tv History of the Democratic Party CSPAN April 15, 2022 1:21am-2:23am EDT
hello, everybody. welcome to the washington times in this episode of history as it happens a podcast for people who want to think about current events historically. i'm martin decaro and with us today, michael kazen historian of georgetown university. it's good to see you great to have you good to have you get to be here. yes, that's right and pandemic handshake. how about that assistant? it's good. you've been on the podcast a couple of times before and it's nice to see you in the flesh. finally same i'm tired of zoom and we have a lot to talk about today a book out, march 1st what it took to win the history of the democratic party.
you've been a prolific scholar for decades now writing about leftist political and social movements. what brought you to write your magnum opus, maybe the whole the whole thing in one small volume smaller volume. well, i've always been. intrigued by the history of democratic party because i've been involved as a canvasser campaigner. arguer for the democratic party since i was in grade school 1960. i came paid for john kennedy and my little town englewood, new jersey. that's out of new york city. it's our handy on leaflets and yeah leaflets and wearing a big button the size of a little pot pie for and johnson and i got away from party for a while. i was a radical and late 1960s early 970s and felt that democratic party was corrupt party because they were prosecuting the war in vietnam. especially but in the end we have a two-party system and one of the two parties gonna win and
i was certainly on the side of the democratic party winning. so i gravitated mac towards the democratic party and as a story and i noticed an unusual lack that is historians right about all kinds of subjects politically in america but very few right about the major parties, you know the history of the major parties. maybe they write about it for one election or one president of course or two presidents or when controversy surrounding a party but this very few books on the whole history either the republican or the democratic party. so historians like to write about things that people have written about before though. obviously we use lots of books and documents that people who have written about it before so this is an attempt to sort of sum up the whole history of the party. what it stood for when and as a title has it, you know when it was successful and why and so that was the theme and when i saw your title what it took to win i thought of james carville as it turns out you quote him early in the book political parties exist to win elections. that's a debate going on right
now democratic party needs to get his act together what we can eventually get to current events but by your own admission a selective history as i mentioned, it's a smaller smallish volume nothing wrong with that does not have to be a 1200 page book on, you know books that people aren't going to be exactly right, but it's a lot of material to get into one volume. the party is basically the history of the democratic party is essentially history of american politics so when you say selective, what do you mean? i try to understand. how the democratic party put together a winning coalition based on interests based on ideas based on social movements based on policy, of course and how that coalition one at certain times how it disintegrated how democrats built back a different kind of coalition very often and how those coalitions those ideas those policies track larger
themes in american history as well, you know expansion of the electorate the politics of industrialization and post industrialization ethnicity race relations racial conflict class conflict. so many ways. the democratic party really history democratic party, you can say use the history of american politics, you know with with sort of in half. it's it's a history of parties as you mentioned as disintegration twice the party almost permanently ruptured it managed to come back together after the civil war after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s the dixiecrat revolution dixiecrat convention in 1948. we're going to get to all of that, but you know whenever i prepare for a podcast interview. i try to see five anything in common with my guest and this is a stunning coincidence. we were both born in new york city imagine that right two people from this. yeah. you're a baby boomer. sorry. i'm generation x great note to start off talking about how old you are, but baby boomer you
already mentioned you you came of age politically in the 60s handing out leaflets for kennedy. then you took a more radical turn in your politics. how did this inform your your journey to becoming a professional scholar. who as i mentioned has been writing about this issue multiple books for decades. a lot of historians write about you know, the distant past why brother countries, then the ones they're from but for me the main motivation for writing books of history and most articles as well is to figure out something that's happening politically in the present, you know, so i've written a book about biography of william james brian who will probably get to you know, one of the the great democrats ran for president three times as a democratic nominee, but what that book when the the christian right was surging i wanted to understand what it was like when the lead of democratic party wasn't evangelical protestant who believed in a little truth of the bible, you know, that's for example, i wrote books about the american left when the american left was in trouble, you know doing the bush administration beginning with
bush administration. so every book i've written has sort of been a way to understand the roots of a current political question that i want to answer. so you say in your book to be sure my commitment to the democrats is an ambivalent one alloyed with regret and caution party's history is rife with missteps and outrages yet for all there for all our faults. so, where's the scholarly detachment michael kays and i i'm detached in the sense that i can explain why the party went wrong or very wrong. i'm at times before i was born and times when i was alive as well, you know, but that doesn't mean that i think there's another political vehicle for progressive change in this country. it's powerful and as large as democratic party because there isn't so that's that's the bottom line on that part. i agree currently. you're correct about that. yeah, you say the democrats remain the only electoral institution in 21st century america abel and willing to help
solve the serious problems facing the united states. so the history of the democratic party in one volume, why don't we start at the beginning but that's even difficult to do because for a long time thomas jefferson would have been a surprise to he would have been surprised to hear. this was considered the founder of the democratic party. this thing called jeffersonian democracy is probably a construction. he did not use but you say that rests in part on a couple of myths that jefferson really shouldn't be considered the founder of the democratic party. why is that well, like most founding fathers all family fathers for that matter jefferson didn't life the idea of competitive parties, you know, he want he believed in what was called small our republicanism. that is men of education and standing and property who understood the virtues of the commonwealth should get together and make those laws and they shouldn't have these factual disagreements. so he obviously had a disagreements with alexander hamilton famously and and with john adams they ran against each other for president.
but when jefferson became president 1801 he said basically enough with this partisan party stuff. we should all be he said is inauguration speech nature one. we're all republicans were all federalists by which he meant. we don't have any parties anymore. and in fact, he was saying we're all republicans. that's right. stop criticizing exactly and also this was not a mass party even when he had a party. it was really a collection of notables. i think i call it. i'm trying to remember the exact number of people who voted for president in 1800. there's about 50,000, you know, they're more people in the suburb of bethesda north of washington dc twice as many than the word voting for president, you know for both candidates in 18. the electorate was tiny even among those who could vote. most people didn't bother voting in national elections. exactly. the federal government was a distant. most people couldn't vote because you had to have property you have to be a white man and you of course over 21 so sean will answer historian you're familiar with when it comes to
jefferson as founder of a party. i think you're right. it wasn't a party but when it comes to small d, jeffersonian democracy, he argues that in a sense jefferson was this this founder against condescension and determined obstructionism jefferson and his party vindicated the political equality of the mass of american citizens citizens in effect laying the groundwork for the democratic reform that would come later with jackson and van buren and and others. do you agree with that? i think that's true of course is a big except there to be accept is african americans. everyone was well property was slave, but no certainly true. i mean jefferson famously said, you know eco lights for all special privileges to none and he was opposed to a strong central government not for the reasons that conservatives today are at least some conservatives today are but because he thought a strong sense of government would always be monopolized by the land of elite people like himself and he thought that small farmers should small white
farmers should be the heart and soul of the country and they were of course the majority at the time and he wasn't in favor of expanding the electorate to include people who didn't have property even though that didn't happen very his own lifetime. mean by mass political party. i mean we today take for granted that all political parties even in autocracies need to appeal to public opinion mobilized publics or engaged public's campaign rallies party organization, but in the 1820s if we want to date the formation of what was called the democracy to that time that took a while to develop even then right when one once rather the democratic party started to a mass political party, right? you know to be a mass party you have to have a lot of the resources and elements that we again take for granted today. democrats were the first mass political party in the first political party in the world to have a press dedicated to the party not just in one city, but every major town and city in the country newspapers. they had that regular conventions to nominate the
candidates. they had a machine that is people to turn out the vote they had agendas and policy agendas that they try to discipline their elected officials to carry out and also they were able to raise enough money so that their candidates would not have to dig into their own pockets to pay for their own campaigns. so all these things we now take for granted, but the democrats were the first political party in the world to institute all these these changes and they also of course the fact that the electorate was growing that by the 1830s the large majority of white men, whether they had property or not could vote constituencies were forming people wanted more of a say in the decisions that were taking place and when we say people we're still pretty much talking about white man here in the 1820s, but immigration was a huge factor immigrants were a major constituency even as early as the 1820s 1830s the irish
coming coming to the united states just name one group, right? yeah, that's one thing the democrats were known for in the early days and it still are in many ways. i think it's one of the continuities in the party's history. they were very open to immigrants coming in. they believe that the united states should be what tom payne called an asylum for all mankind, you know, they believe that it was important to welcome as many people as possible free white people to the united states. and and that includes the irish and there's also the fact that democrats tend to be more tolerant towards different religious groups matter too because most the irish became especially during the famine generation were were catholic of course and democrats were often seen in 19th century as the more pro catholic party compared to the whigs and republicans. and as you say they were the first not merely to acquiesce in the reality of competition quoting from your book what it took to win. they wanted to brawl, but when the democrats are coming alive as a party as we would define it
today there weren't really other parties. we had the virginia dynasty and kind of a period where national politics for lack of a better term seem kind of dull when this a virginia planter aristocrat winds eight years eight years eight years. but soon enough there were competitive parties that saw what the democrats were doing doing. they were competing all over the country as you said they had newspapers all over the country trying to win over new voters all over the country it was it the whigs so were the first main competitors here? yeah this really, you know, the democrats began this match part in the 1820s. they first called the jackson party because andrew jackson was there sort of charismatic leader. um, but they also called themselves the democracy as you mentioned the people's party from demos people. but the whigs began in the 1830s as the anti-jackson party, they call themselves the whigs because the whigs in great britain had been the faction in the british house of commons, which opposed the absolute powers of the king.
so the whig said, well this guy jackson, he's throwing his way around he thinks he's better than everybody else. he's taking on dictatorial powers. he's cool. he's king andrew the first well, we're going to be the whigs to oppose king andrew the first and the wigs then also. um imitate a lot of the initiatives the innovations in politics that the democrats had begun they have their own press they have their own mass rallies with torch lights and elsewhere. they have their own barbecues and give that free liquor and so forth. so it's really the two-piece system as we know it is really born in the 1830s that the candidate himself probably weren't campaigning in person at this point, right? oh, no, they were oh they were okay the presidential candidate. okay not president because george washington didn't campaign for himself. so that was the father of the country the greatest american so to speak you didn't want to do something. he didn't do the office was supposed to seek the man that wasn't true for for people running for congress state legislature mayor. corner and so forth. no they can't pay for
themselves. you mentioned jackson. i feel like we should bounce back a little bit between past and present. we don't need to stick to a straight chronology, right? that might be different. yeah, maybe difficult too and in a relatively short conversation, but we've barely made it out of the 1820s you mentioned. jackson he and jefferson are how shall we say somewhat falling out of favor with the modern democratic party and so far as honoring them. i don't think they call the the jefferson jackson dinner or the jackson dinner. that's anymore. they call something else jefferson statue was taken down inside the new york city council chambers because of his his history of slave owning and all you make a reference to presentism early on in your book. you started the ref you started to research your book when donald trump won the election and that sent democrats into a state of disarray. what are your thoughts on how the democratic party is? well, let's start with the jackson jefferson thing. these are two huge figures in the party's history if you will who are out of favor now, i
guess that's not all that surprising. no because more and more historians, especially in a lot of americans too realize he how central slavery is two american history you can argue about 1619 project whether the correct about about that or not, but clearly we had the most important event in american history some would argue as a civil war. i would probably agree civil war i would say and the civil war was of course about whether a part of the country could break away to preserve slavery. so it's not surprising that two presidents who were incredibly popular figures at the time when they were president when they're alive, but also were major slave owners independent slavery. in fact in jackson's case wanted to expand it into the western territories taking from mexico. it's not surprising that present-day democrats in this multi-racial multicultural party are not going to be very, you know, happy about celebrating jackson jefferson or return to that point, but just briefly about you starting your research and trump wins and democrats are
in a state of disarray. how did the present influence at all if at all the way you approach this book? you know partly i think it's what i wanted to write the book because i want to understand how we got to this point, you know as i mentioned before i will start with the present question, but also democrats have always been a very heterogeneous party. they've always been a party which had to put together different constituencies whether class or ethnicity or more recent decades race, and that's always well to win and the republicans i think is fair to say have usually been much more homogeneous and sometimes if you're more homogeneous a party, it's easier to decide what you stand for. it's easier to know who you're going to appeal to primarily. it's easy to decide what policies you're going to pursue. where's the democrats? it's more difficult, you know, one of the things i i was on a a
conference sort of a private school not exactly podcast with tom perez tom perez when he was a chair of the democratic national committee back in 2017 dncj and i asked i asked tom paris i said, what does democrat stand for? he sort of talked about values we have good organization, you know i said, but that's not really telling me what the democrats stands those aren't principles. where's republicans whether under former president trump or others. usually have much easier time saying that and this is not because democrats are not very smart or not good at politics. it's because it's more difficult for democrats to say what they stand for because they are such a heterogeneous point. it's difficult to keep those types of coalitions together when you have people who say may disagree on social issues like abortion, but they may see eye to eye on labor issues or other issues about jackson and jefferson and slavery. well one of the major arguments in your book are these competing
tendencies i want to get to this get to it now these competing tendencies that tell the story of the history of this party. you said the idea of liberty for african americans posed threat to his ambition. that would be jackson's of a party that could win a majority in every region or was that that may have been van buren here. i am quoting your book and i forgot who that pronoun is supposed to but this idea that white liberty rested upon black lack of liberty inequality for african americans. that was one of the ugly aspects of the party's history for quite a while. yeah, it's a good example. i think of the how difficult was for democrats to stay united, you know for very long. they stated remained one party, but often different factions in that party who battling with one another mount civil rights because for example in the 1840s and 50s when the democrats with majority party in america, they were the majority party because they could put together the votes of most white southerners both poor white southerners and
big planters like jackson and newly arrived iris catholic immigrants who came with nothing with when only nothing but the clothes in their back escaping famine escaping escaping death from hunger the fact that you had this mixture you had both jefferson davis and walt whitman, we're devout democrats in the 1840s, for example, you know, we don't think of them in the same, you know the good gay and great poet and form the future heather confederacy. so the reason it how they get rid of get together was they did agree that where people call the money power the power of big banks the power of wall street was something evil. it was a monopoly of money monopoly, which was trying to have its way with ordinary americans was sort of picking and choosing people who they'd invest in depending who their friends were the bank of the united states was a big issue there and they were going to get democrat party posed that so that was one way in which they
were able to unify. so there were national party which was which was a good thing, but they also were national party which you could see already had the the elements of fragments in them use a term moral capitalism when discussing the competing tendencies and those two tendencies are anti-minopoly in a 19th century context and and pro labor once we get to the 20th century with the progressive movement in the early 20th century then on into the new deal what is moral capitalism and why is it matter to democratum? i use a bar from a friend of mine liz cohen and she's harvard what a very good book about make cool making a new deal and basically it means that the democratic party when it was successful. was known for standing for the economic interests of ordinary americans, which meant in 19th century small business people small farmers. it was capitalism because most americans did not want to you know, get away from a market
system believe that if all things being equal everyone is equal chance to rise what we later on call the american dream should be reality, but they felt a certain elite interests were standing in the way. it's kind of economic populism if you will. and and so democrats were pretty successful in the 19th century at different times in putting forth this vision of more capitalism and certain proposals. excuse me to put teeth into it. um like a lower tower for example, like inflating the money supply to enable people to interest rates down could be more money in circulation that raised questions about the role of government early in the republic exactly because they felt the government, you know, as i said before the government was likely it had more power to want to help with friends and as they leave people in the government try to help his friends. so democrats were opposed to a sort of large standing bureaucracy. they're opposed to government picking picking picking, you know winners of losers, you know as we say today, where's the 20th century? you want me get into that?
yeah 20th century things be the change firstly. let me move because to grow. in wilbur one it has 20% of the labor force by world war two is 35% of all wage owners are in labor unions today. like what six ten percent. yes in the private sector. yeah ten percentile together. oh six percent of the private sector and and so the movement puts pressure on democrats who have been more in favor in general terms of wage earners than the republicans had but that often was just more rhetorically anything else and labor movement said if you want our votes, you've got a help us to get unions recognize you've got a support and minimum wage maximum hours protection for workers on the job. and so forth funny how we're still fighting over those things today. we are we have a minimum wage, but it hasn't gone up and continuity. yes. i know there so you allude way in a bounce back and forth the bed. i think that's okay. you mentioned before the dispute
over slavery. of course. that was the most important dispute in the anti-vella ant the united states by the 1850s of course 1860 the country starts to split maybe even before that but the wigs and the democrats to a great degree. wanted to keep slavery out of national politics so they could deal with other issues because if slavery reared its ugly head again, it would well potentially cause the fissure of the country would prevent progress on other things. i mean, it's probably echoes in the 20th century when civil rights was shunted aside to form a consensus around other things like fighting the cold war. maybe you're the historian here. so you interject when i'm going when i'm going awry but a couple more it's not quite true. i mean the cold war actually was ironically, perhaps a impetus to civil rights because the soviet union and its allies kept saying look these americans talk about their for freedom and democracy, but look what's happening in montgomery, alabama, you know, they were they were birmingham, alabama so so in effect really
this civil rights movement was able to use the term freedom to me. let's have real freedom. and so we don't look so bad abroad in the competition with the soviet union. thank you for that correction. you know, i'm not historian and i don't play one on my podcast, but about the the many issues that they were grappling with the fight over the second bank of the united states. i think is a really telling episode of you know to your argument about what the democratic party stand for early on this this form of moral capitalism. let's just start with the direct question. why did king andrew want to get rid of the second bank of the united states? so come back to the united states was a very powerful institution. we don't have anything like it. it was essential bank like the central banks who have in in europe, but it was run by a private board of executives who were chosen pretty much by again nicholas bidle who was ahead of the bank. it wasn't a government any no it was chartered by the government by the government did not run it
and i said before it picked winners and loses, you know, it decided invest in you know, this shoe factory in lynn, massachusetts, maybe which meant you're not going to invest in a different shoe factory somewhere up in new york state they also at a time before the government printed money the bank united states printed the currency that most people in the eastern party united states at least used when they used paper money and so it was a sort of a a political enterprise unto itself unelected appointed only by people who ran the bank and jackson believed that this was against all the principles of democracy in as you understood it also the fact it was in philadelphia and a very wealthy neighborhood. it just was he was a poor boy from the carolinas who made his way up and he he didn't like the call hit a cultural antagonism towards the bank as well. i think yeah budges i heard yeah often often with a weapon.
yes several duels and and so when when the congress which was controlled by by people who become whigs later on voted to recharter the second bank had to be retarded every 20 years. what do we charter it? he vetoed that and they could not muster the two-thirds to override his veto. he said at one point to martin van buren who was his vice president and later successor. he said the bank wants to kill me. i will kill the bank. so you can see the rhetoric was pretty raw and the idea behind this was unlike today where? we've kind of forgotten. that it's not you know the poor people who are the takers and in those days men like jackson worried. it was the wealthy and the powerful who are going to erode the foundations of democracy by taking from the lower classes or or the concentration of wealth and power in an institution like the second bank of the united states was a threat to democracy
very much. it's kind of forgotten and that really we flip the continues into the late 19th century early 20th century when you have that time monopoly movement anti-trust movement, which is both parties, but democrats are probably strongest in that because they're not really the big business party, which is a fear that a lot of americans have that the government will be used to help private interests and we still think about that today. we're when there's debates happening in congress at least right now about whether congress people should be barred for making stock trades, you know that they use their their inside knowledge about what's going on in the economy to to make money for themselves. i thought of elizabeth warren when reading that section of your book who campaigned on breaking up potentially breaking up or raining in the power of right large private institutions whether they're banks big tech social media platforms. she would have fit right in. well, you know, she may have had trouble as a woman running for office in the 1840s, but you
know, that's i couldn't vote. so yeah. she would have fit right in her ideas. this is a threat to the common person. we're as today. i mean we could talk about the reagan revolution and later on in the conversation and and it's challenged to the the new deal coalition and the great society but it kind of this almost mean spirited approach to the poor almost blaming them for taking from you know, welfare queens, right? they're taking advantage of the system instead of looking at the powerful who are well, you know, it's an ongoing debate in american society inside the democratic party outside it as well about where the poor people are. most people are poor because they just they don't organize themselves. well, they don't you know work hard. they don't get married have babies without being married since they take drugs etc get drunk too much. so there's a sitter or whether even if their behavior is like that whether the structures of inequality in a society make it
very difficult for the people to get out of poverty. at least most people do that in poverty and we continue to have this debate today. we'll continue to have them probably for as long as we have a republic. thank you for saving me there's structural problems in my poorly worded. well, that wasn't even really a question. that was just a word salad that you made sense of so second bank of the united states goes down. there are other other issues that were important as well that in addition to slavery because right now we're very much focused in 20 what i mean right now 2022 about the role of slavery and in the american past, of course, it was important but low tariffs free immigration taking from your book here and end to prison for debtors sympathized with early labor unions against courts. i mean some of these issues don't obtain anymore. we don't have debtors prisons, although people are in debt for their entire lives at elizabeth warren wants to do something about that as well to use her example again a fear of them coupled with the creed of white supremacy. also led northern democrats. you argue to condemn
abolitionists as dangerous meddlers of the rights of agrarian property owners. maybe there's a good time to start transitioning into the anti-balance the antebellum period here. and and those convulsions within the democratic party sure. well, you know abolitionism was obviously very radical idea when it began and abolitionist movement included blacks and whites, you know often we think it's mostly people like william la garrison and john brown others who were white but black abolitionists not just federal government. the others are very active in it but democrats who were as i said almost completely white party and a party that even people like martin van buren who didn't want to abolish slavery who didn't want my boss lady was critical of slavery slavery expansion, but he was not an abolitionist and sympathize abolitionists and democrats tended again when the majority party to call abolitionists and people wanted women to vote people wanted the prohibition of alcohol. they had a common term for them.
they called them fanatics. there's a wonderful story. i quote by hawthorne nathaniel hawthorne the great novelist. who was the democrat who what a campaiography of franklin pierce before he was elected president 1852 anyone read it about well democrats did about sort of a story where where all these people gather in the countryside and throw all these old cherished traditions into a bonfire including bibles and lots of other things and and democrats believe that you want to you know, poor folks democracy. yes, but you didn't want to disrupt the whole social order, you know to get it. in fact, they often had a sense of golden age thinking that before, you know, when everybody was sort of agrarian and then things would have been somewhere better and and good old so abolitionists were clearly first abolitionists were were evangelical protestants most of
them that meant that they the reformation hadn't really ended. you know, they really were opposed to catholics not surprisingly catholic. especially iris catholics said well if you don't like us we don't like you either and so that meant that democrats if they were going to be the party of irish catholics, which they were we're going to be opposed to abolitionism. so there was some of what sociologist called negative reference group thinking going on there. but a general again the democrats. we're very hard-headed. also. they said how are we going to win? how are we going to keep winning? we're not going to win if we divide ourselves the issue of slavery. we're not going to keep winning if we throw over the white south or for that matter if we throw over people in the north who don't have slaves don't want slaves, but also are afraid that if you abolish slavery more black people will be free and come north and compete with white workers. they were racial equalitarian. yeah, they sort of wanted they wanted things to be sort of racially stay where they were northern democrats 1850s lead up to the civil war.
the antebellum united states every time i pronounce it anti. i want to right, you know, kick myself. it's loud. yeah antebellum united states northern democrats. would you say they were anti-slavery or they simply just while they were dofaces like james? well, there was a split. yeah, that's the point. it was a split. you know, there were the northern democrats like david wilmot a name should be better known who sponsored a resolution in congressman mexican war provision proviso saying that any lands that were conquered from mexico doing the mexican war would slavery would not be able to you know, be the law in those in those territories which later become states. whereas presidents like pierce buchanan to democrats elected in the 1850s said well, you know if people want slavery in those territories, it's probably okay, and we don't want to split the party up and the famous drisk infamous trade scott decision age 57, which argued that black people cannot be citizens when longer that thinking as well and
so democrats who were afraid of the power of the slave owners who wouldn't necessarily a favor of policy slavery, but they were afraid of something they called the slave power. that is the idea that pro slavery democrats. we're going to empower in the courts in the congress in the presidency would do the bidding of big slave owners in the south and they would basically take over the whole government and keep the whole government and do what they want with it and that drove lots of northern democrats to oppose. the expansion of slavery and a lot to become republicans as well. old wigs because slavery destroyed the wigs and split the democrats but the wigs are go extinct because of slavery. often today, you'll hear the democrats where the party of slavery and that was true by the by the civil war the party at least the southern part was basically dedicated to preserving jefferson davis was a democratic senator preserving this institution of slavery. after the war and you mentioned this quite a bit in your book, and of course, this is very much
a present issue today the promise of the civil war. the promise of liberty was was contradicted. was well the promise was reneged on because of how southern democrats treated freed people not immediately. there was the reconstruction was actually had some impressive. of course. that was the work of the radical republicans, which democrats didn't go along did not go along with they fought it tooth and nail all the way. we had the first ku klux klan democrat voted for the 14th amendment or the 15th amendment. not one not one. okay. yeah, so and they fought it. we had the ku klux klan. and the party doesn't really get over this for a hundred years. it's hard to reconcile that isn't it? i would argue in the book something i think is not most people don't realize that big democrats begin to get over it in 1930s. that's right. that's when democrats start voting. sorry. that's when black people start voting for democrats. thank you through six first election first presidential election, when most most black voters vote for the democrats even then most black people in south could not vote yes. yeah because were just a franchise.
but what we just happen is a couple things first of all the northern democratic party becomes first under woodrow wilson segregationist, but then especially under under franklin roosevelt the party of liberal intellectuals who often sympathize with the left in europe sometimes former socialists as well and and they are brought up in an environment which is in cities like new york, which much more friendly towards towards biracial culture biracial institutions public schools where people can go to school, you know, of course racial lines and so forth and also very important i think is the union movement itself in the 1930s the cio the congress industrial organizations, which was the union federation this formed in the mid 1930s out of the older america federation of labor is dedicated from the first to signing up members regardless of race. part for practical reasons because auto workers still workers me packing workers.
longshoremen. tobacco pickers are both black and white and if you only snap the whites, you're the population can break strikes, you know, and but also they believe in it, you know partly because they're background of a lot of organizers in the left. i think the multi-racial left so and as the cio grows and labor as a whole quintuples this membership from 1933 and 1945 and 3 million to 50 million members it puts pressure on the democrats to accept a black people not just as well. they're voting for you because maybe they get jobs and new deal agency, but to to argue that that racism is wrong and that the legacy of the democratic party in terms of race should be abandoned so that because for the 1960s yeah woodrow wilson was a progressive. so is teddy roosevelt woodrow wilson was also well white supremacist. that's not unfair to call him that his father was a confederate minister. yes. he was a racist. he did not hide that as well franklin roosevelt. didn't really do much for civil
rights either and that's another theme as i mentioned in your book this tension, but it starts it does start to break. yeah, because there are other progressive developments in the country that you know, that kind of i guess these things they kind of a help each other right labor movement as you mentioned started to include blacks and others, but by the time we reached the 1960s, we still have a many southern democrats who are would or that's the hill they're going to die on. how does how does the democratic party with lyndon johnson as get past that. well one could argue never really did get past it only got past it because most at least at least to pass a couple of pieces of legislation always before 65. well 6465. first of all democrats huge majorities in both has the congress 64 they're only trying to remember i think 30 republican senators something like that everybody won. but also northern republicans a
majority of not all by any means but mario northern republicans in the house and the senate vote for the civil rights act and the voting rights act right, there's republicans today often point out. is that a higher percentage of republicans voted for those two bills these landmark civil rights bills the democrats so many democrats were still from the south but those bills linda johnson famously said after civil rights act of 64 was passed. i think you lost the south regeneration. and he was wrong, but it was more than one generation. i mean that took time for it to become a solid south. yeah, the republic it took the time which is not quite a solid as it been for the democrats, but you know bill clinton as a democrat won several southern states jimmy carter. yeah, of course, too. yeah. he was a conservative democrat would you say? yeah, but he was not serving a race. i'm he was he was he was for the civilized movement he had, you know more black appointees in any president history before him for example, so, you know, i think what happened is once a democrats were perceived by a
lot of white voters who were ambivalent about civil rights or maybe attack towards in the south especially not just the south it wasn't just a southern problem. again, say well the democratic party is really more for this black people in this for us and they began to feel maybe these these liberals really, you know are it's just this really just mostly a black party now or party for minorities and and so they began often they often we keep voting for democrats at the local level. i was doing the south for a long time and the state level two but in but for presidential elections, they would vote republican they vote for nixon and 68 and 72 and then reagan and then both bushes. lbj had those big majorities, but he had to break a filibuster didn't he for voting rights and 65 he did have to break up. so both of them. yeah cuban humphrey actually who was in the senate in 64 and he was vice president by 65 was
instrumental doing that, too. glad you brought up hubert humphrey. i just watched very few people do yeah. good, man. here's a good hubert and racial humphrey. at the so the two the two huge convulsions or fissures the democratic party split before the civil war. they actually ran two can that it's in that presidential context. he's 16 1860 there were four candidates or a constitutional union party in the south. there's a former wigs. yeah former wigs with lincoln. it wasn't even on the that was a rigged election lincoln was not on the back and then of course the 1948 dixiecrat convention. i mean, we're not even talking the 60s yet, right the dixiecrats walk out or they form their own. i guess there was a walk out in the 60s but in 48 they formed their own convention with strong thurmond, you can find this speech on youtube as well. he gives this screeching white supremacist oration at the dixie crack convention. i mentioned hubert humphrey also in 48 it's time paraphrasing to walk out of the shadow of states rights and into this sunlight of
human rights. i mean what a moment that's why they walk out. yes, because he was giving a talk. he was then may have minneapolis and he'd give me a talk at that convention. thank you 48 to support, what was that a minority plank from the platform committee supporting civil rights bill and the speech was so powerful and enough liberal. especially labor liberals got behind it that the party as a whole did adopted as soon as they adopted it, you know, a lot of the southern democrats so they handwriting on the wall and they walked out. lbj and his big majorities fdr. i don't know if fdr had to overcome any filibusters. i don't know if the filibuster was used all that often in the 1930s, but when you look at the senate majorities during the new deal years and you wondering how did fdr get this program through 65 70 sometimes 75 democratic senators now some of those new deal programs had to be amended unfortunately to to get them past black people were excluded from some of them not specifically but yeah, it's right it was but it was a
domestic workers. yes. i'm culture workers. that's right who are most of the both from the wagner act the national labor relations act, which held the government helped recognize unions when workers wanted it and the social security too everybody except those people. yeah. that's right. would you say the new deal is really the the greatest moment in the democratic party probably because it's the moment when democratic party is more powerful is really the majority party and nobody really doubts it and also is able to get in the major bills to create kind of limited but real well for state we still have moral capitalism the word. yeah. in that sense, but again, you know, some people said well roosevelt saved capitalism because you know after all fascism was gaining in europe, you know, italy spain germany and and of course soviet union was was powerful in eastern europe and so the idea of
democracy surviving roosevelt said, you know from democracy to survive we have to make sure it serves the people sorry to interrupt and some people in the united states some conservatives some people on the right wanted fdr to assert near dictatorial powers because of the crisis of the depression was so severe but he resisted he resisted and of course he didn't need to because then 75 has a biggeries. yeah 98 senators at one point. i think he did actually one point. i do want to make that that's okay martin. okay, one of the hallmarks of new deal policies the one the most popular and the ones that still exist today is that they're more universal they didn't help one group of workers or one race specifically. just another now it's not to say that civil rights bill wasn't necessary. it was the voting rights act wasn't necessary. it was open housing act 1968 wasn't necessary. it was but most popular bills of the democrats have passed historically the ones that enable them to to build, you know on and or create majorities are ones, which which help the
great majority of americans like social security like medicare which no republican would think about trying to repeal today? well, they think about it, but they're never going to get there because so many people benefit from them barry goldwater. i think he wanted to get rid of social security and we saw what happened to enjoy one the privatizing but nowhere, that's right. yeah. i think what the important things about the new deal are the programs that endured a lot of the experimentation failed, of course, the new deal did not end. the great depression but that misses the point of the new deal it established. security predictability in against the vicissitudes a word that david m kennedy uses in his great book about the new deal against the vicinity professor. yes of the vicissitudes of life in a capitalist society. you need a safety net and that's what that would that's what endures to this day. so who you know to the point of your book what it took to win the new deal coalition was not a monolith. it was not ideologically pure you had a lot of different groups from different parts of the country in there, right?
in fact the larger the coalition the more heterogeneous is going to be yeah, we're big country, you know and good and if you have you know, 65 senators, they're all not going to in the same party. they're not all good agree. you know, this is not the bull street party even bull street party disagreed, but they didn't have democracy. but but of course you could also end up in front of a fine example, for example, the congressman named john rankin from mississippi who is a major architect of the tennessee valley authority this big government program to build dams provide electricity to people in the lower south which still operates today. it's government power, you know, fairly cheap costs to people down there. you know, he was an aggressive racist and anti-semite he gives peace on the floor the congress talking about i won't say the words words and words and k words, you know, so and he was kind of sympathetic towards hitler at until the war began. but same time he he knew he he wanted to extend, you know,
electricity to small farmers who was his statituents when johnson and the other side there were there were congress people from california and and state of washington who we now know we're probably members the communist party. and wait, aren't they all comments that and and they of course ran as democrats and they didn't talk about being communists at the time. but so when you had someone who was a sort of proto-fascist on one hand, and maybe actually remember the communist party and both the democratic party, that's a pretty hard coalition. but again democrats only do what they could do because the republican party had been so discreted by the great depression the hoovervilles and everything else and also because you know americans were appeal to as a people, you know by roosevelt and by the leading democrats my joke about communism even in fdr's day with these decidedly centrist programs. i mean the social security act
is a centrist program really progressive tax. that's great. it's but he faced allegations of socialism communism, you know destroy our capitalist. so the new deal the idea is of left they eventually do of steam which happens with movements right? it's hard to maintain as an expert on political movements. i don't need to convince you on that one. vietnam watergate the dollars of the late 1970s it appeared that what we might call the left or the new left. was out of ideas and was exhausted and that gives way to the reagan revolution. which i guess couldn't overturn the new deal by then, but was not going to allow any more liberal. reforms liberal pieces it that was it right draw the line and we're kind still living in that. think that's true and partly because we haven't had. a majority party in this country really sincerely nineteen seventies years, you know. one party wins for a while and takes for congress for a while.
another takes the senate another one takes to the house. this is much more like a period called gilded age late 90th century where the two parties were very equal in strength and when that happens you're not going to have real big sort of forward movements of any great size or or importance in policy more. you're going to have tinkering around the edges and as you say ronald reagan, you know was very popular last six years or so. it was administration. but but he didn't roll back social security or medicare actually, he was hostile to civil rights. we're over deficit under him than it had under under carter because he increased the defense budget so much to you know, so i was going to say hostel his administration was hostile to civil rights too, but they didn't win many big battles there the king holiday begins in 1983 in doing his time. the one thing you did do and this is important underlying against it did before he was hostile towards laborious even though he had been a leader of labor union when he was on a
liberal the screen actors guild back in hollywood, but when he broke this the aircraft control strike in 1980 a group of government workers who do not have the power legally going strike, but he decided instead of working with him negotiate with amy decided to fire them all to go on strike. it was part of because you know, the libyans had been even when they were getting some weaker by 1980 from the way they'd been doing the new deal. they were still the the activist corps the democratic party and so by attacking labor unions and republicans are still doing that. they could really attack the most important constituents and organizations, which helped democrats win. so it was not just like did republicans now attack teaches unions probably for that reason the word i was looking for before is no no new liberal incursions by the federal government is what they stop. they couldn't overturn the new deal try as they might but and obamacare was the first really yes. that's true since the 60s. he had enough of a majority to get that through for those two
girls and lost it really also trust in institutions damaged by johnson and i remember you mentioned in your book how you couldn't stand hubert humphrey because he waved pom-poms or johnson in the vietnam war. the hump was the yes yes, so vietnam water. eight. we're still facing. i think if you take the long view of american history over the really since the 1960s, we're suffering from a crisis and trust in our institutions and in our government, it's why it's so hard to hold on to power and have a long-running majority. but with good reason i mean the government has and our institutions have in many ways failed people. we just got out of afghanistan after 20 years when your thoughts we're you know, maybe we shouldn't have been the first place but where's the anti-world left actually american power both domestically in terms of and power abroad was obviously growing from arguely from world war one through world war two each of the cold war and the
state was growing too, you know, the military and just a complex was big government, you know, of course even though a lot of republicans supported it. but i think the loss in vietnam and it was a loss the fiscal crisis the stacked place in 1970s. also was the first time since a great depression when americans began to wonder about the future and there was no big huge boom that came after it really either and also inequality began to grow something which people on the left talk about a lot and people around the country. talk about too whether left or right these days. the gap between the rich and the poor the gap between ordinary wage earners and hedge fund managers. jeff bezos is the world and others is much larger than it was in the 40s and 50s and 60s and even 70s and i think leads to a sense of the government talks about helping all americans, but it's not doing anything about that. so who really cares about us
kind of question. i haven't democrats in a sense and you care deeply about the democratic party. they've lost their way on this issue at least some have i would argue that that their policies would actually reason why i'm a democrat a progressive democrat. we i think their policies that joe biden is a favor of that democratic party officially is in favor before bite is trying to pass well before buy those some more difficult. yes, because democrats again we're concerned about winning and they feel well if ronald reagan and both bushes are winning presidential elections by you know, sort of bashing unions to a degree by trying to get in welfare as we know it by, you know being opposed to primitive action other liberal ideas about race. maybe we should at least waffle in this issues as well. bill clinton came out a group called demographic leadership council, which was a group that was formed explicitly to move the democratic party to the right not because they were you know, right wingers but because they wanted to win so we'll wrap
up as a sure thought we'd keep this to about an hour. and boy that went fast, but you know, it's so many things. that's exactly we could spend the rest of our lives discussing this. franklin roosevelt is turning in his grave. he would turn in his grave if somebody would have whisper to him how his party lost blue collar labor to donald trump. how did that happen white blue color white blue collar labor important? yes, the republicans have made the working class. so working class is not all white. in fact, it's getting less white over time. republicans have made inroads with black voters a tiny bit. it's still but like 90 to voters and latino voters, which is probably more even more concerning to democrats. but for the most part, you're right african americans still vote 90 plus percent latinos like 2-1, but white blue collar labor and important constituency feels and we can get into this whole debate about how it want. why did trump win was it racial antagonism class antagonism, but there are many white blue collar
workers you feel abandoned by the democratic party and part of it is culture. i think a lot of those workers our church goers and feel like democratic party is secular party a lot of them also are you know opposed to abortion race, you know who were very religious and that's important and a lot of also live away from big mouth areas and feel that democrat party, is this sort of party of urban elites, you know or suburban elites place like bethesda, i mentioned before very democratic and very rich suburb north of washington, dc. but also i again not to harp on unionism, but i think when unions were in the private sector were very powerful institutions. let's say 35% of all wage earners were in them. that meant that they were places where people of different races, especially why workers would sort of get a political education. they would you know, we newspapers they'd be talked to
by by their shop stewards about why the democrats are the party for union rights for medicare for people getting out of poverty and so forth and they also mobilized people to vote. so people learn their politics for people close to them. i believe now, of course people, what's fox so what's msnbc or read the washington times either washington post? yes, they they get they get politics from there, too. but in the end who do you really trust about about political opinions? it's usually people in your family your friends your work community. perhaps you don't want to be out of step with them and when so many work white workers were in unions. in the midwest, especially with unions are very strong back in the 40 50 60s and 70s. then those workers tend to devote democratic. those industries are gone you when you when they left a lot of people moved south also to get jobs like, texas louisiana, florida places. never had really strong unions. i to work that began to change and one good example. i don't know if we have time, but i was point to west virginia.
west virginia used to an election night through the early 1990s was one of the first states called. for democrats, you know michael dukakis 1988 who lost by eight points to george w bush. nobody's idea of a populist, you know figure of andrew jackson or franklin roosevelt either pretty awkward guy. he won west virginia by 10 points. it was called right away. i never got your election night. why and then now, you know election night. it's called for republicans. and for donald trump. he went by 45 percentage points both times. why because the union united mine workers used to educate people not just the coal mine union, but outside the union too, west virginia to vote for democrats. and why did she vote for democrats? and now the united mine workers is like a fifth of its former size that makes a big difference you discussed the organizational abilities of the party how they created those quite a bit in your book what it took to win a history of the democratic party. michael kazen this has been fun. you are always welcome on the podcast. thank you jordan, since you're you're in local, you know now
now we can have you come in in studio now, you know unless i could be a weekly guest those would be long podcasts, but congrats on your book and thanks for coming here. thank you. everybody's been listening and watching at washington times.com history as it happens is available wherever you get your podcasts.