From Franklin Roosevelt to Joe Biden, the modern Democratic Party has exploited and engaged in demagoguery about race, even on the most solemn occasions. So why should they stop now, especially when their lies have brought them victories? The Charlottesville lie about Trump, central to Biden’s campaign, follows from Democratic habituation .
A review of the shocking racial demagoguery from our most esteemed Democratic presidents will make clear the continuity of Democrats’ racial rhetoric over the past 75 years.
Lobbing the “F” Word
Franklin Roosevelt outrageously compared the Republican Party of the 1920s with the fascists in his 1944 State of the Union address: “if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called ‘normalcy’ of the 1920s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.”
The commander-in-chief claimed the stolid Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 until 1929, embodied the spirit of fascism. This is as absurd as it is monstrous, heightened by the sacrifices both conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats were making for their country during World War II.
Roosevelt was outdone by his successor Harry Truman, who based his comeback campaign of 1948 on a fantastic conspiracy theory. Just as fascist forces foisted tyranny on their peoples in Germany, Italy, and Japan, so the Republican Party was masking similar insidious forces here, Truman claimed.
“The real danger to our democracy,” Truman said, “. . . comes mainly from the powerful reactionary forces which are silently undermining our democratic institutions.”
Besides an inflationary economy and “concentrated economic power” he called out the third element of this silent conspiracy against democracy, an “evil force which works secretly to destroy freedom: racial and religious prejudice.” Indeed, the Republicans have behind them “Dangerous men, who are trying to win followers for their war on democracy, are attacking Catholics, and Jews, and Negroes, and other minority races and religions.”
Thus, the 1948 election was nothing short of “a fight for the very soul of the American government.”
“You Ain’t Black” and Other Insults
The Republican-as-fascist lie was killed by the election of Eisenhower, but that zombie has come alive in recent years as Democrats sense their coalition falling apart.
In 2012, then-Vice President Biden claimed to a black audience that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains.” Biden continues to insult the intelligence of blacks. Just in the past few months, he denigrated black Republicans first with his comment that “you ain’t black” if they vote for Trump, and again with his denial of diversity or nuance among black voters.
Why would Biden feel secure in insulting a vital constituency? This is partly a contempt based on familiarity, but it is more a tell about a one-sided relationship: nothing for the black mainstream but prestige for black “leaders” and “spokespersons” who toe the Democratic Party line. Not to mention this recent episode, when Biden suggested a drug test for a black reporter who questioned the septugenarian’s mental acuity.
White women, teachers’ unions, and illegal immigrants all rate above black men. Insulting individual blacks comes easy to Biden, as this reprise of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings makes clear. Some would say he mainly insulted Anita Hill, but that just underscores the point.
A Legacy of Slavery
Of course this goes back to the old Democratic Party’s greatest lie about race, tied in with its defense of slavery as a positive good.
Not all the antebellum Democrats thought this way. Their party leader Stephen Douglas delegated the issue of the morality of slavery to the states and territories. But on race he was for the white man. “When the struggle is between the white man and the Negro, I am for the white man; when it is between the Negro and the crocodile, I am for the Negro,” Douglas insisted.
How is it that the party that defended slavery and segregation in the 19th century and well into the 20th century became the party of black Americans? In brief, the Democratic Party saw itself as a coalition of groups: the Democrats had the legacy of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”—out-groups from the American mainstream, including immigrants, Catholics, and slaveholders—while the Republicans were the party of the Protestant middle class, free soil, temperance, and tariffs. One was a gang united by self-interest, the other a community of citizens who claimed they had only the common good in mind. Neither were a host of saints. Both offered virtues and flaws.
Then the Progressive revolution would have both parties repudiate their previous identities in favor of elite reforms that disparaged politics in favor of zealous professional management. In the case of the Democrats, Progressives became the group that swallowed the entire party, as Franklin Roosevelt proved (“The day of enlightened administration has come”) and as Lyndon Johnson would fully display with his “Great Society.”
This progressivism had nothing to do with devotion to American principle, as in the Declaration of Independence, which Woodrow Wilson attacked and Roosevelt cynically reinterpreted for political expediency. For them, the American Founding was all about unlimited government on behalf of Progressive ambitions. (For the Republicans a fading attachment to Lincoln became a mere sentiment.) The groups that made up the FDR coalition had little in common with each other, but they needed each other in order to win.
Blacks in the new South and the North, feminists, gender identity groups, and the universities joined immigrants, Jews, Catholics, and unions. As they always have, the ambitions of some of the groups conflicted with others. But blacks have felt the impact worse than others: the globalist free-trade economics of progressive intellectuals, open-borders immigration, and feminism stifled opportunities for those in manufacturing jobs, including blacks. Not only “affirmative action” policies but other progressive measures—on economics, foreign policy, and immigration—disproportionately benefited other groups. They feasted, while blacks got crumbs.
The Party of Riots
The summer of 2020 added to these effectively anti-black policies the riots, which have long exhausted their initial anti-police brutality and Confederate monuments focus—which was questionable in any event.
In their zeal to keep blacks within the progressive coalition, the Democrats had to embrace violent rioters as a constituent group. Latter-day pleadings to the contrary are hardly credible. Of course, few blacks (including such as Minnesota State Attorney General Keith Ellison) have any interest in protecting rioters.
The pathetic Biden nonsense and lies about blacks follow naturally from the greatest recent lie of all, told by his master, Barack Obama. In his historic 2008 campaign, Obama constantly recalled both his white and his black heritage, even referring to his beloved white grandmother as a racist and his white grandfather as a military hero. He even admitted playing the race card against his mother. Here, many thought, was a person who would finally speak honestly about race.
It was not to be: Obama chose to identify as black, rather than another category. As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Obama could have checked white, checked both black and white, or checked the last category on the form, ‘some other race,’ which he would then have been asked to identify in writing. There is no category specifically for mixed race or biracial.”
For apparent political advantage, Obama chose to ignore the reality he described both in his first autobiography and campaign. His greatest achievement could have been a deracializing of politics, but instead he chose to continue to racialize it. Joe Biden is his legacy instead.