May 06, 2013

No more Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners

It’s time for Democrats to ditch Andrew Jackson

As Biden speaks at event named for Old Hickory tonight, more appalling stories show party should dump him as icon

By Steve Yoder
Spring means that appeals for money are bursting forth from both major political parties. It also means Democratic officials in states and counties around the country are busy getting people out to their major fundraiser, the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. And they’re bringing in the big guns: Vice President Joe Biden will keynote the South Carolina Democrats’ dinner tonight.

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.
And:But is it unfair to hold Jackson to today’s standards? It would be—had Jackson’s contemporaries not tried their best to stop him. Cave documents a campaign against Jackson’s Indian removal policy that continued throughout the 1830s; one signature petition from New York City was 47 yards long. From 1830 to 1842, 85 percent of opposition Whig Party congressional votes on removal were cast in opposition to Jackson’s policy, according to a 1993 journal article by historian Fred Rolater. And Allman describes an 1837 investigation by Congressman William Jay concluding that Jackson’s destruction of the Negro Fort constituted an illegal use of taxpayer funds to support slavery.

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.’”
And:Should Jackson’s history matter to Democrats? If not, it’s hard to explain why Republicans went to such lengths before the presidential campaigns in both 2008 and 2012 to paint themselves as the historic defenders of minority rights by recounting the crimes of southern Democrats before the civil rights era. Today’s Democrats play into their hands by continuing to embrace Jackson; in the battle for minority votes, branding could prove to be the difference.

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.
Comment:  Jefferson wasn't all he's made out to be, either. He owned slaves and wanted the Indians removed, making him Jackson's spiritual father. He's not a great fit with today's Democrats, since he favored small government and opposed big spending projects.

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"

1 comment:

dmarks said...

"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."

Now, this is a weak argument I think. Isn't "accepting without thought" one of the defenses used for racism? It could be used, say, as an argument to keep the R*skins football team name. After all, the vast majority of the fans of the team accept it without thought, right?

Would you call someone promoting