Beware the Party of Lincoln

Beware the Party of Lincoln

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This article originally appeared on ZNet.

Republicans, usually so fact-challenged in their hateful campaign against the Socialist/Racist/President from Another Planet Obama, got one thing right. The Republican Party really was the party of Lincoln who presumably freed the country of the vile institution of slavery. As they actively try to pass legislation to snatch the franchise from the grip of African American voters, send hard-working Hispanics packing, and advocate for shrinking government into the size of a privatized postage stamp, that seems hardly possible.

It is true that abolitionist Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, but the caveat is that pro-slavery secessionists were in the Democratic Party at the time.

So, sometime between the 1860s and 1936, the (Democratic) party of small government became the party of big government, and the (Republican) party of big government became rhetorically committed to curbing federal power.

Or as Salon Magazine put it:

Call him Frankenstein Delano Roosevelt. America’s only four-term president is the real, if inadvertent, founder of today’s Republican Party, not Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. Most of what seems puzzling about today’s GOP makes sense, once you realize that it is dominated by former Democrats like Rick Perry.

The Rick Perry Democrats began switching to the Republican Party when their own leaders became soft on civil rights. They became the Dixiecrats, the racist white segregationists of the 1940s.

The States' Rights Democratic Party (usually called the Dixiecrats) was a short-lived segregationist political party in the United States in 1948. It originated as a breakaway faction of the Democratic Party in 1948, determined to protect what they portrayed as the southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government…The States' Rights Democratic Party opposed racial integration and wanted to retain Jim Crow laws and white supremacy in the face of possible federal intervention. (See link.)

The Dixiecrats eventually folded back into the Democratic Party, but in the 1960s when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson began “giving stuff” to black people (like the Civil Rights Act of 1964,) segregationists jumped ship and went to the Republican Party where they could plot to “take their country back” under cover of states rights and small government rhetoric. This virulent and truculent political strain that fought for the Confederacy has never died. It has just metastacized as a flag-waving, Second Amendment faction of the Republican Party with enough power to overturn ‘60s civil rights gains.

But because it is no longer popular to be racist, Republicans claim legendary civil rights icons like Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass, as their own. They showed up at Howard University to lecture black students that they were not Republicans because they didn’t understand their history. At the same time they introduce Voter ID laws like the recent most draconian North Carolina legislation, to disenfranchise the African Americans that they love to lecture, but tend to insult and refuse to include. Recent electoral hijinks take us back to a time of Jim Crow laws that excluded black people from voting because they did not know the number of bubbles in a bar of soap.

Clearly racial animus has morphed, but we are not seeing a post-racial America, as the Trayvon Martin murder and George Zimmerman acquittal have made apparent. Studies show that since Obama was elected, racism has increased. In spite of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, an alarming number of whites believe that they suffer disenfranchisement as a result of gains for black people – a zero sum game. After Obama’s first inauguration, gun sales soared so that now police are running out of bullets because whites are arming themselves in such record numbers.

Americans watched Republican political Einstein, Karl Rove, unravel on national TV in 2012 when the numbers came in and the gang who couldn’t count straight lost the election. Unable to win a national contest by courting their extreme, heavily armed, and shrinking white male base, Republicans have pulled out the stops to derail anything coming out of the White House, including the most recent threat to block a spending bill and shut down the government altogether. With congressional debt ceiling terrorism to cripple America’s credit worthiness and other maneuvers to bring down this Administration, these political losers behave like the white men who can’t cope with losing their jobs, so they decide to shoot up the whole family and kill themselves.

The kooky behavior of a political party that seems like it’s on a suicide mission has to do with more than race. It has to do with economic insecurity and the growing divide between the rich and the poor, the evaporation of jobs sent overseas, the confluence of the browning of America coupled with the two-term election of an African American president, and an immigrant population with power to elect presidents -- all the ingredients that make distressed people turn, not against the Occupy, corporate "1 percenters," but against traditional and familiar bogeymen. It’s a Nazi Germany recipe for disaster.

The wacky obstructionism and utter meanness of the “Makers and Takers” Party of today only makes sense if you understand who they really are. As they try to roll back rights for women and people of color, these former Dixiecrats are not the party of Abraham Lincoln. The good news is that this lunatic fringe can no longer openly lynch people in the daylight of a Sunday picnic. But as the sun goes down on the Republican Party, the 21st century rope has become a shiny Frederick Douglass quote and a Martin Luther King platitude thrown out to lure us to a very old tree.

Auset Marian Lewis

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"5707","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"220","style":"width: 209px; height: 220px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"209"}}]]Auset Marian Lewis is a writer living in Baltimore.