History begs to differ on Democratic view of parties tolerance
At last week’s Democratic convention, two high-profile DFLers–Walter Mondale and Judi Dutcher–portrayed the Democratic Party as a champion of tolerance and open-mindedness. They denounced the Republican Party, by contrast, as the tool of intolerant, narrow-minded bigots, who ruthlessly attempt to suppress dissenting views within their own ranks.
What evidence did Mondale and Dutcher offer for these serious charges? Thirty-five years ago, Mondale informed us, the Republican Party–surrendering to the call of bigots–had attempted to block the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fortunately, said Mondale, the Democratic Party had courageously forced the legislation through, thereby inaugurating “The proudest moment in our party history and in our nation’s history.”
Dutcher took a different, more personal tack. Elected as Minnesota state auditor in 1994 on the Republican ticket, she recently became a Democrat. Painting herself as a woman scorned, Dutcher told a national TV audience that– despite her “moderate, mainstream values”–she had been silenced by Republican Party extremists and eventually hounded from the party altogether. She thanked her newfound Democratic allies, by contrast, for welcoming her with open arms.
Are Mondale and Dutcher right? Were Democrats really the midwives of America’s greatest civil rights legislation? Was Dutcher actually silenced and suppressed by fellow Republicans? Or are they both rewriting history to advance their own agendas?
The Star Tribune described Mondale’s speech to Minnesota convention delegates as a “scolding,” replete with harsh denunciations of Republican tactics” “on race. Mondale attributed passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Democrats, who had decided that “dithering on the question of decency in our country” had to stop. The Democratic Party, he stated, had battled to pass the legislation in the face of determined Republican resistance. However, Democrats had paid–and continue to pay–a heavy price for this act of conscience. Republicans “have not yet come to terms” with the Civil Rights Act’s passage, said Mondale. They “still benefit from the rebound,” cynically appealing to enduring racist instincts in the electorate. (Mondale didn’t actually use the “r” word, but repeatedly implied it.)
Tut, tut, Mr. Mondale, surely you know better. The truth is precisely the opposite. It is the Republican Party that overwhelmingly supported passage of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, while an intransigent block of Democrats did all they could to stop it.
The numbers tell the story. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 came to a vote after a 57-day filibuster engineered by Southern Democrats among them Sen. Al Gore Sr. father of the current Democratic presidential nominee. (Gore refused to vote to end the filibuster despite a personal plea from President Lyndon Johnson.) In the face of serious Democratic opposition, only strong Republican support could end the filibuster and ensure that the bill became law.
When the final congressional vote was tallied, Republican support exceeded Democratic support by a substantial margin. Eighty percent of House Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act, but only 63 percent of Democrats. Eighty-two percent of Senate Republicans voted yea, while only 69 percent of Democrats did so.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 played out in a similar fashion. Eighty-five percent of House Republicans voted for the bill, compared with 80 percent of Democrats. In the Senate, the margin was greater: 97 percent of Republicans vs. 74 percent of Democrats.
The vote on these two bills followed a pattern set much earlier. In the 26 major civil rights votes between 1933 and 1964, a majority of Democrats opposed the legislation over 80 percent of the time, while a Republican majority favored it over 96 percent of the time.
So much for Mondale’s fanciful tale. Is Judi Dutcher’s more credible? I fear not.
Dutcher told the Democratic convention that, when she ran for auditor in 1994, I thought I would be able to express my opinions within the Republican Party.” But she discovered, she said, that she was wrong. “As a moderate, prochoice woman, I was pushed aside while the voices of extremists were allowed to drown out alternative points of view.”
The facts are very different. The Republican Party invited Dutcher to run for auditor in 1994, despite the fact that her views departed from the party-platform in several important respects. Subsequently, the party enthusiastically supported her successful campaign. In 1998–despite Dutcher’s strong pro-abortion stance, which rankled many delegates–the state Republican convention unanimously endorsed her, and the party again gave her campaign full support. In 1999, party officials invited Dutcher to address the state convention. If this amounts to “drowning out” her point of view, Dutcher must have high standards indeed.
Open-mindedness of this kind is not limited to Minnesota Republicans. At the Republican National Convention several weeks ago, a similar spirit was on display. On Monday night, the featured speaker was Colin Powell, who not only supports abortion rights, but also champions affirmative action–positions the party platform rejects. Millions heard Powell chastise Republicans on the subject of racial preferences, as news commentators chortled. Later, Powell reported that when he had earlier warned George W. Bush of his plans to plug affirmative action, Bush had said, “Please do.”
Has the Democratic Party exhibited tolerance like this at its recent conventions?
Not by a long shot. When Democrats gather, prolife Democrats (among others) are, to put it mildly, personae non gratae. In 1992, for example, Bob Casey, Pennsylvania’s prolife governor, was barred from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. In a snub at Casey, a prochoice Republican–who had supported his opponent’s gubernatorial campaign–addressed delegates instead. This year, convention organizers at last allowed a tribute to Casey: Unfortunately, he had to die first. Casey’s sons were allowed to present a brief memorial, but it was scheduled when few delegates were in the hall, and TV cameras were dark.
You say your new party tolerates divergent views, Ms. Dutcher? Then perhaps at your next convention, I’ll see a black Democrat like New York’s Floyd Flake step up to the podium. Perhaps he’ll ask delegates why they allow inner-city children to flounder in failing schools, when they could endorse giving these kids a shot at a real education in a private school of their choice. I don’t think, though, that I’ll hold my breath.
— Katherine Kersten is a director of the Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis.