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The Republican Party’s Hidden Racial History

by Timothy N. Thurber

History News Network

On September 17, lawyers from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University joined the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, and others in a lawsuit to overturn a new state voter identification law (Brennan Center).

A month earlier, North Carolina enacted a statute containing several reforms, including a requirement that voters produce government-issued photo identification and a seven-day reduction in the period for early voting.

These and similar proposals in other states have sparked sharp partisan fights. Democrats believe that they violate the Voting Rights Act and constitute deliberate efforts by Republicans to suppress voting by nonwhites, students, and others who by and large do not favor the GOP. Firmly denying any intent of malice against any demographic group, Republicans insist that reforms are needed to combat voter fraud.

Conflicts over voting are as old as the republic, but they have intensified since President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election and the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision striking down Section Four of the Voting Rights Act, which determined the states and localities required to seek federal approval for changes in election laws. “Preclearance,” as this policy was commonly known, applied primarily to the South. Republicans have tended to applaud the Court’s ruling, arguing that discrimination against nonwhites once was a problem but is now so rare that federal oversight is no longer needed. Colin Powell stands a rare exception within the GOP; he has denounced the North Carolina statute as morally wrong, based on inaccurate beliefs about the extent of fraud, and politically suicidal. The Republican Party, he contends, should be reaching out to blacks and other nonwhites.

For some observers, these developments are the latest chapter in the shift of the pro-civil rights “party of Lincoln” to a southern-controlled, states’ rights GOP that has little room for African Americans. Didn’t overwhelming majorities of congressional Republicans favor the Voting Rights Act in 1965? Yes. In the Senate, thirty Republicans backed the legislation, and only two opposed. House Republicans voted five-to-one for it. As Republicans have been noting ever since, that was a higher percentage of support than registered by Democrats.

A closer look at the events of 1965, however, reveals that the current Republican approach to voting is more similar to that of a half century ago than the final congressional tallies indicate. So, too, is the contemporary political context.

In March 1965, President Lyndon Johnson proposed legislation that greatly expanded federal authority over state election laws, particularly in the South. The bill contained a “trigger” provision that used voter participation data from 1964 to automatically suspend literacy tests in several southern states and bring those states under the preclearance requirement. This approach would relieve individuals and organizations of many of the considerable legal hurdles (and, in numerous instances, personal risk) of filing lawsuits. That case-by-case method had been tried under the 1957 and 1960 civil rights laws but had resulted in few new black voters.

Led by Everett Dirksen (Ill.), Senate Republicans allied with non-southern Democrats to defeat southerners’ efforts to preserve local autonomy, most notably their attempts to delete the trigger and preclearance provisions. Republicans also backed cloture, which ended the southern Democrats’ filibuster and ensured that the bill would pass.

House Republicans initially rallied behind legislation, offered by Gerald Ford (Mi.) and William McCulloch (Oh.), that enhanced federal jurisdiction compared to earlier civil rights laws but nevertheless preserved more state autonomy compared to Johnson’s. Their bill did not automatically ban literacy tests or contain preclearance requirements. Since the early twentieth century, Republicans had favored literacy tests in their own states and insisted upon maximizing state authority over voting rules, largely in response to high levels of immigration to the Northeast and Midwest. Low levels of black voting, Ford and McCulloch argued, might stem from factors unrelated to discrimination. The pair also pointed out that their legislation would apply to more southern states than did the president’s. Prominent civil rights groups and leaders preferred Johnson’s approach, however.

The Senate’s action, plus the sizable Democratic majority in the House, meant that the Ford-McCulloch legislation had no chance. House Republicans then fell in line with the winning side. Just one of the seventeen Republicans from the ex-Confederate states voted for Johnson’s measure. Southern Republicans, in other words, were just as eager as southern Democrats to limit Washington’s reach.

The political context of the mid-1960s also echoes the present. In 1965, Republicans were debating how to rebuild their party. The 1964 election had been a disaster not just for presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, but for the party as well. A handful of Republicans wanted to more closely align the GOP with the civil rights movement. Doing so, they argued, would increase African American support and help the party with the expanding number of whites, in the South and elsewhere, who favored a more racially egalitarian society. “We have got to get the party away from being an Anglo-Saxon Protestant white party,” Charles Percy asserted. Percy had just lost his bid to be governor of Illinois; he would be elected to the Senate in 1966. Likewise, Governor George Romney (Mi.) fired off a twelve page letter to Goldwater in which he noted that the Arizona senator had received eight million fewer votes than Richard Nixon did in 1960 and voiced alarm over the “southern-rural-white” thrust of the senator’s campaign. “The party’s need to become more broadly inclusive and attractive,” Romney emphasized, “should be obvious to anyone.”

Romney and Percy were minority voices within their party. Most Republicans continued to agree with Goldwater that the black vote was largely unwinnable and essentially irrelevant. Whites far outnumbered African Americans in most of the nation, including most of the South. As Johnson’s bill was being debated, state and local Republicans from Dixie warned northern GOP lawmakers that allying with president would undermine the party’s recent growth in Dixie. Worried that the elimination of literacy tests would mean a large influx of black voters, one Louisiana organization appealed to Nixon to lobby congressional Republicans on the South’s behalf. Illiterate African Americans, they wrote the former vice president, simply followed Democrats’ instructions or sold their votes for beer or a few dollars. The head of the Mississippi GOP predicted chaos “if large numbers of ignorant, illiterate persons are suddenly given the vote.”

Concerns over fraud were not limited to the South. Believing that the Democrats had stolen the 1960 election through fraud in Chicago and elsewhere, the RNC had launched Operation Eagle Eye in 1964. Republicans across the nation tried a variety of techniques to prove that many African American voters were ineligible. Republicans also worked to dissuade blacks from voting by spreading false information in African American neighborhoods regarding the voting process. Operation Eagle Eye flopped, but Republicans would continue to use many of these methods in the decades ahead.

Timothy N. Thurber is Associate Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of The Politics of Equality: Hubert H. Humphrey and the African American Freedom Struggle, and, most recently, Republicans and Race: The GOP’s Frayed Relationship with African Americans, 1945–1974.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153358#sthash.xPizvkxg.dpuf

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En este interesante artículo publicado por la History News Network (HNN) el  historiador norteamericano Keith W. Olson (University of Maryland) examina la presidencia de Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike). Olson concluye que en estos momentos en que el Partido Republicano –derrotado por Barack Obama en noviembre pasado– busca reiventarse, Eisenhower debería ser el modelo a seguir por los Republicanos. Para ello destaca el caracter moderado del que es, sin lugar dudas, el presidente Republicano más importante de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.

Republicans Should Like Ike | History News Network.

469px-Dwight_D._Eisenhower,_official_Presidential_portrait

Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Ike”

As Republican leaders continue to try to redefine their party identity they would do well to review the legacy of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, arguably, the most successful president since World War II. As president he faced crises and challenges both foreign and domestic, different from those of today but equal in magnitude, as well as the need to maintain national leadership.

During the 1950s the containment of the nuclear-armed Soviet Union dominated all other concerns. From the Truman administration, Eisenhower also inherited a limited war in Korea. A year later he faced a French request for military aid to save their colonial empire in Southeast Asia. Also in 1954 — and again in 1958 — he confronted tense relations with the People’s Republic of China over territorial claims and policies in the Formosa Strait.

In October 1956 three of the nation’s closest allies — the United Kingdom, France, and Israel — invaded Egypt without informing Eisenhower. The war soon involved threats from the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, the Soviets invaded Hungary to crush the Hungarian Revolution, which had overthrown the communist government in that country. A year after the Suez crisis the Soviets launched the world’s first human-made satellite, called Sputnik, to orbit the earth. While not a military threat, Sputnik sparked serious public discussion about America’s ability to compete with the Soviets.

To all of these crises Eisenhower sought non-military resolutions.

In Korea he completed a negotiated settlement, a policy the Truman administration had started. Eisenhower likewise successfully negotiated with the People’s Republic of China and aggressively pressured Britain and France into withdrawing from the Suez.

Eisenhower’s political, and economic achievements reflected stability, continuity, and moderation. As president he favored an increase in the minimum wage and extended unemployment benefits to an additional four million workers. In 1956 he broadened Social Security to include new categories of occupations and thereby added 10.5 million wage earners, including public school teachers.

Two initiatives illustrated Eisenhower’s commitment to infrastructure. The first was the St. Lawrence Seaway Act, which provided construction of locks that linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1956 Congress enacted his proposed Federal Aid Highway Act, the largest public works project in American history. He wanted the project to finance itself through a federal tax on gas and oil with states contributing ten percent of construction cost in their states. In 1958 the National Defense Education Act provided the first major aid to higher education since 1862. Under Eisenhower the budget of the National Science Foundation more than doubled.

For Eisenhower the economy, especially the federal budget, directly related to military strength and domestic prosperity. He inherited a budget deficit of approximately $10 billion. By 1956 he balanced the first of his balanced budgets. Steadfastly he maintained high federal income tax to uphold economic health. For incomes over $400,000, the federal income tax was 91 percent (albeit with deductions). Eisenhower also systematically reduced the military budget in actual dollars as well as in percentage of the total budget through his New Look policy.

The congressional elections of 1954, 1956, and 1958 returned Democratic majorities to both houses of Congress. His 1956 re-election meant that he faced Democratic control of Congress for the last six years of his presidency.

In his farewell address Eisenhower wanted “to share a few final thoughts with you my countrymen.” After this beginning, he immediately reported that “Our people expect their president and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation.” He referred to this relationship as “mutually interdependent” and continued that “In this final relations, the Congress and the administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward.” He concluded that “my official relationship with the Congress end[s] in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.”

The American voters responded enthusiastically to Eisenhower’s leadership. In 1952 he won election by more than 6.5 million votes. Four years later he won reelection by more than 9.5 million votes. Another measure of evaluation was approval rating. Harry Truman left office with a rating of 23 percent, the lowest of any post-World War II president (until George W. Bush, that is). In Eisenhower’s last year 61 percent approved of Americans approved of his performance. His eight-year average approval was 65 percent. The trust American had in their government to do what was right all or most of the time constituted yet another category of evaluation. In 1960 the trust in government reached 70 percent.

The more scholars have researched about Eisenhower and his administration the higher their assessments. Consistently in polls he now merits eighth, ninth, or tenth rank among all presidents. In 1996, for example, The Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. poll of historians placed Eisenhower tenth. The Siena College Institute found that “experts” listed him in the top ten in its 1994, 2002, and 2010 surveys. C-SPAN’s 2009 analysis by “sixty-five historians and professional observers of the presidency” placed Eisenhower eighth.

With hindsight, of course, not all of Eisenhower’s decisions, actions, and policies win applause — but the total record is overwhelmingly favorable. In terms of legislation, international relations, and economics he left solid achievements. Voters overwhelmingly supported his presidency and scholars admire his record. During his presidency Eisenhower’s achievements and his public image contributed to high public trust in government, belief in the role of government, and ability to form bipartisan coalitions to advance the national interest. Eisenhower’s record is one Republican leaders should celebrate, not ignore.

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Comparto con todos ustedes mi participación el pasado 8 de noviembre en el programa HablaPUCP, donde fui entrevistado por el Dr. Eduardo Dargent sobre el resultado de las elecciones estadounidenses.

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Mañana 8 de noviembre estaré comentando los resultados de las elecciones norteamericanas en HablaPUCP, un programa de entrevistas de PuntoEdu, periódico de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú,  transmitido todos los jueves a las 3 de la tarde. Quedan cordialmene invitados.

 

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Immanuel Wallerstein

Immanuel Wallerstein

El pasado 26 de setiembre, el diario mexicano La Jornada publicó un corto, pero muy interesante artículo de Immanuel Wallerstein titulado “La política estadounidense y las intervenciones militares”. En su ensayo, Wallerstein hace un análisis de la influencia de la política partidista sobre la política exterior norteamericana que me resultó muy interesante. Pero antes de analizar el contenido del ensayo de Wallerstein, es necesario hacer algunos comentarios sobre su autor. Wallerstein  es un sociólogo e historiador norteamericano considerado  uno de los  científicos sociales  más  importantes de la segunda mitad del siglo XX. Su trabajo ha dado vida a influyentes teorías sobre el desarrollo de la economía capitalista global. En su obra más importante, The modern world-system (El moderno sistema mundial), Wallerstein aporta un nuevo modelo teórico y de interpretación histórica, cultural y social. Wallerstein es hoy en día uno de los más famosos críticos anti-sistema y uno de los analistas más severos de la política exterior de los Estados Unidos.ModernWordII

En “La política estadounidense y las intervenciones militares”, Wallerstein reacciona al debate de las últimas semanas sobre cuál debe ser la estrategia que  la administración Obama debe seguir en Afganistán. Al autor le preocupa que el Presidente acepte las sugerencias de su Secretario de Defensa y de miembros del alto mando militar y opte por incrementar el número de soldados estadounidenses en territorio afgano. Es claro que Wallerstein considera tal posibilidad un grave error.

Al indagar cuál será la dirección que la administración Obama adoptará en una situación tan peligrosa como la de Afganistán, Wallerstein nos lanza un pregunta que me parece medular: “¿Por qué es  tan difícil para Estados Unidos zafarse de intervenciones militares que patentemente están perdiendo?”. En otras palabras, Wallerstein quiere saber qué mueve al gobierno de los Estados Unidos a insistir en intervenciones militares poco exitosas y sumamente peligrosas. El autor reconoce que para los analistas de izquierda la respuestas es muy sencilla: porque los Estados Unidos son una nación imperialista que interviene militarmente “con el fin de mantener su poder económico y político en el mundo”. A Wallerstein no le satisface esta respuesta porque, según él, la realidad histórica es que desde 1945 los norteamericanos no han ganado una sola confrontación militar de importancia. Si como alegan los izquierdistas, Estados Unidos interviene  para adelantar sus intereses hegemónicos, por qué sus intervenciones han sido tan incompetentes. Para demostrar su punto Wallerstein pasa revista a las principales intervenciones militares estadounidense de los últimos sesenta años. Según él, los norteamericanos fueron derrotados en  Vietnam, en Corea y la primera guerra del Golfo lograron un empate, es claro que están perdiendo en Afganistán y la invasión de Irak de seguro será juzgada como un fracaso por los historiadores. En otras palabras,  el autor se pregunta qué clase de imperio es éste que no gana una guerra. O en palabras de Wallerstein: “¿Qué impulsa a Estados Unidos a involucrarse en acciones de tal derrota política propia, especialmente si uno piensa en Estados Unidos como una potencia hegemónica que intenta controlar al mundo entero para sacarle ventaja?”

obama-afghanistan

Para el autor, la explicación está en la política interna de los Estados Unidos. Como toda gran potencia, los Estados Unidos son un país intensamente nacionalista. Según Wallerstein, todas las potencias –y en especial las hegemónicas–  “creen en sí mismas y en su derecho moral y político de afirmar sus (así llamados) intereses nacionales”.  Los Estados Unidos no son ni han sido la excepción. Es por ello que la inmensa mayoría de la población norteamericana es  y ha sido partidaria, desde un punto de vista patriótico, de que su país se afirme a nivel mundial “si es necesario militarmente”.   De ahí, que según el autor, el número de estadounidenses que ha mantenido una posición anti-imperialista desde 1945 sea una porción “políticamente insignificante” de la población. En otras palabras, desde la segunda guerra mundial, la mayoría de los norteamericanos han apoyado la afirmación imperialista de los Estados Unidos, motivados por un fuerte sentimiento patriótico.

Para Wallerstein, la política estadounidense no se divide entre opositores y simpatizantes del imperialismo, sino entre quienes son “fuertemente intervencionistas” y quienes favorecen el llamado aislacionismo. Sin embargo, estos últimos no son anti-militaristas, pues apoyan la inversión y el gasto militar, pero sí “son escépticos en cuanto a utilizar estas fuerzas en lugares ajenos”. El autor reconoce que tras esta división existe lo que él denomina como una “gama de posiciones intermedias”.

Intervencionistas o aislacionistas, la mayoría de los políticos norteamericanos no están dispuestos a buscar o proponer una reducción en el gasto militar por razones de política partidista. El aislacionismo tuvo una fuerte presencia en el Partido Republicano en el periodo previo a la segunda guerra mundial, pero a partir de 1945 se redujo y perdió fuerza.  Desde  el fin de la guerra, los republicanos han adoptado una actitud a favor de la inversión en el gasto militar y han criticado la supuesta debilidad o suavidad de la política exterior de los demócratas. La realidad histórica es que los republicanos no siempre han sido consistentes con su discurso y se han opuesto al envío de tropas estadounidenses a lugares como los Balcanes en la década de 1990. A pesar de estas incongruencias,   el público norteamericana tiende a ver a los republicanos como  halcones (“hawks”) patriotas.

Obama y Afganistán

Según Wallerstein, esta idea generalizad choca con la realidad histórica porque desde la segunda guerra mundial, los demócratas han sido más propensos a llevar a cabo intervenciones militares que sus opositores republicanos. A pesar de ello, los republicanos han acusado  sistemáticamente a los demócratas de ser palomas (“doves”), es decir, de faltarles valor, empuje y decisión en su política exterior. Esta acusación ha tenido un gran peso sobre la actitud de las administraciones demócratas de los últimos sesenta años. En palabras del autor, los demócratas han estado atrapados “en  la etiqueta de ser menos machos que los republicanos”, acusación ésta  muy costosa, políticamente hablando.

5_afganistan_tanquesWallerstein cree –podríamos decir, teme–  que la presión de este paradigma político puede terminar haciendo que el Presidente Obama opté por aumentar el número de soldados estadounidenses en Afganistán para no lucir ni débil, ni suave en su política exterior, ni hacerle daño a su partido.  Ello colocaría al joven presidente “en el sendero de la guerra de Vietnam”.

El autor cierra su ensayo señalando que es hora de que los norteamericanos “entiendan que las intervenciones militares estadounidenses en el extranjero son gastos militares increíblemente grandes en casa y no son la solución a sus problemas, sino el mayor impedimento para la supervivencia y el bienestar nacional estadounidense”.

Coincido plenamente con los planteamientos de Wallerstein. Es claro que la política partidista estadounidense juega –y siempre ha jugado– un papel muy importante en la formulación de la política exterior norteamericana. El autor identifica y explica muy bien la dinámica establecida entre los dos partidos principales norteamericanos desde  el inicio de la guerra fría: por un lado los republicanos con su patriotismo exagerado fomentando el militarismo y atacando a unos demócratas preocupados de ser acusados de débiles o de perder países ante el comunismo (China en 1949) o el terrorismo (Pakistán 20??).  Para entender la política exterior estadounidense no basta con enfocar sus intereses geopolíticos o económicos. Es también necesario atender el juego político doméstico en el que inciden elementos como el nacionalismo, el patriotismo, el excepcionalismo, el regionalismo, la religiosidad, el complejo industrial-militar, etc.

OBAMASTAN

Me llamó poderosamente  la atención la visión que tiene Wallerstein de los ciudadanos estadounidenses, pues es claro que considera que la mayoría de éstos han adoptado actitudes imperialistas en los últimos sesenta años. Guiados por un fuerte nacionalismo y patriotismo, los estadounidenses no lucen en el ensayo de Wallerstein como el pueblo inocente y manipulable por el gobierno y los medios que algunos analistas han señalado. Todo lo contrario, para Wallerstein, sólo una minoría del pueblo norteamericano ha adoptado una actitud crítica ante las intervenciones militares de su gobierno. La mayoría ha apoyado la proyección y la defensa de los intereses norteamericanos con el uso de la fuerza. La perenne inocencia del pueblo norteamericano queda de esta forma terriblemente comprometida.

Esperemos que los temores de Immanuel Wallerstein no se concreten y que por el bien de su país Obama evite caer en la trampa de enviar más tropas a ese matadero de imperios llamado Afganistán.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, Ph. D.

Lima, Perú, 29 de setiembre de 2009

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