Friday, September 5, 2008

Clarifying History

The Republicans state that they are the party of the “hand up” and speak pejoratively of the Democrats as the party of the “hand out.” It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with their view of the role of government. What happens is if they have been true to their stated purpose.

If their characterization of themselves is to be honest, then the record should be replete with efforts to level the playing the field, for surely our country’s earliest days repressed minorities and women. Once the playing field is level, then the “hand up” label can be effective.

Let’s highlight a few milestones along the way of establishing “equality” in American society.

Slavery. In 1865, President Lincoln (a republican) “freed” the slaves by presidential proclamation. Freedom grounded in the Constitution came when the 13th Amendment was passed in 1867. President Johnson (a democrat) assured southern governors (all democrats) that it wouldn’t be enforced, so their Black Codes could stand.

Equal Pay. Although many people look to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as the milestone legislation in this area, that legislation merely extended to all sectors of the economy the rule that was already in place inside the federal government. In 1872, Congress passed a law to give women federal employees equal pay for equal work.

The make-up of Congress at the time?

The 42d Congress (1871-1873) had 74 Senate seats comprised of 56 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and 1 Liberal Republican. The House had 292 seats comprised of 199 Republicans, 88 Democrats, and 5 independents.

Suffrage. In 1920, women received the right to vote through passage of the 19th Amendment. The path to ratification included its first introduction in the federal (65th) Congress in 1918, when it passed the House (Republican majority) but was tabled in the Senate (Democrat majority) for eight months. When the Senate finally acted (still a Democrat majority), it failed to pass. It eventually was passed the following June (the Republicans now held the Senate majority), and was sent to the states.

The state action included resounding defeats in southern states (Democrat strongholds), and came to the Tennessee House. The United States Constitution would be amended if this body passed the measure. Although the House Speaker Seth Walker (Democrat) had pulled every parliamentary trick trying to defeat the measure (after originally saying he was for it), it came to an amazing 48-48 tie with one House member yet to cast. Representative Harry Burn (Republican) had previously voted to table the measure, but since Walker (certain of a victory) had forced a vote, Republican Representative Burn cast his for passage. The 19th Amendment was ratified.

Segregation. In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States dumped the “separate but equal” doctrine through Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The ruling in favor of Brown was a 9-0 vote, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren (Republican). Brown, of course, overturned Plessey v. Ferguson which held that “separate but equal” segregation was constitutional. Plessey was a 7-1 vote within the Melville Fuller (Democrat) court.

The Pill. The birth control pill was approved by the FDA on June 23, 1960, during the Eisenhower (Republican) Administration.

Civil Rights Legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 won approval after a long battle.

In the House, the bill went from the Judiciary Committee to the Rules Committee. Chairman Howard W. Smith (Democrat) said that he would keep the bill indefinitely. It took a few months, a presidential statement, and the potential humiliation of a successful discharge petition for Smith to release the bill to the floor.

More procedural maneuvers ensued in the Senate, including a 54-day filibuster led by the “Southern Bloc” senators (Democrats). Senator Russell (D-GA) stated, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.” The filibuster included a speech by Senator Byrd (D-WV) that lasted over 14 hours. Sen. Byrd opposed the bill.

In the audience for the Senate debacle was Martin Luther King, Jr., (Republican).

The voting by party:

The original House version: Democratic Party: 152-96 (61%-39%); Republican Party: 138-34 (80%-20%)

The Senate version: Democratic Party: 46-21 (69%-31%); Republican Party: 27-6 (82%-18%)

The Senate version, voted on by the House: Democratic Party: 153-91 (63%-37%); Republican Party: 136-35 (80%-20%)

Republicans were instrumental in freeing the slaves, establishing equal pay, getting women the right to vote, ending segregation, and establishing civil rights for all. Hell, they were even in charge when The Pill was approved.

So how are Republicans viewed by women and minorities? I don’t need to explore voting patterns – they are common knowledge.

Let’s visit one organization.

The National Organization for Women (note “for” not “of”) states on the website, “Our purpose is to take action to bring women into full participation in society — sharing equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities with men, while living free from discrimination.”

What more participation would NOW want beyond a woman nominated to be the Vice President of the United States? NOW’s position: “Gov. Palin may be the second woman vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket, but she is not the right woman.”

Oh. They must mean Republican. Gov. Palin is not the right kind of woman because she’s a Republican.

In my best Obama voice: "But, ah, um, that, um, makes no, oh, oh, oh - sense. Makes no sense. I've been saying that for months."

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