A common narrative promulgated on right-wing talk radio and social media is the idea that Democrats stood in the way of President Lincoln during the Civil War when he was trying to end slavery. Another is that Democrats were the party of the Ku Klux Klan. Oh, and of course there’s that picture of Hillary Clinton kissing Senator Robert Byrd, the legendary legislator from West Virginia who briefly was a KKK member in the 1940’s. The issue here is not that the narrative itself is false. Actually it’s true that Democrats, prior to the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s, were indeed part of a large group of lawmakers who stood in the way of progress on racial equality. It’s also true that Democrats did try to block Lincoln’s actions against slavery, and Senator Byrd was in the KKK. So, while this narrative does have historical fact supporting it, what it doesn’t do is tell the whole story. The narrative needs a proverbial asterisk beside it. Unfortunately in today’s right-wing echo chamber, sound bites and inflammatory rhetoric is what drives the day. The whole truth and ‘the rest of the story’ be damned. Cheap political points and driving a wedge between the races are more important. Factually correct? Yes. Disingenuous beyond belief? You bet.
Real World vs. Fantasy World
So let’s play a game. On one side we have the real world conservative talk show host. This particular host lies, misleads, issues false statements, and sows racial division on a daily basis. We’ll call him Real World Rush. On the other side we have another conservative talk show host. This host, while still maintaining his conservative principles, speaks truthfully, follows through with facts, and exhibits an aura of dignity and honor on a daily basis. We’ll call him Fantasy World Rush. So in our game, Real World Rush says the following: “My friends, the Democrat Party is the party of slavery. They stood in the way of Lincoln and the abolitionists, were led by known KKK member Senator Robert Byrd in the 1960’s and 70’s, and stood up for Jim Crow laws in the South. My fellow Americans, this is the Democrat Party!” Our Fantasy World Rush says this: “My friends, the Democrats at one time were the party of slavery during Lincoln’s time. They fought to keep Jim Crow alive in the South, and Robert Byrd was a member of the KKK in the 1940’s. However, those Democrats are not the Democratic Party of today. Back in the 1960’s, with all of the civil rights demonstrations and Martin Luther King etc..there was a massive transformation taking place, culminating in the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. LBJ himself knew that the passing of those laws would ensure that the Democratic Party would be lost for generations in the South. And my friends, that’s exactly what has taken place. Yesterday’s Democrats in the South are today’s Republican Party. And Robert Byrd? Well, he looked back on his days as a KKK member with utter regret and eventually became a staunch supporter of civil rights throughout his long career as a Senator. Oh, and to cap it all off he supported Barack Obama for President, the first African-American ever to be elected to that office. My friends, that’s the truth.”
Holding them accountable
So when we hear conservative talking heads or those on social media spewing these kinds of disingenuous and divisive comments, they must be held to account. If they mislead, correct them. If they leave out facts, let them know about it. Otherwise, their narrative becomes the norm. It starts to be taken as fact. Remember, facts are not ‘fantasy,’ their ‘real world’ is. Never forget that.