Democrats younaturally try to separate their modern party from its past. It is because history is shameful. Their icons practiced slavery (Thomas Jefferson), engaged in ethnic cleansing of Native Americans (Andrew Jackson), and locked up Americans of Japanese, German and Italian descent in concentration camps (Franklin Roosevelt).
Democrats and their media allies are at least pretending to be deeply offended that Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor Doug Mastriano wore a Confederate uniform in a photograph of the Army War College faculty, where he teaches. Just to be clear, Mastriano is a PhD in history. and Civil War battle enthusiast who represents Gettysburg in the state Senate and conducts tours there.
Her wearing this uniform makes much more sense in this context. But if we really want to talk about historically questionable associations while ignoring the context, then we have to turn to the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, after all, represents the historical party of slavery, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.
If we’re going to focus on the story in such a tense and particular way to create controversy around Mastriano, then Shapiro’s membership in a discriminatory, historically segregationist, and pro-slavery political party is equally relevant..
Democrats have had every opportunity over the past 160 years to rename and rename their party since the defeat of the Confederacy that Democrats founded, defended and expanded into the modern age through Jim Crow laws. But they opted to stick with the same brand, largely to avoid alienating their base for as long as possible.
The Democrats had no shame whatsoever when they formed and led the Confederate States of America. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a Democrat, as was Nathan Bedford Forrest, who helped found a terrorist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan. In 1868, the Democratic Party nominated a Copperhead—a Northern Confederate sympathizer—named Horatio Seymour. He had been the instigator of the New York Draft riots of 1863 and a staunch opponent of the breakup of the Confederacy by prosecuting the Civil War.
Nor has the Democratic Party been ashamed to bear its allegiance to racism, segregation and domestic terrorism in the 20th century. President Woodrow Wilson was an ardent racist who re-segregated the military and the federal civil service. Decades later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated a former Klansman (Hugo Black) to the Supreme Court over objections from Republicans. And the best jobs in FDR’s depression recovery program were for white people.
Democrats opposed Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Act of 1957 and subsequent Civil Rights Acts of 1960 and 1964. Indeed, even when Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the 1964 bill, his motives were more exploitative than altruistic. “I’m going to make them vote Democrats for 200 years,” he said by way of explanation.
In this century, the Democrats had a former KKK leader as a US senator (Robert Byrd) until 2010. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) called Barack Obama, in 2007, a “brilliant” African American and clean”. The following year, United States Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Obama a “light-skinned” African American with no “black dialect unless he wanted to have one.”
This is the leadership of the Democratic Party of the 21st century, not that of the 1860s.
Doug Mastriano spent 30 years in the US military serving his country in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a member of the Republican Party, he can consider himself the political heir to Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Edward Brooke (R-MA), the first black American senator elected by the people.
The historic legacy of Mastriano’s party is that it outlawed the Ku Klux Klan, passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution – outlawing slavery, making blacks citizens and granting them the right to vote, respectively . Republicans passed the first civil rights laws since Reconstruction and forced the desegregation of the staunchly Democratic South. Republicans implemented the Philadelphia plan, desegregating the building trades. Republicans have named the first black secretary of state (Colin Powell) and the first black national security adviser (Condoleezza Rice).
Neither Doug Mastriano nor any Republican need be ashamed of the party’s history. Democrats do.
And of course the Democrats can say their party has changed – just like maybe someone could wear a Confederate uniform in a historical context and say they don’t represent slavery and secession the way they might have do in 1865. But, of course, both of these claims would require context. Democrats don’t want to give context, so why should they get context?
Josh Shapiro and the Democrats, if they want to live by their own standards, are going to have to do something about the problematic organization they belong to and represent on the ballot.
Michael Tremoglie is a writer from Pennsylvania.