a part of the solid South, made up of all the southern states who were just as Democrat as Arkansas was. Republican states could be found in the north and the northeast, including Democrat bastions today like New York and Massachusetts and were led by progressive politicians like Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney.
Yes, the term 'progressive' was often applied to Republican thinkers back in those days because there weren't many progressive Democrats. Democrats feared too much federal control and therefore loudly and consistently defended the concept of states' rights; now a bedrock Republican principle. Democrats also tended to be strict segregationists while Republicans defended individual freedoms and racial equality, another concept that has been turned on its head.
The Republicans adopted their political philosophy back in the mid 1800s as they evolved from the Whig party. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was so much in favor of equal rights that he waged the Civil War as President that resulted in slaves being freed and later given Constitutional protections through the Emancipation Proclamation. That's when the South revolted and became aligned almost universally with the Democrat party and remained that way for a hundred years, through Dwight Eisenhower's presidency which ran from 1952 to 1960.
But things began changing in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy and the increasing militancy of the black population. Although blacks had been free for 100 years, the promises of the Emancipation Proclamation were not being lived up to and so we had literally two Americas, one white and one black. The blacks were not prepared to live under that duality any longer and so sit-ins, marches and protests began, primarily in the south, for full and equal protection under the law and local and state law enforcement responded forcefully and often brutally, which only made the situation worse.
President Kennedy, although he personally didn't want to get involved in what he saw as a states' rights issue, felt compelled to do so because of the violence and began using the power of his office to force integration on a section of the country who had never embraced it. When he was assassinated in 1963, his Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, became President and helped place the final nail in the segregation coffin by spearheading the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Voting Rights Amendment, which gave blacks the vote. The latter was passed over the strenuous objections of major Democratic officials including Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and Senator Al Gore, Sr. of Tennessee. The voting rights bill passed because of almost universal support from the Republican Party, not the Democrats.
Johnson knew he would lose the south by pushing this bill through Congress and not only did he lose Congress, it is still lost because now the South votes almost exclusively Republican. In fact, one of the few bright spots for the Republicans in the 1964 presidential election was that even though Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide, Goldwater campaigned against the Voting Rights Act and because he did he carried five southern states which had never been done before at the presidential level and in doing so, was the catalyst for Richard Nixon's southern strategy when he ran for President four years later. That strategy, in large part, led the major parties to changing into who they are today.
I grew up with these old Democrat concepts and didn't challenge them at the time because not only did I not know any better, everyone I came into contact with believed the same way. When I was a student at the University of Arkansas, I was named the state youth coordinator for a man running for governor who was widely known as being a strict segregationist. He was beaten in that election by a former state Supreme Court judge who was even more of a segregationist. And, of course, everyone remembers President Eisenhower federalizing the National Guard to protect the first black students to attend an integrated public school in Arkansas under the strenuous objections of then governor Orval E. Faubus.
So that's how politics have changed in my lifetime. They're on their head and upside down from the way they were when I was growing up.
Things sure aren't the way they used to be!