I found Matthew Delmont’s piece in Atlantic, “When Black Americans Exited Left”, a strange mixture of solid analysis and fantasy. For one thing, I think there’s room for a companion piece: “When Republicans Accepted the Dixiecrats”.
I think he’s strongest when writing about history. For my money here’s the meat of the piece:
After the 1964 election, where Republican candidate Barry Goldwater described the Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional, black voters essentially found themselves in a one-party system for presidential elections. Republicans turned their attention to white voters in the South and suburbs and have made few serious attempts in subsequent campaigns to appeal to the African American electorate. Richard Nixon in 1960 is the last Republican candidate to earn more than 15 percent of black votes.
This is a problem for black voters, because the Democratic Party’s vision of racial justice is also extremely limited. Northern liberals pioneered what scholars now call “colorblind racism.” That’s when racially neutral language makes extreme racial inequalities appear to be the natural outcome of innocent private choices or free-market forces rather than intentional public policies like housing covenants, federal mortgage redlining, public housing segregation, and school zoning.
Democratic lawmakers drafted civil-rights legislation that would challenge Jim Crow laws in the South while leaving de facto segregation in the North intact. When NBC News asked the civil-rights organizer Bayard Rustin why many African American communities rioted the summer after the bill passed, he said, “People have to understand that although the civil-rights bill was good and something for which I worked arduously, there was nothing in it that had any effect whatsoever on the three major problems Negroes face in the North: housing, jobs, and integrated schools…the civil-rights bill, because of this failure, has caused an even deeper frustration in the North.” Today’s protest movements against second-class citizenship in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, and elsewhere are in part a legacy of the unresolved failures of civil-rights legislation.
The Civil Right Act was enacted by a coalition of liberal Democrats and Northeastern Republicans. Many of the political descendants of both of those groups now consider themselves independents. Today’s progressive Democrats don’t resemble the liberal Democrats of a half century ago so much as they do Michael Harrington’s vision of a “Democratic Left” while today’s Republicans are increasingly looking a lot like the Southern Democrats of 50 years ago.
At least to my ear his conclusion is a fantasy:
Whoever wins the nomination will likely garner support from over 85 percent of black voters, but African Americans still lack a mechanism to hold Democrats accountable once they are elected. Consequently, the outlook for blacks in the United States regarding housing, jobs, education, and criminal justice is little better today than when Kennedy helped get King out of jail in 1960. During this election year, they will again weigh what they won and what they lost when they cast their lot with the Democratic Party.
If there are any signs of that process, I don’t see them. The Democratic Party’s position appears to be more like “take it or leave it” and “at least we’re better than the Republicans”, which after a half century is cold comfort.