When I teach Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican Convention speech to my college students, the few students who know who Barry Goldwater was usually claim that he was a reactionary racist. They’ve learned their lessons well from an educational system that presents any opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act as ipso facto racism.
Goldwater opposed the Act on constitutional grounds, specifically titles II and VII, which allowed federal regulation of public accommodations and employment. Now the Supreme Court is hearing the case of Ricci v. De Stefano regarding denial of promotion to New Haven firefighters who scored the highest on a test for advancement.
The problem was that of the top 15 scorers, 14 were white and one was Hispanic.
No African-American firefighters qualified for promotion, so the city, after disruption of meetings by protestors, claimed that the 1964 act compelled them to disregard the exam results. So they decided to forego promotions. Plaintiffs don’t question the act, but the use of “intentional discrimination” in adhering to the statute, according to lawyer Peter S. Ferrara.
I do not question this strategy, but do think that much harm has been meted out by the 1964 Act.
How illogical is this? The ACLU and LatinoJustice filed an amicus brief against the high-scoring Hispanic firefighter (and the 14 others), claiming that no one’s rights were violated.
The act has had a chilling effect on employment practices, with employers “voluntarily” going to great lengths to avoid the perception of discrimination by tailoring jobs and offering higher salaries for just such “protected classes.”
Goldwater’s principled resistance to public pressures, like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington, helped cost him the election.
It’s not that Goldwater did not work on behalf of equality and integration. He was a member of the NAACP, and as city councilman in Phoenix, he led the struggle to end segregation in the city’s public schools. As a U.S. senator, he hired a black woman as his first staff assistant—long before affirmative action laws.
Other actions by conservatives, like the Young Americans for Freedom’s threat to leave the Florida hotel where they were holding their first national convention in 1963 if the owners did not allow Jay Parker, a black board member to stay, demonstrate convictions without need of grandstanding.
Such history can be found, not in textbooks or mainstream media, but in Professor Donald T. Critchlow’s “The Conservative Ascendancy,” where he also recounts how 40,000 civil rights demonstrators denounced Goldwater at the 1964 convention as “Hitler”-- after moderate Republicans like William Scranton started a smear campaign based on Goldwater’s opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Continuing the campaign, then-CBS reporter Daniel Schorr spread the lie that Goldwater, in an effort to appeal to right-wing elements in the U.S., was planning to meet with right wing (Nazi) representatives on a trip to Germany. Goldwater was partly of Jewish heritage and did not have the trip planned until after the convention.
But such smears continue. D.L. Hughley, former host of a CNN program, remarked that the 2008 GOP convention looked “like Nazi Germany.”
The New Haven case has proven Goldwater’s prescience, though. Such rigging towards racial outcomes violates principles of fairness and undermines confidence in the abilities of certain groups. Yet, such efforts continue apace with moves to eliminate other tests like the ACT and SAT for college admissions because Asians and whites perform better as groups. We do not live our lives as groups, but as individuals.
We should follow the lead of Barry Goldwater and walk the walk, and forget the talk of the anti-constitutional advocacy groups who would sacrifice the dignity of the individual Hispanic in order to advance their own cause as saviors of groups of victims.
This column appeared originally in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 6, 2009