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Republicans at the forefront of civil rights

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted July 5, 2004

It is always amazing to me how history gets rewritten to suit those doing the writing. During the Reagan years the media and the liberals used the identical words about Ronald Reagan that they now use about George Bush. When our 40th President died and there was that immediate outpouring of support for him, suddenly the media implied that they too loved Reagan. There were a couple of exceptions but young people who were not aware of things during the Reagan Presidency could not have guessed that there was hostility on the part of the fifth estate to Reagan from watching the week of State Funeral coverage. The media did a hasty re-write as coverage unfolded. They saw, indeed felt, the outpouring of sentiment for Reagan and they didn't want to be that far out of sync with their viewers.

Likewise, the media last week did a rewrite on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964. To the vast majority of Americans who weren't politically aware back then or who were born since that event, you would think that President Kennedy was the leader who initiated that legislation. Not true.

Prior to 1936, those Blacks who could vote generally supported Republican Presidential candidates. The GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln, after all. Even Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal failed to completely break the bond between Blacks and the GOP. Ike received strong support from Black voters in 1952 and 1956. Then came the 1960 election. John F. Kennedy, no strong civil rights crusader before and even during most of his presidency, did make a special and emotional appeal to the Black community by telephoning Coretta Scott King after her husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King, had been jailed. It worked, helping him to carry a majority of black votes.

Republicans in the 87th Congress were determined to get the Black vote back in the GOP column. It was they, under the leadership of Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen (R-Il.), who drafted a very extensive Civil Rights Bill. They didn't have the votes to pass the bill and there were some in the Republican Party, such as Sen. Karl Mundt (R-SD), who opposed it.

Still, word was out in the Black community that the Republicans were looking after them. President Kennedy, who contrary to current mythology was not a popular President, worried that the Black vote might return to the GOP. In a close re-election, which he anticipated would be the case, that would be fatal to his chances. So he quickly introduced an alternative bill that some analysts at the time said was not as potent as the Republican bill. No doubt that was an effort to win over some Democrats who were not enthusiastic about the legislation.

It is easy to forget, with the disciplined leftwing Democrat caucus in the current Senate in the 108th Congress, that not only were there Southern Democrats back then who opposed the kind of legislation that Kennedy proposed but such Northerners as Frank Lausche (D-OH.), Alan Bible (D-NV), and Mike Monroney (D-OK), were not enthusiastic about it either.

Then President Kennedy was killed. Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, used the Kennedy death to push for the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in his name.

That did bring in a few more Democrats but not nearly enough to break a filibuster - which back then required only 26 Senators to be successful. It was the Republicans, with Dirksen leading the charge, who helped to vote cloture, end the filibuster and pass the bill. Without the help of Republicans, the Omnibus Civil Rights Bill would have been in the ashbin of history.

Indeed, it was the Republicans who helped break the back of the Southern filibuster of the Civil Rights Bill of 1957.

There was no mention of the Republican role in the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in any of the coverage I heard or saw on this issue. Nothing. Not a single mention.

Everett Dirksen's role in helping to pass the bill was highly controversial in is own party. There was unhappiness that he would bail out the Democrats, especially at a time when Barry Goldwater's effort was beginning to gain momentum. (Goldwater voted against the bill). Dirksen defended his position saying, "When it comes to the rights of others, I don't play politics. It is the right thing to do."

Goldwater's argument against the legislation had nothing to do with race. He opposed expanding the role of the Federal government in such matters. That was a legitimate, albeit losing, argument.

But most of those who opposed the Civil Rights legislation did so because of the racial question. White Southerners knew their lives would never be the same if the bill passed. They were correct.

It is absolutely true that this was landmark legislation. It helped Blacks immensely. (Although to hear some of their leadership talk about things you would think Blacks still had no rights because, they contend, America is a deeply racist country.)

The politically correct view of this issue is that the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was the product of liberal Democrats exclusively. After all, only liberal Democrats supposedly care about the Black community anyway.

I'm not permitted to comment on any of this, under the regimen of political correctness, since I am not a Black and I am not a liberal.

Accordingly you do not hear Republicans trying to tell the truth. And the media has so re-written what happened back then that when I mentioned the correct version not long ago, speaking to college students, I was booed.

Apparently, we need a political Bill Cosby. Cosby is telling the truth about the current conditions inside the Black community. Were I to say what he has said, I would be labeled as a hopeless racist and my views would be totally dismissed.

Blacks such as Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell and Ward Connerly are trying to explain to their brothers why their marriage to the Democrats is not in their interest. But they have long ago been dismissed as Uncle Toms. At some point, and I may not live long enough to see this, a respected Black political leader will break ranks and tell the truth.

Until then the Republicans should continue to reach out to the Black community. President Bush has more high-level Blacks in his Administration than any President in history, yet his ratings in that community are worse than any President in history. Bush received 14 per cent of the Black vote in 2000. It appears that he may only receive half of that in 2004.

When this Black spokesman of truth does emerge, I hope he does more than set the record straight about the Civil Rights legislation. I hope he lets Blacks know who it is that really wants to help the Black community; who wants to provide opportunity, not just hand outs; and who wants to help restore the Black family, without which there never ever will be stability or success.

Cosby should be given a medal for telling the truth and for not backing down. Perhaps he should be encouraged to go into politics.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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