The Fog Of History: The Case Of The Foggy Historian

I’m used to people misusing history to make a point but it’s usually politicians or pundits who do so. This time it was a BC professor with an uber WASPY name, Heather Cox Richardson, in an interview with Elias Isquith of Salon:

Well, yes, the South and West were moving toward the Republicans in the ’40s, but it was not clear which direction the Republican Party was going to [on race issues]. It’s really worth remembering that Brown v. Board of education is [decided] by Earl Warren, who is a Republican politician; it’s a Republican [Supreme] Court; and Warren is appointed by Eisenhower, a Republican president …

She blows a perfectly valid point by getting her facts wrong. Earl Warren was the only Republican appointee on that court. They others were all Roosevelt or Truman picks. It was not a Republican court that decided Brown.

Professor Richardson is right in thinking that the GOP was on the civil rights cusp at that point. Tom Dewey ran to Truman’s left on civil rights and passed some landmark civil rights legislation in New York. Ike’s AG, Herbert Brownell, was Dewey’s former right hand man and a committed progressive when it came to racial justice. Brownell’s liberal views collided with those of his President and the GOP began a slow, torturous move to the right on civil rights. It was still a mixed bag until Tricky Dick sold what was left of his soul to Strom Thurmond in 1968.

Dewey is an underrated figure in our political history largely because he was a stiff. I have long thought that it *might* have been better for the country if he’d defeated Truman in 1948. The second Red Scare wouldn’t have spiraled out of control if there had been a GOPer in the White House. But that’s neither here nor there, the more colorful Truman won that year.

I’m still interested in reading Professor Richardson’s history of the Republican party, but she should stick to the agreed upon facts of history. They’re contentious and foggy enough.

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