Reclaiming Lincoln - by Greer Clem
Who ever said a Twitter spat couldn't lead to a great article? Not me, because that's exactly the driving force behind this piece. Earlier today, a feisty Twitter foe assailed my point that the Republicans can make no claim to being the party of Lincoln because the parties as they exist today are entirely different. Though modern Republicans cling to the Lincoln legacy like the last vestiges of their former dignity, the Republican party of the 1800s is not the same as today's GOP. The history of our two-party system may provide those modern Republicans suffering from moral cowardice a pillar to hide behind but it in no way excuses or supports the Republican party of today.
My Tweet brawl began after I noted that, after the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870, it took almost another century until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 actually gave all African Americans the right to vote. My opponent countered that the 15th Amendment was passed by Senate Republicans, with 0 Senate Democrats and 0 House Democrats supporting. I then had to remind my new friend that, once again, the Republican party of 1870 was the party of the Union, the Lincoln party and, wait for it, the liberal party. That's right, southern Democrats were remnants of the confederacy.
Undeterred, my foe then said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 also didn't have large Democratic support. For reference, the Voting Rights Act passed in the House with 78% of Democrats backing it and 82% of Republicans. In the Senate, the measure had 73% of Democrats supporting and 94% of Republicans. Yes, my eager friend, I countered, that's true. But the Democratic "nay" votes in the House and Senate came from southern Democrats who were vestiges of the Democratic party of the 19th century, a.k.a conservatives. Still, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was in large part championed by a new wave of Democrats, including Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, both advocates of civil rights issues and individuals who would begin to shape the party as it exists today. However, in the 60s, the Democratic party was still evolving, as was the Republican party. In fact, the large Republican support given to the Voting Rights Act came from those members of Congress who were vestiges of the former Republican party, a.k.a. the Lincoln party a.k.a. the liberal party. This is the same reason most African Americans registered to vote before 1965 were registered Republicans: because that was the liberal party that had championed their right to vote in the first place.
Back and forth we went until I wanted to reach through the computer screen and look into the eyes of my new friend. "I know it's hard to wrap one's head around," I would say to him, "but things change." I had to remind him once again that I was not there to defend the entire history of the Democratic party or every Democrat who has ever held office. I just cannot stand those Republicans who act as though they are champions of a better America because of a history that doesn't even apply to them. If civil rights and equal rights are the bedrock of your political creed and you're still rocking a MAGA hat, you need to go back to the history books. If you're proud that Lincoln was an icon of your party, jump ship, because that party is blue now. Democrats, myself included, should continue to work to create a party that advocates for the right of every single American, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, history, or beliefs. We aren't perfect and we should look at our past to remind ourselves to work for a better future. Republicans could start doing the same by revisiting their party's history.