Fact-Checking Dinesh D’Souza’s The Secret History of the Democratic Party
We fact-check “the myth of the big switch” presented in Dinesh D’Souza‘s Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. Or, more specifically, we respond to the movie as a whole in essay form offering the history and logic to show what parts of the movie are factual and which aren’t.
Feel free to ask any questions on specifics below.
The Bottomline on The Myth of the Big Switch and its Relation to Race and the Democratic Party
The story of the Democratic and Republican parties isn’t just a story “about racism” (especially not ONLY southern racism in the Deep South). Here I could explain that the business factions of both parties oppress the poor, that the Know-Nothings oppressed the immigrants, that America First went after liberals, that each state and faction has its own race issues, but that isn’t even the main point here (as D’Souza’s movie skips over most of our actual history to try to conflate a modern liberal with the Confederates, and thus we have to also zero in on the Solid South).
Suffice to say, racism is one thing, but it is not the whole thing.
The main story of America isn’t race, it is the story of “progressivism and big government” fighting against “free-enterprise and small government” via different factions. Sometimes this is a rural vs. urban issue (that is another issue at the heart of things), sometimes a north south issue, sometimes an issue for factions in one party, sometimes an issue between parties, that is one of the parts that changes (as factions change parties and new factions form).
It used to be that socially liberal and socially progressive factions were in both parties (where Teddy and William Jennings Bryan sat on opposite sides of the aisle for example), with the Anti-Federalists and then Democrats being the party of small government until the early 1900’s, but increasingly America has become polarized over social issues and the social welfare state (especially since FDR’s New Deal era).
It just so happens that from 1932, to Kennedy and LBJ’s Civil Rights in the 1960’s, to Goldwater in the 1960’s, to Nixon in the 1970’s, to Reagan in the 1980’s, to Clinton in the 1990’s, to Bush and Obama in the 2000’s, things have changed substantially.
Here we can and should point to the sixth party strategy, the southern strategy, and ask the southern question (can a rural part of a nation really be part of a Union with a citied North; can they really be expected to follow their Northern Brethren’s customs or will they forever be trumped underfoot of industry and finance due to their “backwards ways”).
Here we should explain how Manifest Destiny, States’ Rights, and Expansion were all about expanding the slavocracy south and ensuring Confederate Power, that the citied North restored the Union, and from that point Bourbon Liberals ran the south (so then Northern business ran America). As if one gets that, and one gets Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive era, then one gets the States’ Rights parties of the 1940’s – 1970’s, and if one gets the New Deal Coalition and Conservative Coalition, then they only have to look at modern history to see the switch.
It is simple, Northern liberals and their business interested allies are modern Democrats, and the faction of Solid South Conservatives who run the one-party South have allied with Republicans. Simple as that.
Said plainly, putting aside the first part of the story, increasingly since Teddy’s exit from the Republican Party in 1912 most of America’s socially conservative factions have switched to the conservative party… including the solid south, as one can see on a map.
Both parties still have pro business factions like they always have, today we call them neoliberals and neocons, but the socially conservative classical liberals of the Solid South have broken away from the Northern populist social liberals to join their old oppressors, the Tories AKA conservative Republicans (they also ally with traditional populist conservative groups like what we used to call Know-Nothings and what we today call Religious Right).
Asking if the Republicans and the Socially Conservative South are racist here in 2017 is another story (the Confederates didn’t see themselves as racist then, they just said “States’ Rights”, today the GOP says “States’ Rights”, but that doesn’t mean they are racist).
Anyway, to the extent that the conservative pro business Republican, the Tea Party Know Nothing, and the Southern Faction are prejudice, they are clearly prejudice against different things. The Tea Party, against liberals, immigrants, and the administrative and progressive welfare state. The Pro business Republicans against our poorest (including the poor rural whites of both parties), and the South (still against the other class vying for lowest class in America, the poor blacks; as one can see in the black belt).
Still, “Getting tough on crime”, Strict Voter ID, Gerrymandering in the black belt, cutting Medicaid expansion, school choice, and any other policy that hurts poor whites (but hurts poor blacks even worse) is only arguably racist.
Today political life is all about dog whistles, we don’t say what we mean most of the time. So then too, there is that.
I can point to the idea that not only did the Southern Faction switched all day, and I can actually point out every change in America to show the Conservative Coalition and its propaganda machine against Progressivism, but that is a long complex story.
The south switching is a matter of record, the nature of racist policy is another. So then, Dinesh D’Souza‘s whole Hillary’s America movie starts off with a false premise, the parties did switch and the Confederates are essentially today Republicans (as we can see in all the Southern Socially Conservative Republicans and their policy). I am tempted not to be overly harsh as to the past of the South, but the thing is D’Souza‘s movie is one big long insult to our Southern Brethren. As a Northern Liberal you might expect me to appreciate the slandering of the south, but I do not. I would have rather read Calhoun’s work front to cover than suffer another minute of D’Souza slandering the American South… which is obviously Republican.
A Summary of Why Dinesh D’Souza’s The Secret History of the Democratic Party from “Hillary’s America” is Wrong (Why the Big Switch is NOT a Myth and is more like “neo-Confederate” Propaganda)
In summary, D’Souza gets his basic history right, but conflates the history of America’s different factions with the modern post 1964 Sixth Party history of the Democratic Party (long after progressive liberal Democrats like FDR and Kennedy had changed the Party, as denoted by the “Party Systems“).
The thing about party bosses and big city machines is still applicable, and just ask Bernie who lost the convention, and there is still a conservative and liberal Democratic Party wing… but there isn’t a purely socially conservative rural wing anymore, today the Southern Bloc votes Republican (as a political majority formed in one-party states; obviously not literally every voter from “the entire 11 states of the Deep south”; see: the winner-take-all is a system).
Today the schism in the Democratic Party is Neoliberal and Progressive (both mostly citied), not between Bourbon/Neoliberal, Progressive, and Solid States’ Right South in cities and rural America (like it used to be).
Today only one party flies the Confederate battle flag, it is not the Democrats, certainly not those Bernie Progressives, but not even the old liberal Dixies like Al Gore.
Progressive Southerners like Albert Gore, Sr. (Al Gore’s dad), Estes Kefauver, Ralph Yarborough, and Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) refused to sign 1956’s Southern Manifesto (a pro-segregation document which most conservative southern Democrats signed, including its author Strom Thurmond).
Now, maybe everyone changed over “big government”, fine, but that is not what Hillary’s America (the movie) charges. It tries to conflate the switchers of the south with the modern party, so although I think things did change, that narrative is an aside from this fact-check.
One can say LBJ’s Great Society programs are like a new form of slavery, but that is short sighted when you look at global history.
Wage slavery (long an attribute of the Northern Liberal city like Chicago or New York) is very different than the Chattel Slavery of the South (and it is a neo-Confederate argument to insinuate otherwise).
One side sees the rise of social liberalism and progressivism as a virtue, looking to Bryan, Bernie, FDR, Kennedy, Obama, LBJ, or the Clintons as leaders, and the other side implemented the Southern and Sixth Party strategy in an effort to, in the name of the doctrine that is the Powell Memo, ALEC, Fox News, and Right-Wing Radio, to stop progressives at all costs and ensure “small government” free-enterprise (on-paper at least).
When I hear “lock her up”, i’m not surprised. It is just the same tactics Mort Downy Jr. used coming back again. When I hear Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh tout a myth year after year, and then when I D’Souza spout the same thing, it isn’t surprising either.
When you have masterminds like Ailes and Atwater, the machine doesn’t make mistakes, only those who buy into the doctrine wholesale do (like when Ted Cruz implied the Democrats were the Party of the KKK, you could just see the Solid South Conservatives in the Party being like “shhh, Ted, you moron, what do you think voter ID is?”).
Post-1954’s Brown v. Board of Education and Desegregation busing, post MLK, post LBJ, and certainly post-Clinton and Obama, things have really changed for the Democratic Party (especially after Reagan and Bush; if Nixon started the Southern Strategy, Bush and Reagan finished it).
Today things are still changing, they changed under Obama and they’ll change again under Trump, expect it. However…
…The ancestors of those old Confederate factions, if we want to point our modern fingers, are not with the Democratic Party. They aren’t pushing progressive welfare state policies and writing love letters to Merkel, they aren’t voting against Trump (duh, right?)
No, the Confederate spirit, to what degree it remains, can be seen in people like Jeff Sessions and David Duke (the counter part socially conservative right-wing populists to Bannon’s Nationalist Populists; where both want “deconstruction”).
Likewise, the regions in which they occupied can be said to still have problems, such as the black belt, mass incarceration, strict voter ID, and other modern Jim Crow policies and Black Codes of the Republican party.
The States’ Rights Democratic Party of 48′, and likewise the Socialist Debs and Liberal Kennedy, tell us most of what we need to know about the old Democrats, and Truman tells the rest of the story, and Henry A. Wallace a bit more.
The platform of the modern Republican, his voter regions, his chants to “lock her up”, and “drill baby drill”… look, it is obvious right?
Let me end by saying, I expect that the history of the Democratic party tell its history. However, D’Souza‘s laughable piece of bitter propaganda did not tell the story properly and instead as dragged the name of the rural Southern American through the mud so hard I would swear he was a big city liberal.
I don’t know whether to thank this guy for slandering the Republicans or to stand by all Americans and defend their good name. Just kidding, I know what to do, the answer is both, of course. Why waste such an excellent opportunity.
TIP: MLK was a Democrat, he got sprayed with a fire hose by Democrats while Hippie Democrats marched in the street. The idea here is that Republicans really struggled to win elections from FDR to LBJ. That changed post 1964 Civil Rights, 1965 Voting Rights, and Post Nixon Lily-White Southern Strategy. Today when the progressives support Obama, the Clintons, and Bernie they do not make a mistake. One party has the “NEO” Confederates and Know-Nothings, the other doesn’t, people know what their interests are, that goes for the urban voter and the southern rural voter. We obviously just don’t agree on interests. Still, D’Souza’s movie is not helping, in fact it really feels like citied Republicans slandering their Southern brothers in an effort to slander Democrats (kind of a low-blow, no?)
A Quick Introduction to Debunking the Movie “The Secret History of the Democratic Party”
Below we debunk Dinesh D’Souza‘s faulty logic and explain what part of the film is accurate and what isn’t to tell the story of “the Big Switch” (where the southern bloc “Dixiecrats” switched from favoring the increasingly progressive Democratic party to the increasingly conservative Republican party following 1964, slowly, over time, as one can see on the map).
If you want the legit, long, and full story, see: Democrats and Republicans Switched Platforms. This pages just focuses on debunking D’Souza.
Before we do that, here are a few notes.
- We (our team) was generally disturbed by the witch hunt against Dinesh D’Souza (despite the charges against him being justified; as he did break campaign finance laws). We will essentially refute his whole ideology below, but we also dislike witch-hunts and don’t see them as useful in combating propaganda.
- We were disturbed by just how offensive D’Souza’s movie is… Not just to the Democratic Party or America in general, but to our Southern Brethren of the Solid South, the historic Southern Bloc who voted the party ticket for great liberal Democrats like Van Buren and Bryan. It doesn’t strike me as being offensive to Hillary or Obama, after-all they are Northern Liberals who have always been Northern Liberals, just like the Northern Liberals before them, and never once were Southern Social Conservatives from the Deep South. It isn’t really even all that offensive to the Democratic Party’s Progressive Bourbons like the Gores, Bill Clinton, Byrds, and Lady Birds (as they weren’t die hard Confederates then, and those like them still aren’t now). It is mostly just offensive to the Deep South Southern Conservatives… who make up a large part of the Republican Party’s voting base. Strange stuff. I know liberals aren’t always nice, but D’Souza is brutal.
- This movie was so cruel to the south that we almost didn’t review it (I, the author, almost could’t bring myself to call attention to this film). I get why it got five Golden Raspberry Awards… to say the least. Still, we cover the history of both parties on our site in detail, and as time passes I realize from comments that one thing bringing in a chunk of our audience is this movie. So, lets grit our teeth and fact-check this hateful and comically biased look at one of the two parties of our two-party system.
Fact-Checking the main Points Made in Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party
So to start, the whole movie is essentially a mean-spirited and hyperbolic version of actual history that drags the good name of many past Democrats through the mud by mischaracterizing exactly what is happening and what factions are acting in each party.
Of all those southern factions in the Democratic party (with each one-party state having its own types of Democrats, who for the purposes of this film were treated like one single entity), no single faction is done more disservice and injustice than the Calhoun Confederates of the Radical Generation and their ancestors.
Me, being a true Republican who loves Hamilton, Lincoln, and Teddy, (just like i’m a true progressive liberal who loves Jefferson, Bryan, FDR, Obama, and Bernie), appreciated the nods to the Radical Republicans, sure. However, the movie is really missing the point about the Northern Liberals and Conservatives of both major parties (which ranged from War Democrats, to Know-Nothings, to Copperheads, to social liberals like Clay, to Stalwart cronies vs. Civil Service half-breeds).
Anyway, my thoughts on all the omissions of details aside, I can generally confirm that the first part of the movie is true (despite its narrow and biased view):
The Democratic Party was the historic party of the South, Slavery, Jim Crow, black codes, the KKK, and all else like that. It was they who feared the freeing the slaves would make the poor white working man the wage slave of the citied Republican. They were afraid of the intentions of the progressive social liberals from the cities, they didn’t trust them (those northern liberals kept making it a moral issue, but slavery was also a States’ Rights issue, it was an issue for States’ Right small government socially conservative Democrats from the South; the one’s who held the Confederate battle flag high).
From Jefferson to George C. Wallace the Solid South Southern Bloc stood with the liberal Democrats. that is American history plain and simple.
That means it was our [speaking as a Northern liberal] Dear Southern Brethren and their allies (be they Calhoun’s factions, or Van Buren’s, or Jackson’s, or Bryan’s) that ultimately opposed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution.
After-all, the Solid South may be a faction within the Democrat party of old, and that party may have many different factions in different regions, some concerned with jobs, other concerned with race, but we can hardly give Van Buren a pass with one hand and Demonize Calhoun with another. No, they stood together, so from 1776 to, jeez well increasingly over the 1930’s, to the 1960’s, to the 1980’s, even to the Bush and Obama years, so no, we can’t really separate the Democrats from that Southern Faction in those times more than history clearly does.
That means it was the Democrats who were born from the Anti-Federalists, and all the way up through the Fifth Party system, despite the conservative coalition, the Solid South conservatives really were Democrats. That is even after the great migration and FDR.
I mean, I see the great migration as refugees feeling the tyranny of the South for Northern cities where, although they would get the same shake as a working immigrant, and still deal with racism from both parties, they would at least enjoy the liberal laws of the North (passed by liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans, if and when they passed at all).
So yes, the black voter does switch to the Democratic Party starting well before the Solid South shifts away, but just like Jefferson and the gentleman from Georgia made strange bedfellows, so did the populist Southern Democrats, the Northern social liberal Democrats, and the black voter from a Southerner like MLK to a Northerner like Malcom X.
I guess here we can state that people act out of self interest. They tell the southern man today “hey, it isn’t in your self interest to team up with the tories”, but that isn’t correct. People mistake the southern interest as purely economic, but what if instead it was more about small government. Well, that would at least help explain the switch after 1964.
Indeed, even back then, the Jeffersonians sided with the Confederate “left”, they all wanted small government (that was their interest), and they made that choice to side with the agrarian working man (that was their rural interest). Many immigrants, black Americans, the solid south, the Bryan like liberals, the big city machines, all of them, all those factions, were in the party at one time (and one doesn’t have to wonder much why the Republicans of the time needed a strategy to stop that machine!)
Today many sons of confederates bow their heads in shame and ignore their ancestors actions, pushing on to a new future, but D’Souza reminds us. D’Souza tells us that America is torn in two and that the Southern man is “less than”, right? I don’t agree, but that is what he implies. That is what he is saying in his film, right. We’ll I reject that notion, but here we are dealing with his toxic (in my opinion) movie. So lets keep discussing it.
The Democratic Party was the party of Ku Klux Klan from their inception during Reconstruction where those Northern Liberal Radical Republicans preached their morality and while the southern white man was being “forced” by big government to become a wage slave of the bourbon liberal and radical Republicans. Check. That is very true, if one wants to phrase it like that, certainly it was the way the next generation after Calhoun saw it when they put up their propaganda as featured below (which was in the movie, but shows something a little different than what D’Souza implies).
This military Reconstruction certainly was a difficult period for our socially conservative southern brethren, and I’m sure it is today for the families who still feel pride in having that old confederate battle flag on the wall (me being a true liberal am fine with people flying the flag, that is a matter of individual and states’ rights, but I mean, up here in the North, we vote Democrat today, we don’t fly the battle flag of the Dixie south).
Indeed, although we saw Bryan push social liberal progressivism in those late 1800’s while all other factions gave into the oligarchs, it was still the Democratic Party that supported Democratic President Woodrow Wilson (the Son of the Confederate who the party bosses helped lift up, but who at least lended a hand out to the Populist Left Progressive Bryan and that old Jeffersonian wing who was more concerned with the rural farmer and factory worker than the social elite from New York like McKinley).
So yes, when in Teddy Roosevelt left to create his progressive Party after the Republican party had moved too far to the right-wing and started to become corrupted by Stalwart Republicans of the Gilded Age, yes at that time it was Teddy the Progressive (not to unlike Bryan, but certainly more a conservative nationalist; not everything changes of course) vs. Wilson the Southern Liberal who believed in segregation in that States’ Right spirit (alongside his agrarian populist progressivism).
And yes, it was that southern faction, still partnered with the Democrats who helped push for segregation, and that same one who offered their support to the progressive liberal New Deal coalition that by that time had lots of support in the North and on the Coasts with Teddy’s faction joining under FDR.
When FDR told the new deal progressives that they had to force his hand, that he barely won his contested election due to the party bosses, and that it would take progressive liberals to pass the New Deal, it happened with Wilsonian factions in the party.
This wouldn’t be much different than we can see by the election of 1948, when the States’ Rights Democrats start pushing back against northern liberals like Kennedy (the Obama of his day).
That means yes, even after WWII, even after FDR and Truman helped ensure the U.S. was as superpower, just like Wilson had done before, or Jackson had done in the early days (despite the hard to stomach bloodshed), or like Madison had done in 1812, really like any historic Democrat had done but few Republicans ever did (beyond Teddy and Lincoln), when those Democrats won us the war, yes there was the Confederate faction in that party.
It was odd, but it helps to understand that the Know-Nothings, those Wiggish Northern Know-Nothings, well they wanted to put American first in the same way the Confederates wanted to put the South first, but they were a different faction than the confederates.
Yes, oddly enough, there were eras where factions of both parties were what we think of today as Republican, and times when they were in third parties. Times change and party systems do too.
There where times when there was socially conservative right-wing populists in both parties! Just like there were social liberals in both parties, just like there were social conservatives. All Americans defending federalism, republicanism, liberalism, etc.
Today there is a social left-right split, but that is post 1964 in many respects. That is post Solid South Switch.
After 1964 a Sixth Party Strategy and Conservative Coalition started really working to fight back against that new deal progressivism, and oddly enough, those Northern Tories and America first factions started to honey pot over our dear neighbors in the south.
Sure you can say “but Tom” only Thurmond switched. Yes of course, the facts are the facts. However, if D’Souza had bothered to research the 1970′, 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s, and 2010’s he would have seen the changes.
It doesn’t happen in 1968, it starts in 1964, happens in 68, then with Carter, then with Clinton, then with Bush, then with Obama, then with Trump. You hear it on Fox News, you hear it on right-wing radio, you know what party is the party of the South today.
This is the Powell memo sixth party strategy boys and girls, this is real, this is our history, and this is what caused that southern strategy that woo’d over the south to their old nemesis party due to the increasingly progressive direction of America and the Democratic Party.
There isn’t really room to question our history.
A northern Ghetto today is the same problem it was in the times of Bill the Butcher when the immigrant Democrats came in only to be opposed by the Know-Nothing gangs of New York Republicans, the Ghetto is still the same problem it was in the Gilded Age, rejecting busing didn’t help, and honestly it wasn’t helpful that the southern faction kept blocking legislation or demanding Jim Crow at the time (much to the dismay of past social liberal Democrats or their social liberal Republican allies of any era).
You see the New Deal and Conservative coalition used to describe coalitions formed across parties, but today they basically just describe the modern parties in this Seventh Party form (this post switch from).
In the old days after the Civil War one might asked, just like old VO Key would have asked, “Can the south ever vote Republican?”
Now we ask “can the south ever vote Democrat again”?
Look, I know Clinton tried to be a third way Reagan Democrat and win the southern conservative back with a message of law and order, but the liberal democrats, that progressive wing that has been there since Jefferson, they really don’t care much for the neoliberal approach to appeasing the new fans of the Tories.
Sure, sometimes the party moves away from helping rural America, I get where the disconnect is, but that doesn’t change the fact-check of D’Souza’s story, right?
The Republicans being the party of rural America is a darn new thing to say the least, just look at the history books.
As immigrants came to the country they sided with the Democrats, bourbons, big city machines, and lots of dark history tells the story of the Democrat party, but since the 196o’s the solid socially conservative south has been moving over to the Republican party (as you can see in their platform, on a map, and in their oddly southernized tone; they are southern and middle-rural, so also “mid-west conservatives”).
Why use a strategy though? That is the question? The answer is simple:
It is because the old Tory business elite of the Gilded Age can’t win elections on their own and neither can a single-voter issue party based in prejudice. Today the conservative coalition is a coalition of dog whistle, they say “states’ rights”, they say “law and order”, they say “America first”… but none of this is new.
Now does social liberal welfare state have its ills? Yes. Does a neoliberal and a progressive have the same theory of social democracy, nah, no one is perfect on their own (it takes two opposing sides coming together in a Republic, not just special interests and propaganda).
Is there a little bit of rough-around the edges Goodfella-ism in that old DNC machine, that big city machine, yeah I mean, I wouldn’t go messing with what is probably the most powerful political machine in the world outside of America in general, however that is more a story of the Bourbons and Gilded Age than the social conservatism of Know-Nothings and Confederates.
Those right-wing populist factions are clearly today with the Republicans, as one can clearly see from looking around themselves.
The progressives want a more progressive America, the conservatives don’t, they are both just bands of different factions coming together towards those ends.
How about this, next time someone makes a movie about the history of the Democratic Party, how about being honest about what factions are in that party at which times.
I for one will happily accept the South back into the Democratic Party, that would sort of solve everything for the liberals (especially given the fact those southern states vote lock-step and that would swing every election… which is, you know, what was happening before the southern strategy).
As for social liberalism being “like slavery”, again, the south had literal slavery, the north always had wage slavery, the north one, and we still have is closer to wage slavery (there is a whole discussion here, but the line the film draws is misleading). It doesn’t take a genius to see that.
Anyway, Saul Alinsky and the big city machines are real, and their critics would do well to tread lightly (because they have an over educated fan-base; not for shady reasons; “the invisible hand of politics” so to speak).
The Democratic party’s love of progressivism and willingness to stand up against propagandists who tries to smear the party’s good name, or the name of our former allies is not something that one can overcome with some low-brow abomination of history like Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. I am all for criticizing establishment or populist democrats, but we owe it to ourselves to do it in an honest way that respects history as it happened. Omitting important truths and implying false conclusions is misleading.
How the South Went Republican: Can Democrats Ever Win There Again? (1992).
The Brainwashing of My Dad Trailer. If you can stomach the liberal bias (sort of built into the title on this one), and can keep in your mind that social conservatism is real and natural just like social liberalism, I strongly suggest watching this documentary as it explains the non-southern part of the strategy that caused the switch and resulted in our modern situation.
From white supremacy to Barack Obama: The history of the Democratic Party. In a sentence: The KKK used to be Democrats, and now they aren’t, not after the effects of the Solid South switch and Southern Strategy (part of the overarching Sixth Party Strategy). The post-War 1960’s really changed the Democratic Party, their liberal wing essentially took over (much to the dismay of the “free enterprise” Republicans).
How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump. In a sentence: The Republican party used to be the party of Lincoln, but Teddy’s exit, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, and the conservative coalition and Sixth Party Republican strategy changed that. The pre-Teddy republican Party and post-Teddy party are very different things.