Labels

The Republicans in the South are exactly the same as they’ve always been, only we used to call them Democrats. The South was once a one-party region and that party was the Democrats and they were much more conservative than the most conservative Republican of the time. This was the basis for Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, to lure conservative Democrats in the South over to the Republican party. We see the results today. Rather than being the party of Reagan, as many conservatives claim, modern Republicans are very much the party of Nixon. At some point in the 80s or 90s following the “Reagan revolution” Southern Democrats simply started calling themselves Republicans. Nothing else changed.

I grew up in a conservative Republican household in Georgia and at that time, Republicans couldn’t get elected dog-catcher in the state. When Carter ran for president in 1976, I was one of only three people in my elementary school classroom who didn’t vote for him in a mock election. In the 1980s, it was a major deal when Mack Mattingly defeated Herman Talmadge for the Senate in Georgia. Mattingly was the first Republican elected statewide in Georgia since Reconstruction, but he wasn’t part of the same Republican party. It took a few years for people to realize that, so Mattingly was a one-term senator.

This is why I don’t trust the two-party system. All we do is hang the label of Democrat or Republican onto constantly evolving ideologies. The Republicans were once the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, and were considered progressives at the time of the Civil War, while the Democrats lobbied for the Fugitive Slave Act and the Southern faction seceded from the Union when Lincoln was elected. Andrew Jackson was the Democratic president who as a general, lead troops during the “Indian Wars” and as president, set in motion the Trail of Tears, where Native Americans were forcibly relocated from their ancestral homelands to reservations in the West. Franklin Roosevelt transformed the Democrats into the party of the “New Deal” and Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress, and people who were once staunch Democrats watched the party being taken over by “progressives” from the North, and eventually switched their label to Republican. In reality, though, nothing changed. Richard Russell, Lester Maddox, and Herman Talmadge were all Democrats who made Ronald Reagan seem like a Hollywood liberal.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to politics. When Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe, church officials adopted all the Pagan celebrations and feast days to accommodate converts to the new religion. The rituals and observances all stayed the same, they just hung a different label on them and before long, no one could remember the “old ways” mainly because they never went away. Christmas went from being the feast day for Mithras or the Saturnalia to being the observance of Jesus’s birth. The Gospels do not indicate that Jesus was born in December, but since the celebration was set then, the church promoted the idea to win over Pagans and it worked. In Colonial America, Protestant Puritans banned the Christmas celebration precisely because of its Pagan origins.

Much was made of evangelicals “taking over” the Republican party following Reagan’s presidency, but in fact, all that happened was that the conservative Democrats in the South switched allegiances. Politics and religion have always gone hand in hand. John F. Kennedy was considered a risky proposition in the early-60s because of his Catholic upbringing. People whose grandparents once thanked God for the Democrats now see the Republicans as God’s chosen party. The very system that got Republicans elected in the South and continues to work in their favor was initiated by conservative Democrats generations before many current Republicans were born. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Under such circumstances, is there any wonder why so many people label themselves as “undecided”?

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