To the editor:
Montgomery County Republican Chair Wally Wilkerson has really outdone himself with his response to the letter written by my predecessor, Bruce Barnes, regarding an op-ed column in these pages (Dem party historically the racist, September 1, 2017). In his letter, Dr. Wilkerson lists a number of facts about actions taken by the Democratic Party prior to 1965 and makes the claim that the “Democrat (sic) Party” is the real home of racism. Oddly enough, Dr. Wilkerson ignores the fact the Mr. Barnes acknowledged in his letter that prior to 1965, the Democratic Party was the party of slave owners and white supremacists and conservative Democrats dominated the South until 1965. And to our everlasting shame, Democrats today admit our history and have learned from it.
But how much does Dr. Wilkerson choose to ignore about his own Republican Party as the “Party of Lincoln”? Let’s look to this passage from Lincoln’s first State of the Union address (1861):
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. … A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them.
That sounds vaguely socialistic, but when you couple that with the massive public spending proposed for the common welfare, support for increased taxes (duties) and rejection of “free trade”, you have a Republican Party in 1861 that sounds an awful lot like the current Democratic Party that Dr. Wilkerson is describing rather than the present day Republican Party.
When did the transition in political ideologies start? Some trace it to the election of 1896, when the Democratic Party nominated William Jennings Bryan, the great orator and populist Democrat who emphasized the importance of social justice issues in how the federal government should set priorities. While Bryan didn’t win the election, he influenced the upcoming generation of Democrats, leading to Woodrow Wilson’s residency and the introduction of the Income Tax and the Federal Reserve, both anathema’s to current Republicans. In time, the Republican Party was becoming beholden to the interests of big business, culminating with the era of Coolidge, Hoover and opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal. But in terms of race relations, the parties remained relatively static until 1964.
And why was 1964 such a watershed year? That brought passage of the Civil rights Act, which led later to the Voting Rights Act in 1968. It was during that time period where you started to see the defection of old conservative Southern Democrats. Lyndon Johnson, the great old Texas Democrat that signed the Civil Rights Act, knew this would happen when he signed the Civil Rights Act, noting to an aide, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” The nomination of Barry Goldwater, the revolt of the Dixiecrats and the election of Richard Nixon cemented that legacy as those conservative Democrats that were white supremacists and founded the KKK became Republicans and the liberal Republicans that supported Civil Rights and helped pass the Civil Rights Act became Democrats.
I have nothing but praise for the way Dr. Wilkerson has persevered over the 50 years he has been the chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party – he was once in the position that I face now as the chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party. And I often tell our young activists that if you want to understand how Montgomery County has turned so red, go read the history that Dr. Wilkerson has posted on the Republican Party website. It explains exactly how Republicans took over Montgomery County politically. But while the Republicans may have started as the party of abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln, the legacy of Lincoln now lies in the Democratic Party, warts and all.
In closing, Dr. Wilkerson attempts to paint the Democratic Party (we reject his name calling that does not include the proper name of our party) as opposed to the supposed values of the Party of Lincoln. I could just as easily say the Republican Party is the party of he (and I mean he, not generically as he or she) who has the gold get to speak the loudest and make the rules, the right to intimidate your political opposition with deadly weapons in the public square, enterprise controlled by the wealthiest 1 percent so that they can become wealthier, evangelical Christian theocracy, the right to control health care to the detriment of women’s health, law enforcement suppressing people of color with impunity, immigration from places where people of color are less likely to reside or from places with favored people of color, anarchy, and taxation of labor to benefit the holders of capital.
The Montgomery County Democratic party is a free and open party dedicated to the ideals that Lincoln espoused in his second inaugural address:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
As we state on our website, Montgomery County Democrats know that when everyone plays by the same rules, gets a fair shot, and does their fair share, we all succeed. We care about our neighbors and know that we’re stronger together than we are on our own. Our values are rooted in opportunity, freedom, fairness, equality, and progress.
Marc Meyer, Chair
Montgomery County Democratic Party