When accused of racism, Republicans often claim that the Democrats are the real racists. To back this up, it is sometimes claimed that the Democrats are “the party of the Ku Klux Klan.” While I don’t think that Ted Cruz invented this tactic, he did push it into the spotlight back when he defended Jeff Sessions against accusations of racism.  Cruz went beyond merely claiming that Democrats formed the Klan; he also claimed the Democrats were responsible for segregation and Jim Crow laws. As Cruz saw it, the Democrats’ tactic is to “…just accuse anyone they disagree with of being racist.”

Ted Cruz is right about the history of the Democratic party. After the Civil War, the southern Democratic Party explicitly identified itself as the “white man’s party” and accused the Republican party of being “negro dominated.” Some Southern Democrats did support Jim Crow and joined the KKK. So, these accusations are true. But do they prove that the modern Democrats are the real party of Racists? The easy and obvious answer is that they do not.

Despite the racism in its past, the Democrats became the party associated with civil rights while the Republicans engaged in what has become known as the “southern strategy.” In this strategic political move,  Republicans appealed to racism against blacks to gain political power in the south. Though ironic given the history of the two parties, this strategy was effective and many southern Democrats switched parties to become southern Republicans. This was like exchanging the wine in two bottles while leaving the labels the same. As such, while Ted and others are right about the history, they are criticizing the label rather than the wine.

Using this history of the Democratic party to attack the party of today also involves the genetic fallacy. The fact that the Democrats of the past backed Jim Crow and segregation is irrelevant to the merit of claims made by current Democrats or whether they are racist now. What is needed is evidence of current racism. When the logic is laid bare, the fallacy is quite evident:


Premise 1: Over a century ago, some Southern Democrats once joined the KKK.

Premise 2: Over a century ago, some Southern Democrats backed segregation and Jim Crow Laws.

Conclusion: The current Democrats are racists (or their claims about racism are false).


As should be evident, the premises have no logical connection to the conclusion. However, this fallacy can have considerable rhetorical force.

As noted above, it is also common for Republicans to accuse Democrats if relying on accusations of racism as a political tactic. It is true that a mere accusation of racism does not prove a person is racist. If it is an unsupported attack, then it proves nothing. Both ethics and critical thought require that one properly review the evidence for such accusations and not simply accept them. As such, if the Democrats are merely launching empty ad hominem attacks, then these attacks should be dismissed.  But if the accusations have merit, then this merit should be given the consideration they deserve.

When people make this attack on Democrats, they seem to accept that racism is a bad thing. After all, such as condemnation of current Democrats requires condemning past Democrats for their support of racism, segregation and Jim Crow laws. As such, the critic purports to agree with the current Democrats’ professed view that racism is bad. But the critic condemns the Democrats for making what are alleged to be false charges of racism. This, then, is the relevant concern: which claims, if any, made by the Democrats about racism true? The history of the Democratic party is not relevant to the answer, nor is the empty accusation that the Democrats are the real racists for being concerned about racism.