Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Historical Revisionism and the GOP

Summary: Has the GOP revised history on their new website for their own political gain with minorities and women? Did they go too far or are we going to see a new GOP?

The Republican National Committee launched their new website last night - Politico today reports that the launching was riddled with problems, in part due to unexpected traffic.

But beyond the flashy new tools available to Republican activists - including a variety of New-Media devices - there was one curious page on the new website titled “Republican Accomplishments.”

The page lists 37 accomplishments by the GOP since 1860. Of these, an incredible 23 have to due with the rights and acceptance of women and minorities in the political realm.

Among their claims to fame:

• The first Hispanic Governor was a Republican
• Republicans Freed the Slaves
• The First African-American Senator was a Republican
• Republicans Outlawed the Ku Klux Klan
• A Republican Wrote the 19th Amendment
• First Women Mayors in the United States
• A Republican President Appointed the First Jewish Cabinet Secretary
• Republicans Passed the Indian Citizenship Act
• The First Asian-American Senator was a Republican
• A Republican Wrote the Brown v. Board of Education Decision

In fact, following the Brown decision, President Eisenhower (a Republican) was to have said that his nomination of Chief Justice Earl Warren was the greatest mistake of his presidency. That fact - for obvious reasons - was ignored.

And the “accomplishments” in the Civil Rights Era seem to get even more convoluted. Okay, it might not be outright Revisionism (a term often used to explain Holocaust denial) but the claims are certainly misleading.

For example, they brag about Republican involvement in the 1957 Civil Rights Act as such:

“During the five terms of the FDR and Truman presidencies, the Democrats did not propose any civil rights legislation. President Eisenhower, in contrast, asked his Attorney General to write the first federal civil rights legislation since the Republican Party’s 1875 Civil Rights Act.

Many Democrats in the Senate filibustered the bill, but strong Republican support ensured passage. The new law established a Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department and authorized the Attorney General to request injunctions against any attempt to deny someone’s right to vote. The GOP improved upon this landmark legislation with the 1960 Civil Rights Act.”

Of course, many of the Democrats who opposed the legislation were southerners (or “Dixiecrats”) who were often at odds with their fellow party members in the north and would later leave the Democratic Party for the GOP. The most notable example is Sen. Strom Thurmond, who spoke an astounding 24 hours alone in an effort to filibuster the 1957 bill and became a Republican in 1964.

This picking-and-choosing of facts is not exactly atypical of politics, but the extent to which it is used here seems almost unprecedented.

But the way the GOP is trying to focus on their accomplishments of integration and acceptance of women and minorities is not without reason. This is part of the vision of RNC Chairman Michael Steele (a minority himself) for a “new GOP.”

Ultimately, however, the Republican Party cannot hope for more women and minority support by touting their historical achievements, they must make some today. After all, parties do not get elected, individual candidates do. And can Chris Christie or Bob McDonnell really take credit for freeing the slaves?

Meanwhile, the Republican caucuses in Congress opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - which would help limit gender discrimination in pay - and almost opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act just a few years ago.

Despite what they think a new website will do to bring in support from the demographics they are not strong with, actions still speak louder than words.

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