tv Frank Rizzo and White Working- Class Voters CSPAN May 19, 2018 7:35pm-8:01pm EDT
e willing to lay it all, life included, on the line. i think they were looking beyond where we are right now. >> our cities tour staff recently traveled to selma alabama, to learn more about its rich history. learn more about selma and other stops on our tour at c-span.org/citiestour. you're watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> former philadelphia mayor frank rizzo, and the concerns of white working class voters in the 1970's, is the topic of the interview coming up next. american history tv was at the organization of american historians annual meeting in sacramento, california, where we spoke with professor timothy lombardo.
he compares pennsylvania politics in the 1970's to today's political climate. this is about 20 minutes. >> timothy lombardo is a philadelphia native, professor of history. your book coming out in september, blue collar conservatism, frank rizzo's philadelphia and populace politics. what's the premise of the book? >> it's a way to look at changes in white working and middle class politics in the 1960's and 1970's. i use frank rizzo, a key figure in the city in that era, as sort of a gateway to look at his supporters, these people who love him and supported him through his time as police commissioner in the late 1960's and mayor into the 1970's. and i use their affiliation with him to trace how they dealt with the major changes in the country
in the 1960's and 1970's. everything from the civil rights movement to the broader politics of the so-called urban crisis. >> you touched on this but who was frank rizzo? what's his rise to politics? why did he become mayor of philadelphia? and what is his lasting legacy? timothy: so frank rizzo was an immigrant's son, born in a south philadelphia row house. and he came up through the streets and he dropped out of high school and he followed his father's footsteps into the philadelphia police department and he earned a reputation as one of the toughest cops on the force fairly early on. he earned the nickname, cisco kid, after a television cowboy. and he just, partly through connections and partly through his own dedication to police work, he rose through the ranks
fairly rapidly until 1967 when he became -- was appointed police commissioner and as police commissioner he quickly -- even when deputy commissioner, he was turning into a very controversial figure. in the era of civil rights and urban disorder, philadelphia had its own urban riot in 1964. he came up kind of in relation to all of that promising law and order. he was very fond of saying that the way to treat criminals was scoffo coo an italian phrase translated, to crack their head. while this didn't win him many favors among liberals, among especially the african american community, it made him incredibly popular among blue collar white ethnics that clamored for law and order. the same thing barry goldwater was talking about, richard
nixon, george wallace. rizzo was the local paradigm of law and order and he used it. he used his popularity as police commissioner for all these people as a springboard to a broader political career. in 1971, he ran for mayor and he won. he was a democrat but he still won on a platform of maintaining law and order. his campaign slogan was "rizzo means business" and that meant what you want it to mean. it was a master stroke of double meaning because it could mean he'll bring prosperity or he'll deal with people causing trouble. for two terms as mayor of philadelphia he divided the city in a a lot of ways. he broke with his own party in 1972 to campaign for nixon. he opposed everything from
affirmative action to public hugs to school de-- housing to school desegregation and he did so very flamboyantly, a string of controversial statements and series of scandals. but throughout all of it his supporters supported him so much that he survived a challenge to the democratic primary in 1975. he survived a recall challenge in 1976 and he almost managed to change the city charter so he could run for a third term in 1978 and that movement only fell apart when he told an all-white audience in northeast philadelphia to, quote/unquote vote white for charter change. and through it all he was controversial and hated but he was loved by these people who saw him as one of their own, the working class kid, son of immigrants who dropped out of high school and worked his way up to the top position in philadelphia. those people who responded to
that is who i write about. host: i want to come back to that. but what happened after he left city hall? timothy: he left but kept trying to return. he ran again as a democrat in 1983 and lost to philadelphia's first african american mayor. he then ran for mayor again as a republican in 1987. he lost that, as well. and he ran one more time in 1991 as a republican again and when a lot of people were starting to think he would win -- philadelphia hasn't had a republican mayor since 1948. and he died on the campaign trail. he died in 1991 so after he left, he never gave up hope but died trying to get the position back. host: let's go back to the 1970's. you mentioned richard nixon famous for the silent majority, code word for white working class voters. archie bunker, all in "the
family," popular in pop culture during that time. how was this playing out in the key voting block? timothy: i say archie bunker would have felt right at home in frank rizzo's white philadelphia. nixon saw rizzo as part of the urban strategy. nixon was a strategist, always looking to -- and as white voters's allegiance was up for grabs after the 1960's. he saw rizzo as a way of getting this conconstituency that had four decades voted democratic and he saw people like rizzo -- rizzo and nixon became allies. rizzo made a spectacle of himself in a lot of ways campaigning. he held a press conference with a rubber change with a mcgovern sticker on it to mock him. as much as nixon had his
so-called southern strategy, he also had this urban strategy to do this with blue collar whites that really hasn't been looked at as much as the southern strategy has. host: was he a racist? timothy: he wouldn't say so. he would say he's not. rizzo was fond of saying -- accused dogged him throughout his career from police to mayor. when he was asked, he would very much say the last thing i am is against somebody for being a different color than me. but at the same time all of the policies he championed and things he was doing say something else. african americans in philadelphia absolutely believed he was a racist and his reputation preceded him. when stokley carmichael, the
leader of the student nonviolent coordinator committee came to philadelphia, specifically came to protest quote/unquote racist rizzo. but one of the arguments i make in the book is that this process of denying racist motivations is a big part of blue collar conservatism. host: when his supporters said in 1971 that frank rizzo is quote, one of us what were they referring to? timothy: one of my favorite stories in the book and it actually opens the book is that rizzo shows up at this concert. he says he's there to hear music and celebrate italian heritage but he's 6'2", stands out in a crowd. this was in south philly so people clamored around him. and he makes his way up to a corner bar and he's in the bar
talking to people, shaking hands and he raises a toast and he leaves. philadelphia reporter hangs around to talk to people and ask, what do you like about him and they say we like him because he isn't a ph.d., an 11th grade dropout and that rizzo is one of us, he came up the hard way. what they meant is that he's from a south philadelphia row home, in the context of the election, that he was up against the president of the chamber of commerce was a very wealthy individual and rizzo didn't have that wealth. he was a cop. he was a cop first and foremost and he never stopped. one of the things i say in the back into when it came to blue collar jobs, few in philadelphia
were more blue collar than police officers and that relatability mattered deeply to a lot of people. host: what did he sound like? timothy: baritone. hard to describe. baritone voice. host: he seems like he was a pretty gruff guy. timothy: yeah. i wouldn't say he sounds uneducated but he sounds unpolished. he very much is a guy who says the first thing that comes to mind right? he's the type of guy that, in an interview -- and i've watched dozens of them, several of them in which he walked out because he confronted with some of these things -- he just says what he's going to say and sometimes it gets him in trouble. he said a lot of things throughout the 1970's that get him in trouble. one of the famous incidents he's at one point accused of
using the police department as a personal spy ring to spy on his enemies. and he's accused by a fellow, a democratic committeeman and there's an open feud between them. the philadelphia press sides they say we're going to give everybody involved in this thing a polygraph test to see how this works out. and rizzo agrees and immediately before he takes the exam he points to it and he says if this machine says a man lies, he lied. of course, he fails. so does his top adviser, and his opponent, peter camille passes. this is the way he talks, shoots from the hip. but he received tons of letters from philadelphians talking about how the media tricked him the quote/unquote liberal media
is trying to take down the working man's man. so no matter what he did in certain circumstances, he could not lose their loyalty. host: you're a historian but i have to ask you about the current occupant of the white house. there are any parallels and would frank rizzo feel comfortable in donald trump's white house? timothy: yes, i think so. i would not be the first person to make that comparison. several journalists reached out to me for comment during the election. they had a similar style of approaching -- the unpolished campaign style. at one point i say, you know, people talk about trump, one of the things they like about him is he tells it like it is and with frank rizzo of philadelphia, they would have called him one of us.
he follows a similar script. his son, donald trump jr. campaign spots in des moines and pittsburgh kept calling his father a blue collar billionaire. jerry falwell jr. said the same thing at the republican national convention. blue collar in this instance has nothing to do with wealth, but with cultural identity. and donald trump was very, very good at using -- at least in the campaign. his policies have not really followed through on that but the way he talks about -- he talked about coal mining. he has the very famous picture of him in the truck outside of the white house. when he talks about jobs, he's talking about manufacturing jobs. he's talking about blue collar work. jobs that don't exist the way they used to but that's the sort of mindset he has and people hear it and respond to it.
host: generally speaking and i know it's a monolithic group but the white working class voter, if you look at the voting trends, went for lyndon johnson in 1964, richard nixon in 1972 went for reagan in 1980 and 1984, the so-called reagan democrats, then back to clinton in 1992, barack obama in 2008 and generally speaking donald trump in 2016. is that correct? timothy: for the most part. one of the things to really understand about the clinton and obama is, one of the things we often overlook is how much the democratic party shifted since the 1960's. the democratic party of bill clinton is not the democratic party of lyndon johnson. it's bill clinton that says the erav bill government is over and ends welfare as we know it so they turned us back into a far more centrist party that still appeals to that and clinton has
that style. he was able to do that. as -- the big one you talk about is reagan. and the reagan democrat. for all intents and purposes, a local study to be called reagan democrats, one of the lines in the book is, before people called them reagan democrats, in philadelphia they were calling them rizzo cratz because it was less about party and more about the person. host: let me take it one step further, then. what is it about the white working class voter? what do they want from elected officials? whether the mayor of philadelphia or president of the united states? timothy: that's difficult to say. and you were right when you said they're not a monolithic group and we shouldn't treat the white working class as if they are this blob of interest. the way i see it, there is an
economic vulnerability. and they are not opposed, at least the people i write about are not entirely opposed to government programs, to economic programs, to taxation and things like that. they just want the recipients to get these things to have, quote/unquote, earned the rights to them, to have worked hard for them and what they begin to argue in the 1960's and 1970's is that -- or they begin to believe that the people who are getting things like public housing or school integration or affirmative action that these are special privileges and they're not going to people who deserve them. that's their argument. so they want a government that functions for the working class but their working class. host: another pop culture question but is it roseanne meets archie bunker and "all in the family?" timothy: i have been thinking about that quite a bit. i think roseanne is following
the script, this blue collar conservative script. i don't think it's in any way intentional but i watched a first few episodes of the show and there's the confrontation between her and jackie, that has been the centerpiece of all the talk her sister asking how could you vote for that man? they never mention his name and she responds, he was talking about jobs. he's going to shake things up. so yeah, i think -- and this language is what's really, i think, key in my book. this is what makes it what i call blue collar conservatism. it is the language of class language of blue collar authenticity, language of jobs and, on top of that, not only is it class as a means of saying it's not about race. that's what they're doing in the 1960's and that's what they're doing in the 1970's. it's not about race, it's about class, it's about blue collar
values. to an extent you see roseanne doing that. roseanne's family in the new iteration of the show is multicultural. she has a gender nonconforming grandson. it's kind of like saying, this is about class, this is about jobs, it's not about what a lot of people have pointed to as trumpism, racial resentment. host: your book comes out in september. you now teach at the university of south florida -- south alabama. you are a philadelphia native. timothy: born and raised. host: family still there? timothy: family still there. host: how did they help you prepare for this book? timothy: in every way possible. this book took a lot of research. i'm a philadelphia native but i went at this -- i try to put myself as an outsider to make sure i didn't let what i think i know about the city ruin it but i'm from there. i stayed with my sister for months while i was researching
the book. and to an extent there's a lot of things i fundamentally disagree with frank rizzo about. and though the book takes place largely before i was born, most of it, the last chapter and a half i was an infant or a very small person but this is, in a lot of ways, the story of my extended family. my extended family were rizzo fans. host: did they tell you stories about that time period? timothy: they're not around anymore but my -- when i first started this project, i was at the my grandmother's house. my grandmother was not well enough to talk about it but i told her i was starting a project about frank rizzo and she got a little tear and she
said we could really use a man like him again. i didn't have the heart to disagree with her at that point. i just said, ok, grandma. so one of the things i wanted to do with the book is not treat these people like caricatures. and it is -- you know, the way the white working class have usually been written about is almost like reactionaries or foiled in the standard narrative of civil rights and great society liberalism. they oppose those things but i didn't want to treat them as monsters. they're humans and even if you disagree with them or don't like what they say and believe, they have human feelings and personalities and i wanted to bring those people out to show their humanity even if you don't agree with everything they say.
host: the book is titled "blue collar conservatism, frank rizzo's philadelphia and populist politics." timothy lombardo, professor of history at the university of south alabama. thank you for joining us. timothy: thank you very much. >> i approached some abandoned huts and when i got to the site of the hut, a north vietnamese soldier came out of the ground, my guy saw him but it was too late, he threw a hand grenade at me. the grenade hit one of the poles in the hut, large oak beam or whatever the wood is there. mahogany beam, and bounced off and then it went off and it peppered my -- my flak jacket, ripped -- i had an entrenching tool in the back, shovel, and it cut the handle off of that and threw me to the ground and my
leg, piece of shrapnel hit my leg. >> watch our five-week series with vietnam war veterans starting sunday at 7:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3. >> sunday on "q&a," university of virginia history professor william hitchcock on his book "the age of eisenhower." >> i call it the disciplined presidency and eisenhower, the way he carried himself and the man he was was a disciplined man, a great athlete when he was young, an organized man in every respect, very methodical but that's how he ran the white house, too. he was extremely organized and a lot of people, especially the young senator, future president john kennedy criticized eisenhower's stodginess for being so disciplined and organized and predictable but for eisenhower it meant that when crises came he knew how to
respond and who to turn to. he used to say plans are worthless but planning is everything. so you're always thinking what's over the hill, what crisis might erupt and we should be thinking about it so he was very systematic in the way he governed. he met the press every week. he met congressional leaders every week. he chaired the national security council every week and he was -- he had his thumb on the government. he trusted the process. he believed the federal government could work well if it was well led. >> "q&a" sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span. announcer: monday morning we are live in st. paul, minnesota. minnesota education commissioner will be our guest during washington journal, starting in 9:30 a.m. eastern. announcer: next on lectures in
history, tom lee teaches a class about the south influence on culture in the 1970's and highlights the political importance of the region notes the shift in migration, and the rise of nascar, country music, and southern living magazine. this class is about 45 minutes. tom: ok, so talking about as i suggested the south and the 1970's, and in particular come the title deliverance to the dukes of hazzard's, but this phrase the solemnization of america matters. -- southernization of america matters. i want to sta