Kevin M. Kruse @KevinMKruse Historian. Author/editor of White Flight; The New Suburban History; Spaces of the Modern City; Fog of War; One Nation Under God; Fault Lines. Nov. 14, 2018 5 min read

I thought I was done with the @DineshDSouza nonsense, but apparently it's been gnawing at him so much I'm now part of his speaking gigs.

Here he is at Liberty University. Start it up about 18:40: 

This segment really is Peak D'Souza in that it manages to present an argument that uses a single cherry-picked fact to push against a much larger body of evidence on the other side *and* it somehow manages to get that one fact wrong.

Let's take a look.

First of all, the cherry-picking.

Again, this is D'Souza's classic MO, taking one small detail out of context, ascribing total explanatory value to it, and then hoping his audience doesn't know any better.

Here's an earlier example:

Here he's invoking Nixon's embrace of affirmative action -- a policy position made in August 1969, once he was in office -- as a way to dismiss the appeals Nixon made while campaigning in the 1968 race a year before.

That's some significant goalpost movement *right* off the bat.

Again, if we're talking about the "southern strategy" and its appeal to voters, we should focus on the campaigns in which the GOP was, you know, appealing to voters. Lots of ways to do that.

We can look to what the GOP's own political strategists said:

Or, we can look to the GOP platforms over the 1960s.

In 1960, a long, detailed section on civil rights (1257 words).
In 1964, only a few lines (132 words)
In 1968, not a *single* mention (0 words).


Or, we can put aside what strategists planned and the party adopted as platforms, and see what ordinary voters thought about the GOP and civil rights in this period.

In 1964, only 7% saw the GOP as better on civil rights. SEVEN. PERCENT.

But, OK, let's ignore *all* that evidence about the party's strategists, the party's platforms, its public perception and so much more as D'Souza insists, and instead follow his moving goalposts and look way over here at the Nixon administration's policies.

First of all, yes, in terms of the policies it implemented, the Nixon administration in its first two years *did* have a very mixed record on issues of civil rights.

D'Souza acts like this is something historians are hiding, but I've literally directed two dissertations on this.

And let me pause here to plug their books.

First of all, @LeahRigueur's The Loneliness of the Black Republican is a terrific account of both the costs of the GOP shift on civil rights and Nixon's "black capitalism" programs, among other things. Read it! 

And second, and more to the point, Dov Grohsgal's forthcoming book -- titled Bring Us Together: Civil Rights Politics and Policies in the Nixon White House -- speaks to this exact issue.

Due out next year with UNC Press. It's going to be big. Check it out!

They both show how there was a civil war inside the Nixon administration over civil rights.

On one side, there were LBJ holdovers like Leon Panetta, but also GOP moderates like HEW's Robert Finch and HUD's George Romney. On the other, strategists like Phillips, Dent & Buchanan.

The embrace of affirmative action -- which D'Souza holds up as the embodiment of Nixon's civil rights policies -- was actually just one shot in a larger civil war between two camps inside the administration, a civil war that the liberals & moderates were losing.

Indeed, over late 1969 and early 1970 -- right after the executive order on affirmative action -- Nixon and his conservative aides moved to purge the moderates and liberal holdovers.

By the 1970 midterms, Romney had been pushed out of HUD and Finch and Panetta out of HEW.

The shift in policies at HEW and HUD -- the agencies that had the biggest impact on segregated education and housing, respectively -- seemed to cater to the South so much, in fact, that some top strategists worried that they now looked *too* beholden to the region.

Anyway, we could go on like this for days, but you're better off reading Leah and Dov's books on the topic. (I'm biased, but trust me, they're brilliant.)

But the big point is that one cherry-picked bit of evidence doesn't "prove" anything. History is more complex than that.

That said, sometimes it's pretty easy.

In that speech, D'Souza claims (at 19:04) that "Richard Nixon invented affirmative action."

Yeah, that's not remotely true. 

As anyone capable of using their phones to look up Wikipedia could tell you, the term "affirmative action" was coined by John F. Kennedy eight years earlier in 1961.

JFK introduced the idea as simple non-discrimination, but then the next president, Lyndon B. Johnson, worked to popularize the more common meaning today, most famously in a commencement address at Howard University in 1965.

You can watch it here: 

In it, LBJ said: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

LBJ followed that address, and other comments like it, with a *second* executive order on affirmative action in September 1965.

And then a *third* order in 1967, which broadened the policy to ban gender discrimination as well.

So, no, Nixon didn't "invent" affirmative action.

What's more, Nixon's most famous affirmative action policy -- the "Philadelphia Plan" -- really began before his presidency, in 1967, and was rooted entirely in LBJ's executive order.

Nixon embraced it for his own political reasons. Here's @rickperlstein: 

Again, the administration was split on this issue. Secretary of Labor Shultz was fairly liberal on race, but others higher up only agreed to back affirmative action because they saw political benefits.

Here's a quote from John Ehrlichman, Nixon's top aide on domestic issues.

So yes!

We actually can reconcile Nixon's embrace of affirmative action with his larger campaign of playing to whites' racial fears, because we know that's how Nixon and his top strategists understood them working together!

All right, I've gone on way too long.

Wrapping up, I've already covered the party switch stuff here:

I'll note that his definition of a Dixiecrat -- either someone who was part of the Dixiecrat Party in 1948 or someone who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- is *not* "the conventional measure historians use."

Hi there, I'm actually a historian. We don't do this.

And, no, I'm not hiding under my desk refusing to debate him.

I'm sitting at my desk, debating him right now.

You can follow @KevinMKruse.


Tip: mention @threader_app on a Twitter thread with the keyword “compile” to get a link to it.

Enjoy Threader? Become member.