The Republicans: The Party of Civil Rights?

Ann Coulter, the lawyer and best selling author, has a blog which used be headed with the book-advertisement/slogan “If Democrats had any brains, they would be Republicans.”  This “in your face” approach characterizes her recent book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America. True to her partisanship, in this book she psychoanalyzes Democrats in accord with Gustave Le Bon’s classic 1895 book about mob psychology, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, making constant references to Le Bon’s descriptions of mob behavior, irrationality, slogans, repression of free speech, idolization, proneness to violence, and a focus on image rather than reality (for example, the image of Obama, who “took the biggest campaign haul from Wall Street in history,” but is heralded as anti-Wall Street).

The most prominent characteristic of liberal “mobs,” she writes, is the tendency to idolize their political leaders, and demonize their enemies.  Thus Clinton and Obama represent everything that is good in politics, while Reagan and Bush represent all that is loathsome (even causing verbal moans or screeches whenever the hated beings or their supporters are brought up in conversation, or appear on television).

Liberals also offer an ever-present danger – their proneness to violence.  For example, in the first 222 years of the history of the U.S., more than a dozen presidential assassination attempts have been made, some successful.  All of these attempts have been made by left-wingers, or “someone even more deranged than the average liberal.”

If a reader of Coulter’s book does not have an ear for hyperbole, he may end up, like the legendary Greek philosopher, Diogenes, carrying a lantern around and searching, if not for an honest Democrat, at least for a sane Democrat!

Chapter 10 on Civil Rights is perhaps the most counter-intuitive chapter of the book.  In this chapter, Coulter describes an American saga beginning in the 19th century and extending into the latter parts of the 20th century, in which Republicans have been defending civil rights constantly, while Democrats have consistently dedicated themselves to obstructions of civil rights. This chapter is copiously footnoted, and was vetted, according to her acknowledgments at the end of the book, by numerous consultants. The question she leaves us with, at the end, is “how can the Democratic party be categorized as the civil-rights party?” We will come back to that question at the end, but here is a brief summary of the highlights of her “brief” for Republicanism, which can be boiled down to this: Every civil rights act from the end of the Civil War to 1964 was introduced, promoted, and passed by Republicans.

  • In the 19th century, the Democratic party started up as pro-slavery, and the Whig party was pro-choice with regard to slavery.  But the Republican party was founded, for the express purpose of opposing slavery.
  • After the Civil War, the Republicans passed the 13th Amendment, freeing the slaves, the 14th Amendment, granting them citizenship, and the 15th Amendment, granting the right to vote.
  • Republicans passed, and Republican President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Reconstruction Act of 1867.
  • Republicans consistently introduced federal civil rights bills, and Democrats kept blocking them – an 1890 bill protecting black voters, anti-lynching bills in 1922, 1935, and 1938, and anti-poll-tax bills in 1942, 1944 and 1946.
  • Although President Truman had issued an executive order in 1948 desegregating the military, it took President Eisenhower to actually implement it.
  • The Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, in 1956 endorsed the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision desegregating the public schools.
  • When Democratic Governor Orval Faubus blocked the schoolhouse door to the Little Rock Central high school in 1957, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard to remove it from Faubus’ control, and sent the 101st Airborne Division to accompany the black children to school.
  • In 1958, Eisenhower introduced a bill to create the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and to fix the enforcement provisions of the 1957 civil rights bill.  In response, Democrats carried out the longest filibuster in history.
  • The 1964 Civil Rights Act was supported by a huge majority of Republicans, but a lesser majority of Democrats.
  • Brown v. Board of Education, eliminating “separate but equal” in the public schools in 1954, remained unenforced during Kennedy’s and Johnson’s presidencies. But Nixon, taking office in 1968, eliminated segregated schools in one year; there was more desegregation of Southern schools in Nixon’s first term than in any historical period, before or after.
  • Nixon also created “affirmative action,” applying it first to building trades, and then to racial quotas.

Why the Democrats Get the Credit

So how, then, did the Democrats obtain the coveted “civil rights” mantle? Democratic politicians had supported segregation, Democratic governors tried to stop desegregation, every senator opposed to black civil rights was a Democrat, and every segregationist in the Senate was a Democrat (with the exception of Strom Thurmond, who became a Republican after 18 years).

As a partial explanation, Coulter points to the 60s and the takeover of the Democratic Party by the Baby Boomers:

That was the decade that launched legalized obscenity, the birth control pill, student riots, the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Black Panthers. The crime rate skyrocketed as the courts granted ever more elaborate rights to criminals. Prayer and Bible-reading were banned from the public schools. The most privileged, cosseted generation in history began tearing apart the universities.

The fact that lifelong Republican, Martin Luther King, unlike other black ministers, who endorsed Nixon, decided to support Kennedy in the 1960 campaign, after JFK made a supportive call to Coretta Scott King during MLK’s imprisonment, was one factor. MLK then became a Democrat.

Also, Republican efforts to crack down on welfare cheating, Republican campaign promises to impose law and order, and Republican opposition to “reverse discrimination” against whites in the name of “affirmative action” were interpreted as “opposition to civil rights.”

But more fundamentally, the definition of “civil rights” had been altered at the hand of democrats.  For example, when Bush, with support from the Mississippi NAACP, appointed judge Charles Pickering, a strong advocate for racial justice, who required full time FBI protection because he had been the prosecutor of the Ku Klux Klan, to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Democrats blocked the nomination because “he was bad on civil rights.” Coulter explains that in this case,

By ‘civil rights’ liberals meant abortion on demand.  These days, ‘civil rights’ is nothing but a cat’s-paw for the mob’s left wing social policies, such as abortion.  Back when civil rights meant rights for blacks, Democrats were standing in the schoolhouse door.

+In other words, the “civil rights” now embraced by the Democratic Party is chiefly an agenda directed at assuring the right of women to eliminate their unborn children, promote LGBT lifestyles and gay marriage, the rights of pornographers, and other “social issues. Thus, under this new definition, the Democratic party has, yes, become the “party of civil rights.”

Howard Kainz


Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

  • Sue

    All above-cited Repub acts were good except that they enabled the natural family to down-spiral via the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s discrimination against stay-at-home mothers.  Look where that took us – Griswold, Roe, no-fault divorce, test-tube supermarket babies, gender-segregated parenting, feral children and disconnected families, slip-sliding into the Brave New World.  Heckuva feminist path you blazed for us, Betty Friedan, and thanks,  Republicrats for dragging us along!  This hastily conceived Act amounted to shifting the black family out of the frying pan of segregation into the fire of big government welfare plantation. 

  • pamelanak

    Great comment ! Very good insight to the other side of that coin.

  • LV

    As theory for how things turned out, this piece is fine.  As a persuasive argument, though, just about anyone on the other side can demolish it with two words: “Southern strategy.”

    • Howard Kainz

      In order to prove that, you’d have to show cases where Republicans won by appealing to racism.  Coulter gives a number of opposite examples.  One example is the defeat of Democrat Orval Faubus for governor in 1966 by Republican Winthrop Rockefeller in a state with only 11 percent Republicans.  She writes, “Rockefeller’s ‘Southern Strategy’ against Faubus involved running as a strong integrationist, and he immediately desegregated Arkansas Schools and rapidly integrated the draft boards.”

  • It is tiresome to have to hear over and over the charge that Republicans are what they aren’t.

    For better and for worse, Republicans:

    Were the party that advocated for agribusiness in the Nixon administration; yet most farmers are Republican anyway;

    Were opposed to the conduct of the Vietnam War, but Nixon tried to end the war through questionable means;

    Were the party that Jackie Robinson supported in 1960, 1964, and again in 1968; Robinson said that if baseball were integrated but the parties were not, then everything he had stood for would have been in vain; Jackie suspected that the Democrats were trying to use the civil rights issue for partisan purposes;

    Were the party that initially warmed up to birth control; Margaret Sanger, that monster, cozied up to Republican women’s groups, especially in the blue-blood northeast; Ronald Reagan, dazed temporarily by libertarianism, was initially in favor of liberalized divorce, abortion, and contraception laws; later he regretted his decisions in that regard; the person who converted him was Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first African American woman ever to graduate from Harvard Medical School; Dr. Jefferson founded Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and died several months ago (I was privileged to meet her twice);

    Were at first the party in favor of protective tariffs, in the McKinley administration; McKinley was going to ease up on the tariffs when he was assassinated; are now the party of free trade, but I am not sure whether they weren’t right the first time;

    Were the party of solid money, against the easy money policies of Bryan and Sherman (William’s brother, author of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the Sherman Antitrust laws); remained the party advocating a residual connection to the gold standard during the Reagan administration;

    Are now the party most favorable to believing Catholics … small business owners, tradesmen, rural people generally …