Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reading: Rick Perlstein on Chicago, white backlash, open housing--and Obama's nomination

Perlstein, author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and the just-out Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, on the birth and rise of contemporary conservatism, looks closely in the latter book at the 1966 congressional elections, when popular reaction began to sweep New Deal Democrats and Civil Rights Democrats out of office.

In a post today he zeroes in on the subject a little more, sharing some as-yet-unpublished information from the time and tying it to the events of the Democratic presidential race this week.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson—and, apparently, liberalism—achieved such a gigantic landslide victory that it appeared to pundits the Republican Party would be forever consigned to the outer darkness if it ever entertained a Goldwater-style conservative law-and-order platform again. Two years later, most of the new liberal congressmen swept in on LBJ's coattails—the congressional class that gave us Medicare and Medicaid, the first serious environmental legislation, National Endowments for the Humanities and Arts, Head Start, the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the end of racist immigration quotas, Legal Aid, and more—was swept out on a tide of popular reaction.

That reaction […] rested on two pillars: terror at the wave of urban rioting that began in the Watts district of Los Angeles; and terror at the prospect of the 1966 civil rights bill passing, which, by imposing an ironclad federal ban on racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing—known as "open housing"—would be the first legislation to impact the entire nation equally, not just the South.

Perlstein charts the open housing backlash--particularly in Chicago--against the 1966 re-election campaign of Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois, and examines the archived letters Douglas received on the subject in 1965-66.

It isn't pretty. But it's worth reading if only to share the celebration of a black man from Chicago leading the Democratic Party in the presidential campaign this year.

Perlstein's post is going onto the Readings list in the sidebar.

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