Delegate needs lesson in history

Del. Wendell Walker’s clumsy and ill-informed attempt to score petty political points by trying to link today’s Democrats with the legacy of the Byrd Machine shows again the power and danger of throwing around labels taken out of context. Demographics change. Political parties realign themselves periodically and can vary regionally so trying to link past politicians with today’s political parties proves tricky and often harmful.

Southern Democrats post-Civil War were never true Democrats. They took on that name because in the South for about 100 years, no one could win office running as a Republican. That tag meant the Party of The North, Lincoln and, later, Radical Reconstruction. Aligning with the former enemy was not an option.

Ultra-conservative Southern Democrats (a.k.a., white male “Dixiecrats”) controlled the South for decades. As long as the national party left them alone, they rendered the Republican Party irrelevant in the Solid South.

With the push for Civil Rights after World War II, that all began to change. Republicans in the South gained ground as they supported actual reforms, which were more liberal than what existed. Eventually the winds of change broke the stranglehold hold of one-party rule, a worthy and righteous thing.

By the 1970s, some “Democrats” in Virginia could switch their party with no punishment at election time. That happened with Gov. Mills Godwin, running first as a Democrat and then four years later, running as a Republican. He did not change his beliefs, just the tag. He instituted a sales tax (gasp!) to pay for a community college system which has paid this state back many times over. He understood prudent, constructive, reasonable, bipartisan and measured investment for the future. Where is that measured and practical party today? Gutted.

Sadly his breed of moderately progressive Republicans, serious about the future, got pushed out as an element with the corrosive Dixiecrat mindset moved into that tent and started looking backwards. Anyone wishing to use red herring out of context past labels needs to do their homework. Playing gotcha, bumper-sticker politics to manipulate the public further spreads ignorance and fosters division and distrust. Just perpetuating the current party’s superficial talking points does little to truly educate.

This destructive climate needs to change but as long as such ill informed pettiness, which infects this nation all the way to the very top, continues we only spin our wheels.

ELIZABETH A. PAULL

Amherst

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