As Republicans court Latinos, they can learn from LBJ’s Great Society

November 16, 2012

Hoping to win the affections of Hispanic voters who scorned their presidential nominee in record numbers on November 6, some Republicans have embraced comprehensive immigration reform. But will the passing of one piece of legislation, however comprehensive, be enough to persuade significant numbers of Hispanics to begin voting Republican in 2014 and 2016?

History and recent opinion polls suggest not.

To understand why, look back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when both major parties were locked in intense struggles for black votes. That saga might offer some insight into the enormous challenges confronting Republicans.

For generations after the Civil War, most blacks considered themselves Republicans and were, until the 1930s, loyal to the party of Lincoln. But Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s upset that equation.

In his 1936 re-election campaign, FDR won huge majorities in black neighborhoods of northern cities, a result of direct appeals by Democratic Party leaders who cited New Deal programs and the ways they helped improve the lives of poor blacks. One DNC campaign pamphlet circulated among black voters in 1936 said: “He clothed us when we were naked, gave us drink when we thirsted, fed us when we were hungry and gave us shelter when we were out in the cold.”

The appeal worked. Although Democrats had not tried to pass civil rights laws, author Nancy J. Weiss wrote in her 1983 book, “Farewell to the Party of Lincoln,” that FDR “had managed to convey to [black voters] that they counted and belonged.”

FDR’s success started to break the Republicans’ hold on the black vote, but he did not secure their permanent loyalty. While 68 percent of blacks voted for him in the 1944 presidential elections, only 40 percent identified themselves as Democrats. Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign — following his party’s endorsement of civil rights and his desegregation of the military — earned Democrats a record 77 percent of black votes, but President Dwight Eisenhower fought back, appointing progressive judges, proposing a civil rights law and sending in federal troops to desegregate public schools in Little Rock. In 1956, blacks rewarded Eisenhower with the highest percentage of black votes for a Republican in a generation — 39 percent.

That prompted Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson to worry that Republicans might stage a comeback with black voters by pushing long-desired civil rights legislation. In 1957, in anticipation of the 1958 midterm elections, Eisenhower offered a mild civil rights bill that Johnson and the Senate’s Democrats amended and passed into law. But absent Johnson’s skillful maneuvering to head off a Southern filibuster, the bill would likely have failed. In the end, Johnson’s public embrace of the legislation, combined with his arm-twisting and deft management of the debate, earned him and his party the most credit for the bill’s passage.

By the early 1960s, Democrats were on their way to securing the black vote — 68 percent in 1960 and, because of Johnson’s strong support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 91 percent in 1964. But even after Johnson’s signature on a major civil rights bill, blacks didn’t switch party registrations in large numbers. In the 1964 election, 52 percent of blacks still told pollsters they considered themselves Republican.

Civil rights and voting rights bills delivered the votes of black Americans in the mid-1960s to Democrats. But it was Johnson’s subsequent Great Society programs — Medicaid, Medicare, education and fair housing laws — that improved their lives in more tangible and profound ways and, in turn, secured their lasting affection.

As Republicans vie for Hispanic votes, they must consider that passing one law may not be sufficient — and, worse, as the 1957 Civil Rights Act demonstrated, they may get little credit for its passage. Even the Republicans’ high-profile, vital role in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act earned them little lasting affection from blacks after the 1964 GOP nominee, Barry Goldwater, voted against the bill and his party opposed Johnson’s Great Society.

This long, contentious courtship of black voters suggests that a successful Republican effort to win over Hispanics might take many years, perhaps a decade or more. A quick-fix approach may yield little.

That’s not to say that immigration reform shouldn’t be the starting point. Support for such legislation could be worthwhile if Republicans start winning even a slightly larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2014. Nonetheless, immigration reform is not the top concern of most Hispanics. According to an impreMedia/Latino Decisions pre-election poll, 53 percent of Hispanic voters listed the economy and jobs as their top concern. Thirty-five percent were most concerned about immigration, but health care and education were also significant issues.

As Republicans work to win Hispanic voters, they would do well to view immigration reform as a kind of civil rights act, knowing, however, that Hispanics also want their own version of the Great Society. That means Republicans must be prepared to develop a deep, lasting commitment to a panoply of issues important to Hispanics.

That will be more difficult, especially if the party wants to maintain its conservative, anti-immigration base. But if winning Hispanic votes is the goal, this approach will likely be more productive. What the civil rights era demonstrates is that the lasting affection of a significant demographic cannot be bought with one bill. To alter the political landscape, Republicans must begin the long, hard work of establishing and nurturing a deeper, meaningful relationship with Hispanics.


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Well, yes and no, Mr. Mann.

American taxpayers include many hard working and increasingly capable legal resident Latinos. The major parties can and should court these citizen’s votes by making their path(s) to success in America well marked and uncrowded. These people do NOT benefit from an immigration POLICY that rewards fence-jumpers with a “place in line” ahead of legitimate immigrants who follow applicable immigration statutes and adopted rules. Resident Latinos understandably resent the ongoing “guilt by association” negative opinions illegal aliens create and vividly illustrate in American society.

It is not only not necessary, but contraproductive to pander to the “Illegal Alien” lobby who should have NO votes. Reducing the number and length of residence in the U.S. of illegal aliens reduces the competition of “climbing the economic ladder” to success.

Republicans need to define and advocate a policy for QUALITY Immigration that favors fewer in number of those with skills in relatively short supply here. America has enough “home-grown” poor, and henceforth only immigration by those with skills America needs should be encouraged. While Taxpayers may have had little “say” to date, does anyone doubt that they DON’T want more and more immigrants that are or will be a continuing and increasing financial burden?

There is a long line of qualified people playing by “the rules” to immigrate here with skills that will enable them to be contributing members of our society. Back in the Ronald Reagan a “deal” was cut to allow illegal immigrants then in the country amnesty ONCE.

Well, folks, Americans held up our part of that bargain and what did we get? Millions MORE illegal immigrants who, generally, brought with them no money and no skills. That means they have few legal prospects for employment necessary to support themselves and their present or future family.

Untold Billions of American’s taxes are shoveled out to such fence jumpers in the form of Welfare and Social Services such as food stamps, WIC, free school lunches (and through the summer), Medicaid, uncompensated Emergency care at our hospitals, and education (including bilingual). They are disproportionally involved in gangs and illegal activities which increases our court costs and our costs to incarcerate the sociopaths among them.

Many ethnic groups have fought long entrenched prejudice to become “accepted” as part of American society, among them Blacks, Jews, Catholics, “Orientals”, Italians, Irish, Puerto RIcans, Vietnamese, Indians, Pakistanis, and even American Indians. But only our legitimate Latino citizens have had the burden of being deemed “worthy” when groups of illegals that look just like them are simultaneously bragging about their undocumented status and demanding non-existent “rights” repeatedly on the evening news. Their “best interests” and those of the illegals are NOT the same, or even close.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Just what can anyone learn from LBJ except buy votes. It is time to close all borders except for college graduates in curriculum we need here.

Posted by elsewhere | Report as abusive

FOX News should start broadcasting in Spanish

Posted by KyuuAL | Report as abusive

I really don’t get this. Republicans are the type who want people to come to the US and start a business. Democrats are the type that want people to come to the US and leach off of those who worked hard to start their own business.

Hispanics are conservative, they want to start their own business, but the have been duped by the Dems who have managed to keep the black population in a welfare state sin the late 1800’s.

Wake up people!

Posted by dkn111 | Report as abusive

After all the rhetoric against people of color, the 47%, the takers…It will be very, very entertaining to watch the GOP court Mexicans, etc without losing their “base” of racist, angry white men and women. Wow, this is going to be hilarious!
I’m sure they don’t have a chance to please both sides.

Posted by 2educated | Report as abusive

There will be NO courtship as long as TeaBaggers and Faux News have anything to do with it. And there ”Latino Outreach” could use some work. A LOT of work:

Posted by DeSwiss | Report as abusive

How can the republicans begin the long, hard work of establishing and nurturing a deeper, meaningful relationship with Hispanics if the GOP base is racist and despise Hispanics in general illegal or not?? They can not cater to the KKK and Hispanics at the same time. I think the GOP is going to lie better and hide their true feelings and intentions (racism and hate) as they always do. And Hispanics are not going to buy it.

Posted by goforward | Report as abusive

Republicans tailor message to reach Latinos:

“Corporations are people too, mi amigo. Corporations are people too!”

Good times. Good God. Good riddance.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

This is way off the mark. You have made no mention of the Nixon Southern Strategy, which turned white segregationists overwhelmingly to the Republican party. That drove black voters away for good. The Republican Party has the same problem with Hispanic voters that it does with black voters.

It was a successful strategy in 1972, but now the chickens have come home to roost. The Republicans cannot appeal to Hispanics and other people of color until they repudiate racism through action. Messaging isn’t enough.

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive

One of the biggest hurdles for the GOP is basic education on this. They’ve got people like Sarah Palin (one of the self-proclaimed conservative leaders)…. who think Africa is a country. They have their foxnews pundits blowing their dog whistles about ‘inner city’ threats to upright living; and Obama’s ‘welfare voters.’ You remember the line. It was only 2 weeks ago.

All of this ignorance and paranoia within the current GOP alienates voters nationally.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

You mean the same LBJ’s Great Society that was never funded by Congress, and is the main reason Social Security is now broke?

Great idea!

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

I think this piece is unfair to the legacy of Lyndon Johnson. It should not be overlooked that President Lyndon Johnson believed strongly in the civil rights legislation that became the hallmark of his presidency. He twisted every arm in the U.S. Capitol building to get it passed, and he did not do so for political reasons. In fact, Johnson knew while he was getting this legislation passed that it would mean losing the so-called Dixiecrat contingent of the Democratic party. When Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, it was because pro-segregationist white voters (mostly in Southern states) had left the Democratic party because of LBJ’s civil rights legislation.

Johnson served in both the House and the Senate prior to becoming Vice President (and then President), and he may have been the canniest Senate majority leader of all time. There is a story about Johnson, that a freshman legislator once came to him to ask for his help on a bill. “Sure,” Johnson is said to have replied. “Now, do you want me to for you or against you?”

If LBJ has viewed the civil rights legislation in purely political terms, it would not have been passed or it would have been passed only in a watered-down form. If the motives were purely political, the canniest thing to do would have been to introduce the legislation and then to allow the pro-segregationist forces to defeat it or to amend it to reduce its impact substantially. If that had happened, the Democrats would have kept the Dixiecrats while acquiring a claim on the moral high ground. That would have been the purely political approach, but that is not what Johnson did.

Contrast Johnson’s civil rights accomplishments with how Kennedy treated Sammmy Davis, Jr. Davis had campaigned tirelessly for Kennedy and was a substantial factor in Kennedy’s 1960 election. The day before inauguration day, however, Davis was disinvited to all of the inaugural events because the incoming team from Boston was concerned about offending the Dixiecrats by inviting a black man to attend a social event as a guest. (Davis would have understood completely. As a top entertainer, he was familiar with the many venues that featured black artists on stage but did not allow them in the audience.) Davis was a victim of politics, and it was that experience that led him to become a member of the Republican party about four years before the Dixiecrats.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

@Bob9999: Whatever LBJ did for welfare, I find it hard to forget that he boosted “employment” in large degree by massively escalating the Vietnam War — killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of Americans, Vietnamese, Australians etc. with a war started on a false pretext and waged needlessly. Pure communism is inherently unstable and would have fallen of its own accord — but given an external enemy (American military interventionism) its evils are only sustained for longer through unity against the invaders.

The cause of civil rights was just, but Johnson’s belligerent methods had a darker side. LBJ wholly failed to follow up Kennedy’s lead in rapprochement with the Soviets through common endeavors in the space race (a common moon mission), and instead, murdered a million people through his hard war on communism. In this context, it’s hard for me to understand his taking of credit for Eisenhower’s first moves in the civil rights arena for anything other than a deft political maneuver.

“It seems to me that, for the nation as for the individual, what is most important is to insist on the vital need of combining certain sets of qualities, which separately are common enough, and, alas, useless enough. Practical efficiency is common, and lofty idealism not uncommon; it is the combination which is necessary, and the combination is rare. Love of peace is common among weak, short-sighted, timid, and lazy persons; and on the other hand courage is found among many men of evil temper and bad character. Neither quality shall by itself avail.”
— Theodore Roosevelt, 1913.

Similarly, while FDR rebranded welfare in his time as “New Deal”, his policies had their roots in initiatives started on a smaller scale by Hoover. Hoover and Eisenhower have been short-changed and cheated by Democrat-leaning revisionists. ohnson#Senate_Democratic_leader _Johnson_and_Richard_Russell.jpg

— Can a man like this seriously be the font of good-will in the field of civil rights?

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

As a native born Hispanic with a college education why would I EVER trust the Republican Party. I have a wonderful strategy for the Republican party to get the vote of people like me. First, kick out all of the racist, xenophobic, bible thumping ignorant TeaBaggers and tell them to go back to the American Nazi Party, the Libertarian Party, or the Klan where they belong. Then go to the FAR Left of the Democratic party. At present it’s practically unoccupied territory. Support gay marriage, universal health care, public education into college, public WPA type infrastructure programs, repeal Taft_Hartly, promote green technology, access to abortion, birth control rights. Cut military funding and withdraw our troops from the world and change NAFTA to include union rights. If they continue this for 20 years maybe I’ll vote for them.

Posted by Zo0tie | Report as abusive