Dem Rep: You tea partiers want to bring back segregation and roll back women’s rights

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2011 to 2013, has a message for you tea partiers: You can’t rob women of their rights or reinstate racial segregation, no matter how badly you would like that. Many will be shocked to learn that any of this is part of the conservative agenda, but Cleaver knows you better than you know yourselves.


Speaking at a meeting of Palm Beach County Democrats this month, Cleaver closed his speech by recounting what he said was a common refrain from conservative Americans who opposed the Affordable Care Act in 2009: “We want our country back.”

“Well, you can’t have it!” Cleaver exclaimed to the laughs and applause of his audience.

Conservatives who insisted that they wanted their country back in the early period of the Obama administration was a regular source of alarm for conspiratorial and paranoid liberals. Many on the left insisted that what conservatives really meant was the return of Jim Crow and racial segregation. Where that pathological mistrust came from remains a mystery, but it was a charge that even Attorney General Eric Holder repeated.

“You know, people talking about taking their country back,” the nation’s chief law enforcement official told ABC News. “There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”

Of course, the left saw no depravity in former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Democratic strategists James Carville and Paul Begala, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel issuing the same call to action. Apparently, the wickedness inherent in this phrase was harder to discern when those appealing to it were liberals.

It is a testament to Cleaver’s laziness that he continues to insist that it is somehow racist to oppose the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that this notion was debunked years ago. But honesty and circumspection was not Cleaver’s goal in this speech. He set out to irresponsibly agitate his audience.


“We’re not going back to a day when we were segregated,” Cleaver insisted, still castigating the imaginary tea partier in his mind. “We’re not going back to a day when women were considered secondary citizens. We’re not going back. No, you can’t have it back.”

Watch the clip below via BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski:

Cleaver is indulging in a bit of overcompensation for the fact that Democrats were the party on the wrong side of history on both of these issues.

From 1868 to 1948, 20 Democratic Party governing platforms either supported racial segregation or failed to denounce it. Jim Crow laws that were passed in the solidly Democratic South following the collapse of Reconstruction were supported by Democratic lawmakers. “These laws segregated public schools, public transportation, restaurants, rest rooms and public places in general (everything from water coolers to beaches),” Jeffrey Lord wrote for The Wall Street Journal. “The reason Rosa Parks became famous is that she sat in the ‘whites only’ front section of a bus, the ‘whites only’ designation the direct result of Democrats.”

In fact, he noted that the Democratic Party’s effort in 2008 to recast itself a historic champion of the rights of African-Americans glossed over a variety of checkered moments from the party’s past:

There is no reference [on the DNC website’s section on “party history”] to the Democrats’ 1904 platform, which devotes a section to “Sectional and Racial Agitation,” claiming the GOP’s protests against segregation and the denial of voting rights to blacks sought to “revive the dead and hateful race and sectional animosities in any part of our common country,” which in turn “means confusion, distraction of business, and the reopening of wounds now happily healed.”

There is no reference to four Democratic platforms, 1908-20, that are silent on blacks, segregation, lynching and voting rights as racial problems in the country mount. By contrast the GOP platforms of those years specifically address “Rights of the Negro” (1908), oppose lynching (in 1912, 1920, 1924, 1928) and, as the New Deal kicks in, speak out about the dangers of making blacks “wards of the state.”


As for Women’s Suffrage, President Woodrow Wilson, who himself was a virulent racist, was no early supporter. The prevalent historical revisionism that seeks to cast Wilson as the progenitor of modern Democratic progressivism routinely glosses over the fact that the nation’s 28th President was a Southern-born man of his time, according syndicated columnist Jamie Stiehm:

President Wilson didn’t do a thing then, as popular sympathy and support for women’s suffrage mounted. The signs women held up became more personal and pointed: the president who wished to make the world safe for democracy stood in the way of democracy at home. According to [Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg], Wilson supported the state-by-state approach, which would be in keeping with his cultural Southern character. But it’s plain as day that Wilson relented and came very late to the suffrage game. The 19th Amendment finally passed in 1920 not because of him, but because of [Suffragette Alice] Paul. The world war mobilization gave Wilson a graceful – grudging? – reason why women should be rewarded with the vote.

Re-litigating the history of each party’s embrace of modern progressive priorities is a fool’s game of dubious value. Republicans certainly do not enjoy a monopoly on virtue, and they don’t make that claim. If, however, Cleaver insists that he opposes taking the country back to a dark time, it’s relevant to state plainly who championed those oppressive policies he is denouncing.


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