Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Meaning of Box 722

Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland writes about the The Meaning of Box 722 and the white backlash against civil rights in 1966, which created the modern Republican Party:
"At the Chicago History Museum, the Douglas collection covers seven hundred "linear feet"—archivsts' metric for how big a collection would be if you stacked the papers one atop another. And somehow, somewhere, I stumbled upon Box 722, which contained all the letters Senator Paul Douglas received about open housing and Martin Luther King's presence in Chicago. I quote many of them in a section of NIXONLAND of which I'm most proud, the one with the most original research and historical insights: the one on how "open housing" opened up the conservative backlash that inaugurated the Republican dominance of the politics of our own generation."

Perlstein reviews those letters, which foretold the election in which Republican Charles Percy replaced the Liberal New Deal Lion, Paul Douglas as Senator from Illinois. And, this is how he concludes what is a very moving post:

"Here is the fundamental tragedy of the backlash: Voters like this empowered a party that decided they didn't need protection against predatory subprime mortgage fraud. Didn't need affordable, universal health insurance; made it easier for companies to rape their pensions; kept on going back to the well to destroy their Social Security; worked avidly to shred their union protections. Fought, in fact, every decent and wise social provision that made it possible in the first place for mere factory workers to live in glorious Chicago bungalows, or suburban homes, in the first place."

"Now a black man from the city King visited in 1966 and called more hateful than Mississippi is running for president, fighting for all those things that made the mid-century American middle class the glory of world civilization, but which that middle class squandered out of the small-mindedness of backlash."

This post is for Chicago. This post is for America. This post is for our future. This post is for our history—that we may redeem it. This post is for a man who, had he walked down the wrong street in his own city 42 years ago, might well have been beaten to death."

hattip to Brad DeLong for the pointer.

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