Robert Reich: When I Met Strom Thurmond – OpEd


Speaking at a campaign fundraiser in San Francisco, President Biden compared current Republicans in Congress to the “real racists” he served with as a senator in the 1970s and claimed today’s GOP lawmakers are “worse” and have “become a party of chaos and division.”

“I’ve been a senator since ’72. I’ve served with real racists. I’ve served with Strom Thurmond,” Biden said, referring to the South Carolina Republican senator and segregationist who died at the age of one hundred in 2003. “I’ve served with all these guys that have set terrible records on race. But guess what? These guys are worse. These guys do not believe in basic democratic principles.”

“By the time Strom left, he did terrible things,” Biden said of Thurmond. “My point is at least you could work with some of these guys,” he added. “Time and again, Republicans show they are the party of chaos and division.”

Thurmond was governor of South Carolina between 1947 and 1951 and senator for that same state between 1954 and 1956 and again from November 7, 1956 to January 3, 2003, when he retired from politics. He ran for president in 1948 for the Dixiecrat faction of the Democratic Party that defended Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Thurmond joined the Republican Party.

My one interaction with Thurmond came in 1996 when I was on Capitol Hill meeting with senators about raising the minimum wage. Thurmond wasn’t on my schedule. 

I was in an elevator when he came in. 

“Mr. Secretary,” he acknowledged, with a smile. 

“Senator,” I said, nodding my head. 

“Nice suit you have on, Mr. Secretary,” he said. 

There was nothing special about it, as far as I knew. Standard dark blue.

“Thank you, Senator.”

“Tell me,” he said, slyly. “do they make that in an adult size?”

I didn’t know how to respond. The elevator doors opened and I moved to leave.

“Have a nice day, Mr. Secretary,” he grinned broadly.

“You, too, Senator,” I said as I exited.

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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