The Democrats re-fight an old battle

It seems that a decades-old battle for the soul of the Democratic Party has reemerged in the Obama administration.  The media likes to talk about splinters and fault lines among the Republicans, but these have a far shorter history than the intra-party war that seems to be fought ever few decades among Democrats because of that party's tendency to drift to the far left.  

Ron Radosh notes the interesting background of a group Van Jones founded, The Ella Baker Freedom Center.

Most people have referred to the late Baker as simply a civil rights activist.... in my book, Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996, I point out that the late civil rights lawyer Joe Rauh had noted that everything Baker said in the 60's might as well have been taken verbatim from The Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper. Baker was so pro-Communist that she attacked Hubert Humphrey and other liberal anti-Communists as ultra reactionaries.  Known as the "godmother of SNCC," Baker was aligned with those in the movement who were trying to push the organization to the far left.

As John Hinderaker at Powerline commented. 'If you think Hubert Humphrey was an ultra-reactionary, this administration's for you!'

As a native of Minnesota, I found much irony in that comment.   Like Barack Obama, Hubert Humphrey's first taste of national fame came when as a candidate for the US Senate he gave a widely acclaimed speech to the Democratic National Convention on the topic of race.  It was during the historic and bruising 1948 platform fight over adopting a civil rights plank. Rallying support for the plank, a passionate Humphrey spoke these lines that helped start a three decade long shock wave in American party politics

"To those who say, my friends, to those who say, that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years too late! To those who say, this civil rights program is an infringement on states' rights, I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!"

What Ella Baker and those of her ilk to loathe about Humphrey was that during the same year, 1948,  the Happy Warrior, had also played a key role in helping rid the Democratic Party and particularly the Minnesota hybrid, the Democrat Farmer-Labor Party of the communist influence that had arisen in the 1930s and 1940s.  

Humphrey had been important in merging Minnesota's powerful Farmer-Labor Party into the Democratic Party in 1944, creating the Minnesota political hybrid, the DFL, Before 1944, the strong presence of the Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota not only often relegated the Democrat candidate to third place in statewide elections, it frequently allowed the Republicans to win with a mere plurality of voters.  Part of the divide between Minnesota Democrats and the Farmer-Laborites was based on ethnicity and an urban rural split, with the small town Scandinavians supporting the Farmer -Laborites and the urban Irish the Democrats. Another part, however, was that the FL had a sizable far left contingent that turned off as many voters as it impassioned.  In addition, Farmer Laborite politicians had presided over administrations heavily laden with patronage employees that gave lie to all the campaign promises of reform. That corruption paved the way for the 1938 election of the nation's youngest governor at 31, Republican reformer Harold Stassen, who did make good on his promises of state hiring reform. In 1940, Stassen had close to rock star status among Republican voters.

Hubert Humphrey had to fight several bruising battle to rid the Farmer Labor Party wing of communist influence in order to hold together his new coalition.  In 1948 many of the far left wingers who had merged parties in 1944 were now ready to split in order to support third party Progressive candidate for president Henry Wallace.   Humphrey and his ally, Orville Freeman, were able to out-organize their intra-party rivals and bring substantially more supporters to the Minnesota precinct caucuses.  Humphrey went on to become the DFL candidate for Senator, a seat he held until he became Lyndon Johnson's Vice Presidential running mate in 1964.

Intra-party squabbles continued for awhile, but Wallace's anemic performance in the 1948 general election largely marginalized the far left within the Democratic Party.  In addition, by forcing the Democrats to adopt a civil rights platform, Humphrey robbed Wallace and the Progressives of their most attractive elective issue with the general public, the end of legal segregation.  In addition, ever since the 1960s, the Democratic Party has used their support of federal government activism in the cause of civil rights as proof of their absolute moral authority on all issues. 

It is ironic that when the same intra party divide raised it head in 1968, fueled by the War in Vietnam, it probably cost Humphrey the White House.  In the 1990s, Bill Clinton tried to keep the Democrats from drifting left. While he won two terms in the White House, he had limited success in organizational terms.  In 2009, the intense unpopularity of specific items on the Democrat agenda, the anemic popularity of this Democrat-led Congress and the sagging popularity of Barack Obama all suggest that the Democrats need to find a new Happy Warrior.  This time he needs to be talking about getting the party out of the shadow of a central government run amok.
It seems that a decades-old battle for the soul of the Democratic Party has reemerged in the Obama administration.  The media likes to talk about splinters and fault lines among the Republicans, but these have a far shorter history than the intra-party war that seems to be fought ever few decades among Democrats because of that party's tendency to drift to the far left.  

Ron Radosh notes the interesting background of a group Van Jones founded, The Ella Baker Freedom Center.

Most people have referred to the late Baker as simply a civil rights activist.... in my book, Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996, I point out that the late civil rights lawyer Joe Rauh had noted that everything Baker said in the 60's might as well have been taken verbatim from The Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper. Baker was so pro-Communist that she attacked Hubert Humphrey and other liberal anti-Communists as ultra reactionaries.  Known as the "godmother of SNCC," Baker was aligned with those in the movement who were trying to push the organization to the far left.

As John Hinderaker at Powerline commented. 'If you think Hubert Humphrey was an ultra-reactionary, this administration's for you!'

As a native of Minnesota, I found much irony in that comment.   Like Barack Obama, Hubert Humphrey's first taste of national fame came when as a candidate for the US Senate he gave a widely acclaimed speech to the Democratic National Convention on the topic of race.  It was during the historic and bruising 1948 platform fight over adopting a civil rights plank. Rallying support for the plank, a passionate Humphrey spoke these lines that helped start a three decade long shock wave in American party politics

"To those who say, my friends, to those who say, that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years too late! To those who say, this civil rights program is an infringement on states' rights, I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!"

What Ella Baker and those of her ilk to loathe about Humphrey was that during the same year, 1948,  the Happy Warrior, had also played a key role in helping rid the Democratic Party and particularly the Minnesota hybrid, the Democrat Farmer-Labor Party of the communist influence that had arisen in the 1930s and 1940s.  

Humphrey had been important in merging Minnesota's powerful Farmer-Labor Party into the Democratic Party in 1944, creating the Minnesota political hybrid, the DFL, Before 1944, the strong presence of the Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota not only often relegated the Democrat candidate to third place in statewide elections, it frequently allowed the Republicans to win with a mere plurality of voters.  Part of the divide between Minnesota Democrats and the Farmer-Laborites was based on ethnicity and an urban rural split, with the small town Scandinavians supporting the Farmer -Laborites and the urban Irish the Democrats. Another part, however, was that the FL had a sizable far left contingent that turned off as many voters as it impassioned.  In addition, Farmer Laborite politicians had presided over administrations heavily laden with patronage employees that gave lie to all the campaign promises of reform. That corruption paved the way for the 1938 election of the nation's youngest governor at 31, Republican reformer Harold Stassen, who did make good on his promises of state hiring reform. In 1940, Stassen had close to rock star status among Republican voters.

Hubert Humphrey had to fight several bruising battle to rid the Farmer Labor Party wing of communist influence in order to hold together his new coalition.  In 1948 many of the far left wingers who had merged parties in 1944 were now ready to split in order to support third party Progressive candidate for president Henry Wallace.   Humphrey and his ally, Orville Freeman, were able to out-organize their intra-party rivals and bring substantially more supporters to the Minnesota precinct caucuses.  Humphrey went on to become the DFL candidate for Senator, a seat he held until he became Lyndon Johnson's Vice Presidential running mate in 1964.

Intra-party squabbles continued for awhile, but Wallace's anemic performance in the 1948 general election largely marginalized the far left within the Democratic Party.  In addition, by forcing the Democrats to adopt a civil rights platform, Humphrey robbed Wallace and the Progressives of their most attractive elective issue with the general public, the end of legal segregation.  In addition, ever since the 1960s, the Democratic Party has used their support of federal government activism in the cause of civil rights as proof of their absolute moral authority on all issues. 

It is ironic that when the same intra party divide raised it head in 1968, fueled by the War in Vietnam, it probably cost Humphrey the White House.  In the 1990s, Bill Clinton tried to keep the Democrats from drifting left. While he won two terms in the White House, he had limited success in organizational terms.  In 2009, the intense unpopularity of specific items on the Democrat agenda, the anemic popularity of this Democrat-led Congress and the sagging popularity of Barack Obama all suggest that the Democrats need to find a new Happy Warrior.  This time he needs to be talking about getting the party out of the shadow of a central government run amok.