During a debate on the House floor today over designating 21 miles of the Molalla River as "wild and scenic," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who opposes the legislation, tried to claim a progressive environmental record for her party. "Actually, the GOP has been the leader in starting good environmental programs in this country," said Foxx.
She didn't say what those environmental programs were, tellingly.
But then she went into loony-land territory. Foxx extended her claims of the GOP's progressive history to the issue of civil rights. "Just as we were the people who passed the civil rights bills back in the '60s without very much help from our colleagues across the aisle," said Foxx. "They love to engage in revisionist history."
Fortunately, Foxx was slapped down by Dennis Cardoza (D-CA):
CARDOZA: Today, what I'm hearing on the floor really takes the cake. The gentlelady from North Carolina, in her statement just now, indicated that the Republican GOP had passed the Civil Rights Act legislation with almost no help from the Democrats. I can't believe my ears. It was the Kennedy and Johnson administration where we passed that Great Society legislation. It was over the objections of people like Jesse Helms from the gentlewoman's state that we passed that civil rights legislation. John Lewis…
FOXX: Would, would the gentleman yield?
CARDOZA: No, I will not yield. John Lewis, a member of this House, was beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge to get that civil rights legislation passed. Tell John Lewis that he wasn't part of getting that legislation passed.
The truth of the matter is that it is a bit more complicated. Of course, there were Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) who opposed civil rights legislation. But as Think Progress points out:
To support the claim that Republicans were actually the architects of civil rights, conservatives often point out that a "higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats supported the civil-rights bill." But this ignores the "distinct split between Northern and Southern politicians" on the issue. When this is taken into account, the facts show that "in both the North and the South, Democrats supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act at a higher rate than the Republicans."
Steve Benen also provides this refresher:
This comes up from time to time, and since some confused people like Virginia Foxx have trouble remembering the details, it's worth the occasional refresher.
The Democratic Party, in the first half of the 20th century, was home to competing constituencies — southern whites with abhorrent views on race, and white progressives and African Americans in the north, who sought to advance the cause of civil rights. The party struggled, ultimately siding with an inclusive, liberal agenda.
As the party shifted, the Democratic mainstream embraced its new role. Republicans, meanwhile, also changed. In the wake of LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party welcomed the racists who no longer felt comfortable in the Democratic Party. Indeed, in 1964, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater boasted of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and made it part of his platform. It was right around this time when figures like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond made the transition — leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP.
In the ensuing years, Democrats embraced its role as the party of diversity, inclusion, and civil rights. Republicans became the party of the "Southern Strategy," opposition to affirmative action, campaigns based on race-baiting, vote-caging, discriminatory voter-ID laws, and politicians like Helms, Thurmond, Pat Buchanan, and Virginia Foxx.
Finally, it's all very nice to talk about Republican's civil rights initiatives of the past (after all, President Lincoln — a Republican — freed the slaves, yes?), but even assuming there is cause for the GOP to crow, that's what we call "resting on one's laurels". Where is the Republican party today on issues like gay marriage or immigration?