As Biden speaks at event named for Old Hickory tonight, more appalling stories show party should dump him as icon
By Steve Yoder
But after an election in which Democrats rode a wave of minority support to keep the White House and Senate, party activists should wonder about one of the founders for whom that event is named. If branding matters, then the tradition of honoring perhaps the most systematic violator of human rights for America’s nonwhites should finally run its course.
Renowned journalist T.D. Allman’s gripping Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State argues that brutality was a habit of mind for party icon Andrew Jackson long before he laid the groundwork, as President, for the Trail of Tears, the thousand-mile death march that killed 4000 Cherokees in 1838−39.
Today, Democrats sound open to reconsidering whether honoring Jackson still makes sense. In Jackson’s home state of Tennessee, party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese says, “I think we welcome these kinds of conversations about our history. What he did in office…these are not things we should proud of, but they’re definitely things we must learn from.” But if so, why keep Jackson as the party’s brand? “One explanation might just be inertia—it’s been that way forever, so it’s still that way,” says Puttbrese.
In Arkansas, party representative Candace Martin acknowledges that “If you look at the overall values of the Democratic party, then Andrew Jackson probably would not be representative…. It’s maybe something that we should be debating.”
And a Democratic official in one state who didn’t want to be named thinks Jackson’s days are numbered as a fundraising brand: “When I think of Andrew Jackson, I automatically think ‘Trail of Tears’…” the official says. “If a bunch of people in my generation were creating this dinner, I don’t think we would name it the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. I think a lot of things that happen in politics are just like, ‘well that’s the way it’s always been.’”
State parties have dumped Jackson before. In 1978, Minnesota Democrats renamed their Jefferson-Jackson dinner for Hubert Humphrey. Oklahoma Democrats replaced him with former Majority Leader Carl Albert in the 1990s. And in 2010, the North Dakota party picked legendary Senator Quentin Burdick as the fundraiser’s namesake instead.
With Republicans also raising money with Lincoln-Reagan dinners this spring, Democrats have to take a harder look at what the past means for their future. If so, they’ll find it’s not hard to do better. Roosevelt-Kennedy has a nice ring to it.
But the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners are pretty weak evidence of "liberal racism." As the article indicates, most Democrats probably accept the name without thought. As with a dubious sports team nickname or geographic place name, inertia is largely responsible for keeping it in place.
It's like using a $20 bill with Jackson's picture on it, or driving on a freeway named for Jackson. Most people don't even think about it. Even if you cared, it would require a lot of effort to avoid Jackson's name and image, and it wouldn't have much effect. So I don't blame people for ignoring his presence throughout our culture.
That said, this name is something party leaders can easily change without harming anyone's sensibilities. "Roosevelt-Kennedy" does indeed have a nice ring to it. Or Democrats could abandon the "two presidents" convention and call the event something else. Maybe the Power to the People Dinner or the Ninety-Nine Percent Dinner.
For more on Andrew Jackson, see Most Overrated Presidents and "Most Terrifying Man Ever Elected President"