Monday, October 8, 2012

Is the Republican Party Racist?

That's the provocative claim on Slate today, but actually it's not nearly tendentious as it sounds and actually the author makes a really great point. The meat of the article can be found in these two paragraphs:
No, I’m not saying all Republicans are racist. I’m saying that as a party, ever since Goldwater and Nixon concocted the benighted, openly racist “Southern Strategy” in the ’60s, the Republican Party has profited from overt and covert racism.
The Southern Strategy was designed to capitalize on Southern white resentment of court-enforced busing to end school desegregation, of the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prohibition of discrimination in interstate commerce, of enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to prevent historically racist Southern counties and states from discriminating against blacks who sought to exercise their right to vote where once they'd been effectively barred. By playing on these issues, Nixon and other Republicans of this era won many traditionally Democratic votes in the South. Later, GOP opposition to affirmative action, race-based hiring "quotas" and all other methods of compensating for the debilitating legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation fed into what was one of the momentous shifts, a total turnaround in just more than a decade (1970 to 1984) from a solidly Democratic South to a solidly Republican one.
With the following consequence:
Which means in practice that the GOP starts out every presidential election with (depending on census changes in electoral vote numbers) some 100 electoral votes, more than a third of the way to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Ok, here's my take. It's true that the states in the deep south, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina have a deep residue of racism that inspires its politics. To deny this is to be well in denial. Now Texas is a big state that spans a large geography and a state I'm not sure is as embedded in racist politics as the others. Given that it currently has 34 electoral votes, or a third of the 100 identified by the author, it kind of dampens the author's thesis. Of course Texas is a red state because of Nixon's and Reagan's southern strategy? I would say its complicated.

Additionally, you can say that the Democratic party has an equal if not greater built in electoral college head start that includes largely populated states in the Northeast and California. These states are probably blue in part as a backlash to this same southern strategy.

However, I do think it was inevitable that the southeast portion of the United States has enough of an electoral college influence to send at least one of the two major parties down this dark path. That one of the two parties would take advantage of it to earn a significant advantage electorally makes sense.

And you can see the consequences in some of the conservative ideology, especially in terms of welfare, affirmative action, and immigration. These issues are certainly broad minded enough to include non-racist supporters, especially those who have not had the exposure to race issues to understand the deeper intent behind these programs (I'm looking at you Utah).

It partially explains Mitt Romney's strategy to attack Obama on his attempt to supposedly gut welfare to work:
At the very least these patterns make Southern voters susceptible to what some observers have called "dog whistle" appeals to racism, such as Mitt Romney's false claim in campaign ads that Obama had "gutted" welfare reform work requirements, reminding many of Reagan-era attacks on "welfare queens" in Cadillacs.
 It was a lie. It's also an issue that is not overtly racist so it appeals to non-racist conservatives but it has a definite appeal to those who are.

For me, it also explains why there's been this irrational hysteria from the right in reaction to a Barack Obama presidency. Again, it's complicated. Some of it was resentment to the way Obama captured the white-house. This savior dropped in from heaven to rescue America from itself. Some of it was also just the natural polarization that is at play in this country. Finally, of course, deep economic trouble tends to bring out the worst in people.

But some of it was inspired by the core Southern conservatives who just can't stomach a black president.
The final presidential tally in 2008 gave ample warning of the potency of the GOP’s conservative white constituency. Obama made a major breakthrough by winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. In South Carolina and other Deep South states the vote was even more lopsided among white voters against Obama. The only thing that even made Obama’s showing respectable in those states was the record turnout and percentage of black votes that he got. ...
Any fair minded person would have to admit, the over-the-top anti-Obama rhetoric from the right is irrational. They were never willing to compromise on any issue from day one. Every issue Obama put on the table was a deal-breaker for them. There was not an ounce of decency shown by most Republicans in Congress, and they got away with it only because the economy was down the toilet.

Was this racism? Generally no, but to think that over a third of your electoral college support comes from a set of states that do this:
Is it any accident that they fly Confederate flags from their statehouse, as in South Carolina, or incorporate Confederate flag symbols into their state flags as in Mississippi and Alabama, or allow them to be flaunted on state-issued license places, even passing laws that declare they must be respected. If you’ve traveled much in the South (as I have), you see them flying too from courthouses, municipal buildings, and other private establishments. If it’s not unconstitutional, it is, frankly, disgusting.
And in a not as over-the-top comparison as it seems at first:
If a conservative government in the German state of Bavaria decided it was going to allow the flying of the SS death’s-head flag, would we find it a touchingly nostalgic tribute to “tradition”? We would not. And yet, as I’ve said before, slavery was a slow-motion genocide that murdered, over three centuries, as many or more human beings than Hitler did. And after a brief reconstruction period, people in the slaveholding states continued to murder, rape, and otherwise oppress the freed slaves and their descendants for another hundred years until they were forced by Federal laws and courts against their will to exercise their racism in less obvious ways, voting being just one.
I left the Republican party because it got too crazy for me. I think this party needs to do some introspection. At this point, it would be suicide for the party to renounce 100 electoral college votes from the south. But they should. They should find ways to adopt saner immigration policies, policies that help address poverty and blight in minority neighborhoods.

They should, but they won't.

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