August 6, 2005


Grand Old Legacy (Bob Dole, August 6, 2005, Washington Post)

Forty years ago today, in a nationally televised ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. While the immediate effect of the act was the registration of a quarter-million African American voters, more impressive is its enduring legacy: Today there are more than 16 million African American registered voters, 43 black members of Congress and thousands of minorities elected to state and local legislative offices throughout the country. Few pieces of legislation in U.S. history have had such a lasting and positive impact on our civic culture.

As a young member of the House of Representatives, I was proud to cast my vote in favor of the Voting Rights Act, along with the entire Kansas delegation. I also had the opportunity to watch Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen employ his impressive negotiating and advocacy skills to ensure that the act would not be successfully filibustered. In fact, the version of the Voting Rights Act introduced and supported by the Johnson administration was drafted in Dirksen's Capitol office.

Although Republicans were a minority in Congress at the time, it's a little-remembered fact that a greater percentage of Republicans voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 than did Democrats. In the Senate, all but two Republicans supported the act on final passage -- 93 percent of the Republican caucus, compared with 73 percent of Senate Democrats. On the House side, 82 percent of Republicans supported the act's passage, as did 78 percent of Democrats. The same was true with the Civil Rights Act of the year before: A substantially greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats in both houses supported its passage.

When the Voting Rights Act came up for reauthorization in 1982, I was pleased to craft the compromise extending its "pre-clearance" enforcement provision for 25 years and ensuring that voting rights violations could be challenged in federal court. I was also gratified when President Ronald Reagan signed the reauthorization into law, calling the right to vote "the crown jewel of American liberties."

Of course it's likely that almost every single Senate and House seat that voted against those acts is now held by the GOP, with rare exception.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 6, 2005 12:00 AM

And LBJ knew this would happen--said so to Bill Moyers. Not the first time and not the last a Democrat has sacrificed his political future for the good of the country.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at August 6, 2005 2:38 PM

How did LBJ sacrifice his political future? And who was there between LBJ and Jefferson Davis?

Posted by: David Cohen at August 6, 2005 3:48 PM

Well if Bill Moyers says that LBJ said it, then of course that settles it.

Posted by: h-man at August 6, 2005 4:35 PM

funny, the left wasn't so fond of lbj (nor did they tend to believe him) when there was a draft on. no chicken hawk talk then, just lots of chickens.

Posted by: cjm at August 6, 2005 4:43 PM

"Not the first time and not the last a Democrat has sacrificed his political future for the good of the country."

A good one Rick ... and I thought liberals didn't have a sense of humor.

Posted by: erp at August 6, 2005 6:08 PM

Mr. Perlstein;

If LBJ sacrificed his political career, what of the Republican Congressmen who voted it for it? Or are you saying that the situations aren't comparable because the Democratic Party is in fact more racist than the GOP?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 7, 2005 1:16 AM

The northern Republicans who helped pushed the civil rights bills were no more racist than the progressive Democrats who did the same. Both deserve credit.

Since the southern vote was so important to the Democrats, LBJ sacrificed a lot more than northern Republicans who had nothing to lose in 1964. If only the Republicans had continued that stand instead of pandering to the worse instincts of racists later on.

There is something to be said for a man who knowingly alienated a large portion of his party to do the right thing. And there is something else to be said for the political leadership of another party which decided that principles of Abraham Lincoln didn't matter if it finally meant they could win more elections.

None of this is unknown, but I'm disappointed it's being ignored to concoct some fantasy history.

Thankfully, the old racist generation is dying off and both parties can contribute positively to any lingering racial injustice.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at August 8, 2005 1:59 PM