Charles Pierce: ‘Conservatism…Fails to Acknowledge’ It’s ‘Shot Through With Neo-Confederate Ideas’

Some call the Republicans the party of Reagan, others the party of Lincoln, but Esquire blogger Charles Pierce implied on Tuesday that another term might be more fitting: the party of Strom Thurmond. In a post pegged to the Steve Scalise story, Pierce argued that when Thurmond abandoned the Democratic party in favor of the GOP in 1964, “the American political status quo” of almost a century “ended with a crash the echoes of which…are still detectable.”

Thurmond’s switch, Pierce claimed, was a milestone in Republican efforts “to capitalize on the [anti-civil rights] backlash among Southern white people.” Subsequently, Pierce added, the likes of Pat Buchanan and Lee Atwater “noticed that white backlash was far from a regional phenomenon. Thus was born the triumph of…modern conservatism…shot through with neo-Confederate ideas, and with some Confederate ideas that were far from neo-.”

Today’s GOP, Pierce declared, is “the Political Party Of Dorian Grey. Steve Scalise is the public face. But, up in the corner of the attic, there's a portrait of the rotting, decomposing corpse of Strom Thurmond.”

From Pierce’s post (emphasis added):

On September 16, 1964, in the city of Greenville in South Carolina, the American political status quo that had held since Appomattox ended with a crash the echoes of which, like the residual noise of the Big Bang that created the universe, are still detectable, if you know where to look for them. On that day, Strom Thurmond, a powerful United States senator representing the Home Office of American Sedition…announced that he was leaving the Democratic party, becoming a Republican, and supporting the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater…

This was the final act in a conservative miracle play concocted by two brilliant—if stunningly amoral—political strategists named Harry Dent and J. Fred Buzhardt, who saw a golden opportunity for the Republican party to capitalize on the backlash among Southern white people against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, thereby breaking the "Solid South" that had been the Democratic party's national bulwark ever since the days in which Abraham Lincoln put the newly formed Republican party behind emancipation. Later, the heirs to Dent and Buzhardt—most notably Patrick Buchanan and the late Lee Atwater—noticed that white backlash was far from a regional phenomenon. Thus was born the triumph of…modern conservatism, sprung full-grown from the pale, pasty brow of Strom Thurmond and hundreds of others like him, shot through with neo-Confederate ideas, and with some Confederate ideas that were far from neo-, and every Republican who wanted to succeed acknowledged this fact iin [sic] one way or another…

This is the plain history that modern conservatism not only fails to acknowledge, but actively tries to erase from the common memory. You see this every time we are reminded that Robert Byrd once belonged to the KKK, or every time a conservative pundit reminds us how vital Republican votes were to the passage of landmark civil-rights legislation...

…[T]here's no reason to get lost in the ink cloud with which Scalise's office is attempting to cover his flight from accountability. In 2002, the same year that Scalise was slow-dancing with the white pride crowd, Trent Lott was being stripped of his Senate leadership position for having appeared before another white-supremacist outfit and having praised in his remarks the 1948 Dixiecrat presidential campaign of...wait for it...Strom Thurmond. Are you sensing a theme here?

…[T]he Republican party—and the Movement conservatism that is its only life force—once again faces the same choice it has faced since that day in 1964, when Strom Thurmond blew the trumpet and led his supporters out of the bondage of the party of equal rights. It can look at Steve Scalise and see that its success is that of the Political Party Of Dorian Grey. Steve Scalise is the public face. But, up in the corner of the attic, there's a portrait of the rotting, decomposing corpse of Strom Thurmond, the decay deepening with every election won by the tactics he so completely pioneered.

Campaigns & Elections Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Race Issues Racism Esquire Charles Pierce Strom Thurmond


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