Wrong on Race
WRONG ON RACE: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S BURIED PAST
By Bruce Bartlett
I read Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past in typescript some months ago. I was tempted to blog about it then, but out of authorial comity decided to wait until the published version was available for everyone to read.
I’ve been chomping at the bit ever since.
Bartlett’s book argues two main themes, one that conservatives and Republicans will enjoy — and another that they may find more challenging.
The enjoyable theme is Bartlett’s gleeful partisan slagging of the horrible racial history of the Democratic party from ancient times to modern. Specialists in American history may know much of this story, but probably the typical reader does not. From Thomas Jefferson to George Wallace, the Democratic party was the party that defended slavery, Jim Crow, Ku Kluxery, and “massive resistance.” As Bartlett searchingly asks at one point: If the Republican party is to bear responsibility for Joe McCarthy through all time, why doesn’t the Democratic party have to bear responsibility for Theodore Bilbo?
Now comes the challenging theme. Bartlett relates his history not just to score partisan points (although of course those points are scored). He believes that Republicans and African Americans are going to need each other: The GOP, because its immigration restrictionist stance will cost it Latino votes; African Americans, because the Democrats will never take their demands seriously so long as it can take their votes for granted.
How do blacks and Republicans find each other? Bartlett insists that Republicans must begin by absorbing and keeping at the front of their consciousness America’s history of racial wrong. Republicans often wonder: Black Americans are in many ways highly socially conservative. They are more religious than other Americans, more likely to serve in the military. Increasing numbers have attained substantial prosperity. So why won’t they vote for us? Bartlett’s message is that the winning of African American votes begins with appreciation and recognition of African Americans’ history of subordination and oppression. Until Republicans develop — and express! — real feeling for what this country did to its black citizens, blacks can have no appreciation for Republicans. He argues that Republicans should accept symbolic forms of reparation for slavery — the under construction National Slavery Museum in Virginia being one, but still others being necessary.
Until conservatives and Republicans, who are of course predominantly non-African American, can sincerely convey that what was done to black people in this country is as real to us as it is to them … a relationship that is needed by both cannot begin to develop.
This is a message deeper and more important than any partisan history — and distinguishes Wrong on Race as a book of political immediacy and moral depth.