I realize that Lincoln was the first Obama and that reconstruction was terrible (even though I’ve found it’s very hard to find specific examples). I realize the second wave Klan was more of an anti-Catholic pyramid scheme than a white power MS-13. I even think a lot of the Jim Crow laws were a necessary evil, given that I’ve lived in black-majority Jackson, Mississippi for a year and a half during my ROK days and saw just what black power looks like. I will even admit that some of FDR’s farming programs were really good for impoverished families like Johnny Cash’s.
All of that being said, I’m embarrassed that the south supported FDR and Carter and wavered on Nixon (contrary to the southern strategy myth). It wasn’t until Reagan that the south went hardline Republican, partly because that’s when evangelical Christians became interested in politics, and even then Bill Clinton did very decent in the south. The last three Democrat presidents before Obama were all southerners. It’s terrible.
The conservative-liberal spectrum didn’t really exist until the 1960s, so it’s hard to understand what the difference between Republicans and Democrats were. Nixon and Kennedy in the 1960 race were very similar to each other, Eisenhower didn’t have a political party until he decided to run, and Teddy Roosevelt (a god among men) could have fit into either party and eventually left the Republicans to form his own Bull Moose party.
It’s important to realize that often our individual views of history are somewhat skewed, often because the information available is very difficult to cipher through and doesn’t answer the questions we have. So as I understand it, this is how the Republicans and Democrats were for the first three-quarters of the last century and perhaps a little before: Basically the same as they are today.
The Democrats were a big tent party that had a lot of groups that had nothing in common. Back then it was racists and beatniks. Today it’s transgenders and blacks. Like today, they got Robin Hood votes by giving people free stuff in the name of compassion. Like today, they tried to strong-arm the economy to do what they wanted. Like today, they tried to restructure society and engineer race relations.
The Republicans weren’t quit libertarian, but they generally supported a hands-off approach. They generally didn’t do racial pandering. They thought the economy should be allowed to fix itself, even if a few presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and Bush Jr did otherwise. They tended to support law-and-order and letting society go on its natural flow.
Some people don’t understand how the Democrats used to be so racist and now are so … well, racist, but nominally oppose racism as its key policy platform. But it’s very simple.
Secularism has to explain humanity somehow. Are we who we are based upon how society makes us or by genetics? Today almost all of liberalism supports the nurture argument, but in the early 20th century, the trendy thinkers leaned very much in favor of genetics. Alabama may be backwards and deplorable, but as far as I know the state government never forcibly castrated anyone. You would be surprised the liberal states and countries who have disturbing eugenics experiments within the last few decades. (Yes, I realize North Carolina had several of those programs, but that’s the black sheep state in the south.)
Whether they choose nature or nurture, progressives are always trying to rewire society to create the perfect utopia.
A lot of early feminist heroes said some horrible things about black people. The idea of being not racist is only about a hundred years old. The old southern confederacy was racist because it was the 1800s and everyone everywhere ever was racist. The idea of not assuming certain things about a person when you meet them based upon their skin color was as literally unthinkable as the idea that most Muslims are pacifist feminists who follow the golden rule.
And yes, I realize William Jennings Bryan was a Democrat and a leading voice in fundamentalist Christianity. Remember that prohibition was a coalition of fundamentalist Christians and feminists. Moral preening isn’t unique to the secular leftwing.
The south was poor, and a lot of people were old enough to remember Lincoln and friends. Oddly the south has always been mostly anti-union, which is an otherwise strongly Democrat position. Again, it’s hard to understand the two parties without the liberal-conservative dichotomy, but I think what turned the south against the Democratic Party so much was abortion. I have met almost no one who thinks blacks should be forced to stay in certain parts of town, but even the liberal atheists I know are at least somewhat uncomfortable about abortion. This isn’t like New York where women openly brag about abortion and VD on Twitter.
My grandmother is a lifelong loyal Democrat and probably the only person in the country who genuinely wanted Hillary Clinton for president. She said there were a lot of hippies in Atlanta in the 1960s and that they were less like John Lennon and more like unwashed homeless people. She loved the early Beatles but hated them when they started playing decent music. So as much of a Democrat as she was, she still thought the counter-culture was terrible (despite her personal free love). It was kind of a weird schizophrenia in the Democratic Party, which by some miracle they managed to weave together into one seemingly cohesive ideology.
My grandfather on the same side of the family was also a lifelong Democrat who said Republicans were “narrow minded”. In 2008 he got drunk and told family members he wouldn’t vote for Obama because he didn’t want a black man in office. Unfortunately he died a few years before Trump came along, because it would have been very interesting to see how my grandfather would have viewed Trump.
Why did New York and California used to be strongly Republican? I have a theory. With the cultural shift in the 50s and 60s, California and New York became the trendy place for social progressives to migrate to. A lot of people left their boring midwestern towns to find free love in the big city. And even Staten Island and Orange County still usually vote Republican.
In the recent movie The Founder, about the origins of McDonald’s, there’s an interesting scene where Ray Kroc calls Dick McDonald a beatnik, and Dick yells, “I’ll have you know that I’m a card-carrying Republican!” I was surprised they put that line in, but I was very glad because it does a lot to set the movie in its time period. Dick McDonald is the good guy in the film. He’s kind of grumpy and austere, but he’s good to his employees and works hard to build a business from the ground up. And he is totally repulsed by the idea of voting Democrat, despite living in southern California. He doesn’t say that he’s merely a conservative but that he’s an outright Republican.
Why did big cities without a strong counter-culture like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit go so heavily Democrat? I’m not sure, but I have a theory. For one thing, a lot of blacks moved to large cities because of the factory jobs. These jobs created a union work culture, which of course goes well with the Democrats’ idea of a manufactured economy. Those cities also have a lot of Catholics, who tend to vote wherever the political center is. And I suppose when you have a lot of people living in a city, then you need tighter government control. But that’s just my guess.
Anyway, post-1800s, I wouldn’t have been a southern Democrat. I would have been a Herbert Hoover Republican. While I may have benefited from the New Deal, I still wouldn’t have supported FDR. I would have seen him for the dishonest communist he was. I wouldn’t have gone for Bryan’s fundamentalism. I wouldn’t have let Kennedy’s good looks or Carter’s genteel nature or Bill Clinton’s bad saxophone playing seduce me.