The country was still stuck in the Depression when voters went to the polls in the 1934 mid-term congressional elections.
Almost always, the party that has the presidency loses House and Senate seats in mid-terms. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House 76 years ago.
But in 1934, the president’s party grabbed headlines and made history. The Democrats added nine House seats and an equal number of Senate seats on election day.
Going on two years after Barack Obama was elected president, tough times – reflected in still high joblessness numbers – are hanging on.
But if pollsters and pundits are right, 2010 won’t be like 1934. Many number crunchers and commentators say the Democrats seemed doomed to big losses this November.
The country trusted FDR and gave him and his party the benefit of the doubt in 1934. Many voters don’t seem so inclined toward Obama and the Democrats this year.
“It’s this pervasive and corrosive anti-government feeling out there that you didn’t have in the 1930s,” said Dr. David Krueger, a retired history professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah . “A lot of people think government can’t do anything right.”
By “government,” the naysayers usually mean Washington.
Roosevelt believed the federal government had at least some responsibility to help the millions of Americans who needed help in the Depression, America's worst-ever economic crisis. Most Americans were grateful for FDR and his New Deal program. They elected himto four terms and gave him sizeable Democratic congressional majorities to boot.
So what happened to sour so many people on Washington and the Democrats?
Part of it was a double-whammy from the 1970s, growing disillusionment over the war in Vietnam followed by the Watergate scandal. But most of it stems from what was called the "white backlash" against landmark civil rights laws a Democratic-majority Congress, at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, passed in the 1960s.
The civil rights legislation committed the federal government to ending long years of segregation and race discrimination by law in the South and de facto segregation and race discrimination elsewhere.
Many whites, especially Southerners, hated the civil rights bills. They focused their ire on LBJ and the Democrats, though many Republicans voted for the measures, too. Conservative Southern Democratic lawmakers -- all of them white -- opposed the laws.
The New Deal didn’t include significant civil rights legislation, so the white South stayed in the Democratic fold. But when Johnson made civil rights part of his Great Society program, the white South began abandoning the party of their forebears.
The GOP, turning ever rightward, successfully exploited the "white backlash," flipping Southern politics on its head. The old party of “ Lincoln and Liberty ”and civil rights activism -- once an anathema in Dixie -- became a reborn GOP that was anti-federal government and pro “states’ rights.” (The change dovetailed with right-wing Republicans' disdain for the New Deal, which gave workers the right to unionize and added new federal regulations that were designed to curb the greed of business and industry that had helped lead to the Depression.)
Starting in the 1960s, the white Democratic “Solid South” crumbled. Today, the South is, by and large, Red State Republican.
It makes most Republicans and Tea Baggers hopping mad when somebody suggests that outright racism, or pandering to racism, underlies most of their anti-government rhetoric. But there is no denying the GOP is what the Democrats used to be -- mostly the white folks' party. The whole anti-government crowd is almost all white. Nowhere is the Tea Party movement more popular than in the Old Confederacy.
So when Tea Baggers and pro-Tea Bagger Republicans -- including those who live up North -- whoop and holler and wave "OBAMA'S PLAN WHITE SLAVERY" and "I Want My Country Back!” signs, it’s pretty obvious what kind of country they mean. Hint: It’s not one with a president whose skin is a different hue from theirs. (It must really rile them that so many white people voted for Obama.)
"...The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line," W.E.B. DuBois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk , published in 1903, six years before he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
I thank the Good Lord that the federal government – boosted by great Democrats like LBJ, Bobby Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey and great Republicans like Jake Javits, Ed Brooke and my fellow Kentuckian, John Sherman Cooper – helped erase a big part of that line in the latter part of the last century. Sadly, Washington's effort to remove the color line is a big reason why more than a few white folks hate government so deeply today.