Editor’s Note: Darryl Paulson has contributed numerous essays over the years to our Opinion Pages. He drew our attention to “An open letter in defense of democracy. âHere are some of his thoughts on the subject.
It is high time that the left and the right found something that can unify them: the defense of American democracy. For 35 years, I have taught southern politics from the post-WWII era until today. Much of the focus was on the denial of political and civil rights to black South Americans.
I spoke about the origins of discrimination and described how all southern states, and many outside the south, denied black citizens the right to quality education. They denied the right of blacks to use public housing like hotels, restaurants, theaters, swimming pools and beaches simply because of their race. They denied black men and women the right to marry people who were not black. More importantly, they denied black citizens the right to register and vote for any candidate they choose.
I cannot tell you how many students have written to me or have personally come to my office and thanked me for exposing them to racial discrimination against black Americans that has spanned over three centuries. I remember that one of my best students came to me with a copy of the letter she wrote to her parents explaining how âthis wonderful liberal professor taught me about the history of racial discrimination in the United States. United “.
I thanked her for her kind words, but said there was a major mistake in her letter. I was not and never have been a liberal. I have always considered myself a curator and told her that in 1991 I was appointed a member of the Heritage Foundation, long regarded as America’s leading conservative think tank.
This student, who was familiar with many articles I had written on voter discrimination and discrimination in public education and public housing, asked me how I could teach what I teach and write what I teach. I wrote without being a liberal. I told him it was easy, because in fact the Liberals and Conservatives should agree on the values ââthat made America great, and which included non-discrimination.
I had written so many articles on voter discrimination in Florida that I was hired by both Florida and the National NAACP half a dozen times as an expert witness in voting rights cases. One of the things I’m most proud of is that in 1991 I was hired by both Florida and the National NAACP as an expert witness to redesign the congressional districts of Florida. . Florida had not elected a black member in its delegation to Congress since 1890.
In 1992, in part because of my testimony in federal court in Tallahassee, Florida, elected three black members to its then congressional delegation of 25 people. To be honest, I wouldn’t have voted for any of the three, but I was proud to have played a part in the election by black voters of a candidate of their choice. I did not see my role as a victory for conservatism or liberalism, but as a victory for democracy in America.
I think that the authors of the âOpen Letter for the Defense of Democracyâ, as well as all the co-signers, are doing the same thing. As they point out, the left and the right may disagree on public policy, but they must be united to defend American democracy.
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.