A Populist Möbius Strip

Republicans will never tire of answering Democratic allegations of racism by pointing out that the GOP was the party created to oppose slavery, while Democrats not only defended it, but after its abolition doggedly opposed for a century protections for black Americans’ rights. 

Which was true, right up until it wasn’t.

Lyndon Johnson’s remaining defenders say that his enthusiastic, cruel bigotry in private masked a deeper, sincere interest in civil rights. It also may be true, though, that he was a rotten man who was motivated more by political opportunism than humanity. Maybe both, or maybe it depended on the day or how smashed he was on Cutty Sark. Whatever his motives, Johnson effected perhaps the most radical change in partisan policy stances in American history in just a handful of years.

Johnson, who as Senate majority leader had neutered Republican-backed civil rights legislation in 1957, signed a far more aggressive version into law in 1964. Republicans watched as Democrats nabbed an issue that had been with the GOP since before the party had a name. 

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