Hubert Humphrey was one of a generation of liberal Democrats from the 1930s to the 1990s that were able to garner support of both white blue collar communities and from minority communities. These liberal Democrats, which included Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Kennedy brothers, Harry S Truman, Henry Wallace, Walter Mondale, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone, were able to build this multiracial coalition by fighting for the civil rights of minority communities and defending the economic interests of blue collar communities.
Liberal Democrats believe that capitalism has great benefits but also great flaws. If you ignore capitalism’s flaws, those flaws grow until they eventually overwhelm any benefits that capitalism has to offer. In the course of this country’s history, the United States has had periods of serious economic crisis in 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, 1919, 1929 and 2008. During these economic crisis, homes and small farms were foreclosed, small businesses went bankrupt, millions became unemployed and many were thrown into poverty and starvation.
The boom and bust cycles inherent in the capitalist system unleash economic forces that overwhelm the ability of individuals and whole communities to cope with. Liberal Democrats have adopted the philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Dealers that the federal government has a responsibility to help its most vulnerable citizens from the worst effects of the free market economy.
I am a liberal Democrat. Even though I am a liberal, I know from history that liberals have been right about some things and wrong about some things. The same thing, though, can be said about any group: moderates, conservatives, democratic socialists, libertarians, Marxists, anarchists have all been right about some things and they’ve all been wrong about some things.
I deeply believe in the principles of the democratic republic that no group or ideology has a monopoly on truth. It is important for diverse and differing voices to participate in the debate on ideas on how to solve our nation’s problems, and to be willing to compromise and find common ground when the debate reaches an impasse. And I believe each side has made important contributions. Conservatives are right about the importance of the family unit for the stability of society. Moderates are right about the importance of compromise and finding common ground. Democratic socialists and Marxists are right in their critiques of the flaws of capitalism. Libertarians and anarchists are right in their concern about protecting individual liberties against an often overweening federal government.
Liberals have made an important contribution to the national debate. They’ve been responsible for the fight for civil rights for African Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and other minority communities. From the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society, liberals have created the social safety net that has helped the poor and middle class have access to vital services that the free markets alone cannot provide. The radical cartoonist Jules Feiffer once said that liberals play an important role in taking the best ideas of the radical Left and watering it down to make it palatable for the rest of society, making compromises and improving society with those ideas.
Here is a speech that Hubert Humphrey gave in the 1948 Democratic Convention supporting the civil rights of African Americans. Humphrey’s speech caused 35 delegates from Mississippi and Alabama to walk out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention. Humphrey urged the Democratic Party to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights”. When President Truman endorsed this civil rights plank, governor of South Carolina Strom Thurmond helped organize the walkout of delegates into a separate party that ran in the 1948 Presidential elections. The party Thurmond formed was called the “Dixiecrats” and it’s racist slogan was “Segregation Forever!”.
Here is an excerpt of Hubert Humphrey’s 1948 speech:
“All regions and all states have shared in the precious heritage of American freedom. All states and all regions have at least some infringements of that freedom – all people, all groups have been the victims of discrimination…
…We cannot use a double standard for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantees of those practiced in our own country…
…I do not believe that there can be any compromise of the guarantees of civil rights which I have mentioned.In spite of my desire for unanimous agreement on the platform there are some matters which I think must be stated without qualification. There can be no hedging – no watering down.
There are those who say to you – we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.
There are those who say – this issue of civil rights is an infringement on states rights. The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights 3 and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.
People – human beings – this is the issue of the 20th century. People – all kinds and sorts of people – look to America for leadership – for help – for guidance.
My friends – my fellow Democrats – I ask you for a calm consideration of our historic opportunity. Let us forget the evil passions, the blindness of the past. In these times of world economic, political and spiritual – above all, spiritual crisis, we cannot – we must not, turn from the path so plainly before us.
That path has already led us through many valleys of the shadow of death. Now is the time to recall those who were left on that path of American freedom.
For all of us here, for the millions who have sent us, for the whole two billion members of the human family – our land is now, more than ever, the last best hope on earth. I know that we can – I know that we shall – begin here the fuller and richer realization of that hope – that promise of a land where all men are free and equal, and each man uses his freedom and equality wisely and well.”