- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Charges of intolerance are leveled routinely at those who question the administration’s policies. To listen to the accusers, one would think the entire history of racial discrimination and discord in this nation were properly laid at the feet of Republicans. History teaches otherwise.

I grew up in the Deep South, a John F. Kennedy Democrat. My parents taught me that, as Martin Luther King would say later, people should be equal before the law, judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Of course, that was not the prevailing view at the time, when racial discrimination led to separate schools, theater seating and water fountains.

The shameful politics of racial division were practiced skillfully by the demagogues of the day. They were all Democrats. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember, among others: Georgia’s Lester Maddox, of ax-handle fame; George Wallace of Alabama, who stood in the schoolhouse door; Harry Byrd of “massive resistance” Virginia; and the everlasting Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who, along with Sen. Al Gore Sr. of Tennessee and other Democrats, filibustered against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 57 days.

It was the Democratic Party that conceived, implemented and perpetuated the pernicious system of racial discrim- ination and preference that arose early in the last century and finally crumbled in the 1960s. They did this in order to sustain their own power. It worked for them, but not for the people. The Jim Crow system not only was morally reprehensible and responsible for much injustice over many years, but also clearly retarded economic growth. This hurt whites and blacks alike for decades.

As of 1963, the Republican Party had a long record of support for civil rights legislation - not so the Democrats. Republican support for the major civil rights legislation enacted during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson was stronger than that of the Democrats.

More than three times as many Democratic senators (21) as Republicans (6) voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964; in the House, the “no” votes came from 96 Democrats and 34 Republicans. In both chambers, greater percentages of Republicans than Democrats supported both bills, by significant margins. For example, 82 percent of Senate Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as opposed to 69 percent of Democrats; for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 97 percent of Republican senators voted yes, versus 74 percent of the Democrats.

There was a time when majorities in both parties (even if narrower among Democrats) endorsed the equal treatment of all Americans, without regard to race. Public opinion shifted heavily and quickly in the same direction, perhaps because the moral and rational case was compelling. As sociologist John Shelton Reed wrote, “During the three years 1963 to 1966, support for de jure segregation became a minority view among white Southerners. The percentage of white Southern parents who completely opposed public school desegregation, for example, dropped from 61 to 24.” That was a dramatic shift in a short time. It was permanent, too, the death rattle of Jim Crow.

Sadly, however, the ascendancy of “colorblind” politics in the Democratic Party was fleeting. The Democrats were the masters of racial patronage; with hardly a hiccup, they took the game to another level. Where once they played on the fears and prejudices of whites, they found new “victim” constituencies to “protect” with pledges of government largesse and favoritism.

So, blacks and perhaps Hispanics, among others, became the new and increasingly dependent beneficiaries of racial preference. Other “peoples of color,” such as Indians and Asians, perceived as intent on self-reliance, generally were not among the favored. Thus, the same old game resumed, with a cynical new arrangement of pieces on the playing board. Once again, the Democrats sought gain through divisive means, playing on fear and resentment.

Then as now, opponents were attacked personally. For a Wallace supporter, it was easier to brand someone as an “agitator,” or worse, than to engage in a substantive discussion about the virtues and vices of racial segregation and discrimination. Better to smear the opposition, especially when your position on the merits is weak.

Today, many Americans are unhappy that Congress has enacted, in a dramatically partisan fashion, sweeping “health care” legislation that entails unprecedented federal interference in doctor-patient relationships, an array of new and higher taxes, and unsustainable increases in government spending. Similarly unwelcome are the union sweeteners, the student loan takeover and the “expert” panels that will restrict access to medications and treatments.

Perhaps most outrageous is the (underreported) fact that our “ruling elite” have exempted themselves from the regime being imposed on the rest of us. If it’s such a good thing, why do you suppose they carved themselves out of it? In sum, there are a multitude of grounds on which Americans oppose Obamacare.

In response, the Democrats revert to Jim Crow tactics: Change the subject via personal attacks. They hurl accusations of “racism,” and use the vulgar sexual innuendo “tea-bagger” to assail fellow Americans who oppose the administration’s aggressive expansion of federal power.

In fact, in all of the issues raised by the dissenters, there is not a trace of race. Would people be equally concerned if Hillary Rodham Clinton were in office and moving forcefully to implement the same agenda as President Obama? I think so. Or, would people march in protest if a President Colin L. Powell or Condoleezza Rice were pursuing more moderate policies? I think not.

Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.