Cain Turns History Upside Down

herman cainHerman Cain’s run for president has sparked new interest in his book, They Think You’re Stupid: Why Democrats Lost Your Vote and What Republicans Must do to Keep It.

Cain is especially frustrated that most blacks are still Democrats. He claims liberal Democrats are conning them.

Cain says he is a conservative who “won’t stay on the Democrat plantation.” He disses liberals as “slave-catc­hers of black people.”

Cain says liberal Democrats have foisted “economic slavery” on African Americans and the rest of the body politic just as conservative, white supremacist Democrats of old fastened shackles on his forbears.

His slam against today’s Democrats is history turned on his head. So is his candidacy.

During the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, the Southern Democrats said the Yankee Republicans were exploiting newly freed slaves. The GOP was pushing policies calculated not to help blacks but to foster their dependency on the party, according to the Dixie Democratic white guys.

The Republican Party had been founded up North in 1854 on anti-slavery principles. The Democrats, whose base was the slave state South, were chiefly the pro-slavery party.

Southern Democrats helped push the South out of the Union, create the Confederacy and bring on Civil War because they feared Abraham Lincoln and his “Black Republican” party would end slavery.

During Reconstruction, the Republicans welcomed African American support in the defeated Confederate states. Bi-racial Republican governments were voted into office; black Republicans were elected to state and local offices and to the U.S. House and Senate.

Unlike Cain, and almost everybody else in the current, tea party-tilting GOP, these Southern Republicans believed government could — and should — go a long way toward bettering society.

Indeed, the Southern Republicans created public school systems. They abolished property requirements for voting and expanded women’s rights.

In addition, they greatly expanded public services and boosted economic development by upgrading river, rail and road transportation. They raised taxes on rich people to help pay for such societal improvements.

The conservative white Democrats hated the Republican governments. They charged that the governments were run by crooked Yankee “carpetbaggers,” conniving white Southern “scalawags” and their African American “dupes.” The allegations were largely false and mainly rooted in racism.

Ultimately, the Democrats, who called themselves “redeemers,” stooped at nothing – including encouraging terror by the Ku Klux Klan and other groups – to destroy the GOP in Dixie. In the end, the Democrats bullied, burned, beat and murdered their way back into power.

Here and there, the Democrats found African Americans willing to run for office on the Democratic ticket. They parroted the conservative party line, railing against “big government” and claiming the white Democrats were right in saying the Republicans were scamming blacks. However, most African Americans remained true to the GOP, the party of “Lincoln and Liberty.”

The Reconstruction Era GOP included some of the most progressive and principled politicians in our history. They would be considered liberals today.

In Congress, Republicans led the fight for constitutional amendments that abolished slavery, made African Americans citizens and put the ballot in the hands of black men.

Also progressive and principled were the liberal Congressional Democrats of the 1960s. With help from moderate and liberal Republicans, they spearheaded the fight for sweeping civil rights bills aimed at ending years of Southern Jim Crow segregation and race discrimination that began after Reconstruction. The civil rights legislation was rightly hailed as a Second Reconstruction.

While liberal Republicans got Cain’s ancestors off real plantations, liberal Democrats – and the sort of Republicans generally unwelcome in today’s reactionary GOP — enabled him not only to vote but also to run for president.

Berry CraigAnyway, I doubt Cain will get very far with African Americans. Like all Americans, they vote for the party they think best represents their viewpoint. For a majority of them, that’s been the Democrats, starting with FDR and continuing down through LBJ to today. Moreover, people don’t like being portrayed – flat-out or by implication – as suckers for voting the way they do.

To be sure, there is no African American “viewpoint” any more than there is a white “viewpoint.”

But despite Cain, Reps. Alan West and Tim Scott and a handful of other outspoken black conservatives in the GOP and the media, the Republican party has become largely what the Democrats used to be: the white folks’ party with a stout base in the white South. The party of “Lincoln and Liberty” and Hiram Revels and Ed Brooke is long gone.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on July 25, 2011
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.