Would the Civil Rights Act run up against a similar brick wall today? The politics and issues are different. The strong conservatism that dominated yesterday’s Southern Democrats is found more conspicuously in today’s Republican Party, partly because of LBJ’s achievements.
That shift began significantly in the backlash years immediately following LBJ’s civil rights legislation. As minorities and others who favored activist government flocked to the party of LBJ, the Republican base became more white and also shifted to the South and to western mountain states. Today in its support of states’ rights and opposition to “big government,” the Party of Abraham Lincoln sounds more like the party of the old Confederacy.
And compared to today’s political landscape, the civil rights divide in LBJ’s day was a more clear-cut choice between injustice and equal opportunity. In today’s civil rights debates, both sides call for the same principles -”freedom,” ‘‘equal rights” and “opportunity” - but have very different definitions of what those words mean.
E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.