On Wednesday, one of the oldest publications in the nation, The Atlantic, for only the third time in its almost 160 year history, endorsed a presidential candidate.
The magazine endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, laying out the clear case for Clinton and also the resounding reasons to not vote for Donald Trump.
“One of the animating causes of this magazine at its founding, in 1857, was the abolition of slavery,” and the founding editor of The Atlantic, James Russell Lowell, argued that the Republican Party, and its nominee in 1860, Abraham Lincoln, “represented the only reasonable pathway out of the existential crisis then facing the country,” the Editorial Board wrote. That year, citing to the chief strength of the Republican Party being “a moral aversion to slavery as a great wrong,” the publication endorsed Lincoln.
The Editorial Board continued, “Perhaps because no subsequent candidate for the presidency was seen as Lincoln’s match, or perhaps because the stakes in ensuing elections were judged to be not quite so high as they were in 1860, it would be 104 years before The Atlantic would again make a presidential endorsement.”
It is important to keep in mind that in the 104 years between that initial endorsement and the second one, among other major events, this country had gone through two world wars, and the Great Depression. It had also gone through the Civil War, but that was really the reason for the Lincoln endorsement. Not one presidential election during that period presented a situation where the magazine believed it should take sides.
That second endorsement by the publication went to Lyndon B. Johnson. One does not need to be historian to know that the 60’s represent another great internal struggle in the history of the United States. And particular to the 1964 election, it was in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president, had been sworn in as president. And the issue which was top on his agenda was to continue JFK’s work, and top on that list was to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Johnson’s experience in politics and government was one of the primary reasons that the Civil Rights Act was passed. The details of how LBJ maneuvered through incredibly divided and diverse interests in less than one year to sign the bill into law is not only fascinating, but legendary. It truly makes an important case for electing a president with experience in governing and politics. However, that is likely a tangent to this discussion.
In 1964, Johnson was leading a Democratic Party that was deeply divided. In fact, in 1948, a group from the Democratic Party who opposed racial integration and wanted to retain Jim Crow Laws had broken off to form their own party called the Dixiecrats. While the Dixiecrats quickly returned to the Democratic Party, their core beliefs remained, and when Johnson pushed for the Civil Rights Act to be passed, the Democratic Party appeared to be coming apart at the seams. Indeed, there were threats of walkouts and members leaving the party to join the Republican Party.
That year, the Republican nominee for president was Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona. As much as The Atlantic praised Johnson for his skill in foreign policy and for his stance on civil rights which the paper said would “prevent us from Stumbling down the road taken by South Africa,” it was more focused on the flaws of Goldwater. Significantly, in its 1964 endorsement, it said:
“We think it unfortunate that Barry Goldwater takes criticism as a personal affront; we think it poisonous when his anger betrays him into denouncing what he calls the ‘radical’ press by bracketing the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Izvestia. There speaks not the reason of the Southwest but the voice of Joseph McCarthy. We do not impugn Senator Goldwater’s honesty. We sincerely distrust his factionalism and his capacity for judgment.”
Looking at this history, it becomes obvious why The Atlantic has chosen to take sides in the presidential election for only the third time in its 160 year history. One can almost write the endorsement knowing this history — even at the cursory level of this article.
In the 52 years since The Atlantic’s last presidential endorsement, the Republican Party has, for better or worse, become a home for the Dixiecrats of old. While there were only a couple of defections by political leaders, the supporters of the ideals that the Dixiecrats stood for did defect to a great extent. With his rise to Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich gave voice to the extremes of the party — which among others included this group.
And while Gingrich had to step down due to ethics issues, the movement that he started did not. The Party of No was born. And with each passing year, and with help with some extreme events, its voice grew louder inside the Party, eventually becoming the tail that wagged the dog.
Academics cite history in order to predict the future and to justify things in the present. Many times, those historical citations are false analogies as they do not take into account many factors and changes in times and circumstances. As in many other arenas, people tend to cherry-pick historical facts — and some not falsities — in order to justify their point of view.
However, this is one of those times, when even the nonpartisan must become partisan. That happened to The Atlantic today. In the Editorial Board’s own words:
“In its founding statement, The Atlantic promised that it would be ‘the organ of no party or clique,’ and our interest here is not to advance the prospects of the Democratic Party, nor to damage those of the Republican Party. If Hillary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates Trump vanquished in the Republican primaries, we would not have contemplated making this endorsement. We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.”
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Slant.