To begin with, you can blame George W. Bush on Lyndon B. Johnson. They’re both from Texas, so maybe there’s some connection from that direction. I doubt it, though. Still, odder things have happened. George W. Bush, for instance, is a descendant of Franklin Pierce, who got to be president due to the efforts of an old college buddy. Go figure.
It isn’t that LBJ worked on W’s behalf, of course. He’s too dead to do such a thing. But LBJ is the guy who so pissed off the Southern wing of the Democratic party, then known as “Dixiecrats” for lack of a better term (and there probably is no better term.) The Dixiecrats were represented by people such as George Wallace (not the Vegas comedian, the other one) who blocked the schoolhouse door and shouted “Segregation Forever!” Wallace changed his mind before he died, but a lot of people stayed true to their segregationist principles for all of their lives. And those folks felt betrayed beyond belief by the Southerner who pushed through the Voting Rights Act and other bits of law they found dangerous to their way of life.
Well, if the Democrats were through with them, and at that time nobody wanted to actually admit that they were racist enough to support the good-old Dixiecrat constituency, then they knew that they had to get sneaky. You remember the “Moral Majority” back in the day? Well, they may or may not have been either moral or in the majority, but they presented the old segregation forever crowd with an opportunity. By linking with religious conservatives who were bothered by what they saw as the moral decay of American society, the folks who brought you back of the bus segregation could hide their anger, and their true agenda, while getting influence back in Washington. It worked, as can be seen by the political scene since Reagan.
Reagan was a great speaker who was recruited because, well darn it, people liked him. He certainly wasn’t one to support overt racism, but he did like to talk about smaller government (which was, in fact, not what he gave us.) Smaller government meant a government that would allow a public school to open the day with a prayer, or so hoped the religious Reagan backers. To the Dixiecrats it might mean a chance to get back to keeping some people in their place. Particularly Washington people, who had no business telling honest, hard-working Southern people how to run their state.
Reagan begat George HW Bush, a far better President than I gave him credit for at the time. George HW got elected by promising famously not to raise taxes. Finding the government broke, however, meant that he had to propose, and sign, a tax increase. So in came the man from Hope, William Jefferson Clinton.
Clinton angered people in a way that no other president I’ve lived with ever has. Something about the story of the poor trailer boy from Hope who made it all the way to the White House really frosts some people’s shorts. I think it might have been due to his refusal to cater to the good-old-Dixiecrat crowd that started the rumors that led him to be so publicly reviled. To bad for them, all they could catch him at was cheating on his wife with one of his employees. A sad and sordid tale, but hardly criminal. They did, however, manage to get him impeached.
That is because the alliance of religious conservatives and old-time Southerners united in using morality as an issue. Plenty of Presidents have done worse things to their marriage than Clinton, but the Moral Majority wasn’t backing the opposition at the time. The Republican Party found itself, maybe not for the first time, proclaiming itself as the protector of public morality in the United States. That is questionable, but not as questionable as the supposed history of the Republican party as a champion of smaller government and states’ rights. Egads, has no one ever heard of Lincoln, the poster boy if there ever was one for large, central government at the expense of the states? Six percent of the men of military age in the country died in a war to ensure that the big-government party, the Republicans, prevailed in their effort to save the union.
The states’ rights plank was tacked on by the old Southern contingent, with the backing of the religious conservatives, for the reasons listed above. Less government meant less interference, right? Well, not to hear the complaints about W. Bush that have been sounding out in the past couple of years. The amusing part, for someone who knows some history, is that the complainers are actually surprised that the Republican party has expanded, not shrunk, the Federal government. Folks, I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s what Republicans have always done. It’s not bad, it’s debatable, but it’s Republican and that’s all there is to it.
So how did all this misinformation get spread around? By faith, of course. Faith is, so they say, a wonderful thing. It can move mountains. Well, horse hockey I say, but that’s just about the moving mountains part. The trouble with true belief is that the believer’s view of the world is distorted by the belief until the poor sod doesn’t know reality any more. In the mind of a true believer, a fundamental Christian world view is the majority view, and no amount of objective statistics will convince the true believer otherwise. Former President W. Bush has returned to Texas with his “values intact.” Great. So long as you’re not deciding the fate of the world, you go. But when belief rather than objective reality influences national policy both foreign and domestic, you end up with some very stupid things getting done. Like invading a country at a time when we really needed to be catching a terrorist, or like abstinence-only sex education, which results in more, not less, promiscuous and unprotected sex amongst teenagers. Faith may be wonderful, but not as the basis for national policy.
So that’s what happened: LBJ pissed off some segregationists who then used some religious folks in a successful effort to temporarily hijack the government. This resulted in record debt, economic doldrums, and thousands of dead soldiers. Somebody may like that, but not I. All the faith in the world doesn’t change reality one little bit. And lying to another constituency in order to sneak your way back into power is about as low as American politics gets. I feel sorry for the religious conservatives, I feel sorry for George HW Bush. I feel sorry for the Republican party, and I feel sorry for Ronald Reagan, even. And most of all, I feel sorry for the country I love so much.
Please, old Dixiecrat guys, just dry up, okay?