[Updated, 12/28/2007: Welcome, Matthew Yglesias readers (and Matthew Yglesias, who evidently is a Matthew Yglesias reader). Also, if you're looking here too, welcome Bruce Bartlett. Please, y'all, feel free to look around and comment.]
Possibly if you are not crazy, or ignorant, you know this, but: The Democratic Party was the party first of slavery, and then of white supremacy. You see, the Republican Party was created to oppose the spread of slavery, and the election of Abraham Lincoln — without a single southern state’s support — occasioned the secession ultimately of eleven southern states.
And then beginning in around 1889-90, partly to keep down the Populist, or People’s, Party, Democrats in the South promoted the disfranchisement of African Americans. And racist southerners hewed to the Democratic Party so long as — and only so long as — the Democratic Party remained the party of white supremacy.
The Republicans, unsurprisingly, knew this, and for decades portrayed the Democrats as the party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion — because the Democrats were also the party not so keen on temperance, and not so hateful of the Catholic immigrants, as well as the party identified with the secession of the South.
The Democrats couldn’t actually afford to be too much the party of Rum or Romanism. If they were, as when they nominated Al Smith for President in 1928 — they lost southern votes to the Republican Party.
At the same time, they couldn’t take even a baby step away from Rebellion — as they did in 1948, after Harry Truman asked what it would take “To Secure these Rights” — lest they lose southern votes to splitter Dixiecrats.
Then, in the 1960s, under Kennedy and Johnson, the Democratic Party began to repudiate this past, ultimately passing Civil Rights legislation. The splitter segregationist candidate George Wallace sundered the southern Democratic Party and ultimately delivered the white South to the Republican Party. Where it remains, because Republicans have taken over care and feeding of the Confederate heritage.
I only mention this because, for some reason, Bruce Bartlett appears to think this history should make you prefer the modern Republican Party to the modern Democratic Party. I do not understand this reasoning. Let’s concede this story puts the Democratic Party in something of the position of a man who actually has to give a precise answer to the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Perhaps you would not trust such a man around women. But would you trust him more or less than a man who has decided to start?
Possibly Bartlett is writing for the crazy, or the ignorant. He must be, if he thinks he can describe the modern association between Republicans and neo-Confederates as embracing “a single mention of states’ rights 27 years ago.”
The inexplicably more charitable Brad DeLong writes on the same subject here.