I have to admit: I’m confused. This week, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it didn’t happen fifty years ago this week. Johnson signed it into law on 2 July 1964. But 46 years ago today, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed, exactly a week after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. So it is, I suppose, a good week for remembrance, I’m just unclear about the timing.
During this week, I have heard a lot of chatter among liberals as to whether the law could be passed today. But I’ve found people surprisingly mute in their comments. No one wants to come right out and say what they know to be true. For their part, conservatives say of course they would pass it today. That’s the great thing about conservatives: they are always big supporters of long settled law. But when it comes to any new law that expands the rights of the weak (that is: anyone not already rich and powerful), they are against it.
So let me be clear. With all due respect to Jonathan Chait, the Republican Party’s electoral power is almost entirely dependent upon racism. If the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came up for a vote today, it would be filibustered by the Senate Republicans. And John Boehner would not give it a vote in the House. But I’ll go further. The modern Republican Party would find reasons for not supporting the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, and 1960. (At least Rand Paul will admit to being against the Civil Rights Act of 1875.)
The point here is not that modern Republicans are truly vile. It is that the conservative information system has caused Republican politics to become racist. This is because people who only ever talk to other conservatives eventually get around to thinking, “Hey, the real oppressed are straight white males!” So any policy that tries to address mistreatment of minority groups is unacceptable. For these conservatives, the issue is not about the minority groups but about the great hardship that is being placed on the white man. To them, doing nothing at all would be wrong; doing something for minorities is exactly the opposite of what we ought to be doing.
This is why the last few years have seen a big rise in the quasi-libertarian conservatives. These are people who pick and choose their libertarianism. They aren’t for marriage equality or drug legalization, but they are very much concerned about despotic governments that tax the rich. Thus, they have a plausible sounding argument to make against healthcare reform that has to do with not taxing the rich, even though the actual reason such ideology flies electorally is that it feeds the “oppressed white man and undeserving dark man” narrative.
So let’s not sit on our hands and pretend that Republicans of today would vote for what Republicans of the past did vote for. Racial resentment is the only tool the Republican Party has left. And they will continue to use it until we stop them.