David Frum asks why Republicans should have to repent for the sins of Joe McCarthy, when Democrats get off scot-free for someone like Theodore Bilbo. I’d think it has something to do with the Republican leaders who still impersonate Joe McCarthy. But it’s absurd to hold a party accountable for the actions of people who are long dead.
Political parties are not subject to morally judgment in the same way people are–instead they are associations of people who join together to pursue some end. We should ask what those ends are and how they are being pursued. Morality primarily attaches to the people who do the pursuit. A lot of times parties are united, and consistent over time, so it becomes natural to personify them. But when they’re not, the personification ceases to be interesting. It’s true that the Democrats featured some of the worst racists in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, but when Lyndon Johnson pushed for civil rights, they left the party (a few like Byrd being the exceptions). Even many of those who switched to the Republican side over the issue are gone from public life or have reformed themselves (those like Trent Lott being the not so rare exception). By and large the political figures of the 60s are not relevant to judging the parties as they now stand.
It’s a shame that ostensibly respectable journalists like Frum and Bartlett would perpetuate this type of attack.