Way back in March, I wrote about the “Tea Parties and The Southern Strategy,” mostly quoting from an article written by Bob Cesca. To give you the flavor of that piece, here is a sample:
Discussing the use of the N Word, Cesca reminds us of Lee Atwater—the Republican political guru of the 1980s—and the once-infamous but now increasingly respectable Southern Strategy. Atwater had told on himself in a 1981 interview reported by Bob Herbert of the New York Times:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
From the beginning, with their witch doctor imagery, watermelon agitprop and Curious George effigies, the wingnut right has been dying to blurt out, as Lee Atwater famously said, “nigger, nigger, nigger!”
Last night, the sainted Rachel Maddow, whose show is always packed full of information, ran a long segment on the new birth of the Southern Strategy. She began with the Southern political shift from Democratic to Republican loyalties, which we saw happening first in the 1964 presidential election between Goldwater and Johnson.
Here is a series of maps showing that shift:
As you can see, the shift of conservative loyalty was fairly dramatic. Goldwater’s appeal to Southern white conservatives, of course, was based on his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and his failure to attract legions of black supporters and his “success” in attracting conservative whites sent a message to other Republicans, including Kevin Phillips, who was back then a Richard Nixon political strategist:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
Maddow connects this old Southern Strategy with the new Southern Strategy, which is not just confined to the South and not just confined to the dynamics of white versus black. And although Maddow didn’t explore this idea in much depth, this new strategy involves at least partly a view of restoring the dominance of white culture, a culture allegedly threatened by the ascendance of a black man named Obama and the “invasion” of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Now, I’m not saying that all of the Tea Party anger, or all of the angst over the state of the country, is due to a this defensive tribal posture, so don’t even get on that horse and ride. As I have said many times, there are legitimate concerns over our national debt and the long-term stability of our fiscal health. There is legitimate unease over unemployment and the uncertainty of near-term improvement.
But the fact that there doesn’t appear to be much that can’t be said about President Obama or his wife, the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any price paid on the right for the outrageous charges spewing from the mouths of people like Limbaugh and Beck and Hannity—all remain comfortably popular and comfortably rich—and the fact that Republican politicians all over the country have had moments that would have doomed them in any other election year, indicates something beyond agitation over the state of the economy, at least for an uncomfortably large slice of the electorate.
Just as one example, Carl Paladino, a multimillionaire, Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for governor of New York, trounced Rick Lazio in the GOP primary last month, even though shortly after Paladino entered the primary, some very nasty e-mails were released that Paladino had forwarded to his “friends.” Some of those e-mails were blatantly racist, including one that featured a video of African tribesmen doing a traditional tribal dance. The video was titled, “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal.”
Another featured this photograph:
Now, most people interested in politics know all that stuff about Paladino. But what we sometimes forget is that even after these things were known—after the obviously racist e-mails had been made public knowledge—Paladino still received an astonishing 62% of the Republican vote in the primary. He got more than 273,000 votes. In New York.
So, although there is a lot of angst and anger out there, much of it about the economy, there’s no denying that part of that angst and anger has to do with something akin to, but beyond, the Negrophobia that Kevin Phillips talked about so long ago. There are some white folks in the land who not only don’t care a whit about whether Paladino sends racist e-mails, but find the fact that he does culturally comforting.
And although I know that Republicans and tea partiers don’t like to hear any accusations about condoning the kind of bigotry we see on display these days, until someone in the Republican Party—the home of tea partiers—stands up and renounces those among them who traffic in the supposedly “fringe” politics of subtle and not-so-subtle racism, then those of us on my side will wonder just how fringe this stuff is.