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Tilting at Windmills

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October 20, 2010

THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY LIVES.... The chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party sent around an email this year, sharing a little "joke" he found amusing. His message was that his dog should be eligible for welfare because, as the "joke" goes, the dog is "black, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is."

As racist displays go, this is unambiguously ugly, and the local GOP chairman was forced to resign this week. But it's worth contextualizing the incident to appreciate the larger truth. Indeed, it's hard not to notice the broader, more systemic Republican attempts this year to use identity politics to win votes.

Rachel Maddow began her show last night with another powerful segment on the subject, noting the Republicans' notorious "Southern Strategy," and the ways in which it hasn't fully gone away. The examples from just this cycle were too many to even feature, though Rachel took note of West Virginia's John Raese's attempts at ethnic "humor," Nevada's Sharron Angle's racist TV ad followed by her telling Hispanic students they look Asian, New York's Carl Paladino's racist emails, Colorado's Tom Tancredo's call for a return to Jim Crow policies, Kentucky's Rand Paul's discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a variety of Republican House candidates who've embraced elements of white supremacism.

What's more, there are plenty of other recent examples that Rachel didn't get to, but which could have been included. All of these could have been "Macaca moments" for Republicans, but politics seems to be playing by different rules this year.

Rachel drew a parallel between the current efforts and the Southern Strategy of years past: "Republicans learned strategically, mathematically, that sometimes it makes sense to turn every minority voter against you and have that be the cost you pay to lock up all the white votes.

"As Richard Nixon's chief political analyst explained back in 1970, 'The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. And that's where the votes are.'

"Does this work in 2010? Does this work in more than just the South? Does this work in what's expected to be a low turnout general election? The Southern Strategy now means floating the Dr. Chow Mein stuff. It means floating the anti-Civil Rights Act arguments. It means floating the racist jokes, bearing the criticism for it, but locking up the white vote in compensation."

That's entirely true, and I'd go just a little further. Also note that the Republican Party and its media outlets spent much of the past several months obsessing over "controversies" with unmistakable undertones -- Park51, the New Black Panther Party, Birther nonsense, talk of "liberation theology" -- all of which seemed focused on scaring the bejesus out of white people in an election year.

Earlier this year, RNC Chairman Michael Steele conceded that his party relied on a racially-divisive Southern Strategy for at least four decades. He neglected to mention that the party's affinity for the approach never really went away.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Yeah, right- of course, those on the left are never disturbed by Obammy's overt racist appeals to blacks and Hispanics to not let "them" undo his "marvelous accomplishments."

Posted by: tom on October 20, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Another way of thinking about it is that this is the next step in the continuing 'Southernization' of the Republican party. In the Nixon era, the Southern Strategy stayed in the South. Politics in the South was (and is) racially polarized, so a choice was inevitable-- with a push from Nixon et. al., southern Republicans chose 'white'.

What's happening now is that the northern part of the party is copying the southern part and also choosing 'white'. One can argue that this a poor choice-- but in any event, that is clearly what's happening.

Posted by: MattF on October 20, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

There's more now in local papers, and VBGOP Chief will quit, "The Virginian-Pilot reports that David Bartholomew will step aside because the e-mail,...". New story too: "Second GOP racist e-mail emerges" (Daily Press) and this time mentions Karen Beauchamp, former member of VBGOP committee. She said of to follow, "the language is a bit strong, but the sentiment is right! We will take America back." (get that hook?) She referred to a video on conservativesportsmen.com with diatribe by "Grady Warren" who says Obama has "declared war on the white man" and "You're an angry negro ... you have proven that you are an enemy of the United States." He also refers to Mexican and Chicano illegals as "living like rats in our neighborhoods."

Get it around, we need to motivate an 'oft drowsy base.

To counter claims that racism is not prevalent (no, not "all" of course) in the teaparty movement, see this link: "The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability ..."

Posted by: Neil B on October 20, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

There are worse threats to minorities than racism, such as: the teachers union monopoly, rent control laws, inflation, debt, and an overly complex tax system which rewards those who have the money to hire lawyers who understand its complexity.

Posted by: Realpolitik on October 20, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

What we are seeing is the last gasp effort to get old white people to vote in bigots now because in six years most of these old white , scared, low information bigots will be dead or too old to get to the polls. The younger low information voters are the ones that worry me. They'll be around for a bit longer. However my guess is that they don't vote nearly as much as the old farts. Some cynical strategy eh? Nauseating...

Posted by: stevio on October 20, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

The link doesn't seem to work -- here or on the site. But you can find it at

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 20, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Tom, that's bullshit. Racism means you think people are an inferior group. If a group (and not *defined* racially, that's just who is most likely to do it -aren't they?) is really trying to do something, then it's a fair description. "They" really are trying to undo all those reforms (and almost certainly, so are you) so it's a pragmatic notice of need for defense. And "they" aren't all whites either, of course there are anti-public-interest hacks of all races like Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, "economist" Walter Williams, etc.

Posted by: neil b. on October 20, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

@tom - I'm always amazed how "conservatives" always say "Well, he did it too" instead of "refudiating" the wrongs. To me, it shows just how shallow and, for lack of a better term, stupid the majority of "conservatives" really are.

Even if you clowns win the mid-terms, you will lose in 2012 and many more elections because the people will see just how wrong for America the GOP and the tea baggers really are.

Posted by: mmw on October 20, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

the Republican Party and its media outlets

Shouldn't that read "conservative media outlets and its Republican Party"

Posted by: OB on October 20, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus Christ, how nauseating.

Especially when you consider the insidious nature of this particular brand of racism. Guys like this:

1. Hate black people.
2. Hate Affirmative Action.
3. Hate giving black people jobs or loans they're qualified to have.
4. Hate giving black people minimum wage.
5. Hate giving black kids free school lunches.
6. Hate letting black kids go to schools that are predominantly white.
7. And then, to top it all off, hate giving black people unemployment or welfare.

In other words: "I'll make absolutely sure that black people get nothing."

Posted by: chrenson on October 20, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Many's the time I have wished the Confederated States of America had been allowed to remain a separate nation. Think of all the bigotry and stupidity -- let alone the current crop of politicians from the old CSA -- that the U.S.A. would have been spared in the years since 1865.

Posted by: JWilheim on October 20, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Whenever this comes up, I almost never see notes about how many white folks, like for example *me*, are disgusted by this kind of crap. Racist nonsense like this doesn't "lock up" the white vote because it drives a lot of us away. It might still work in certain parts of the country, but there are plenty of areas where this kind of thing loses everybody.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 20, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

As @Shade Tail said, why is there a presumption that ALL white people find this sort of strategy appealing.

Many Republican/Conservatives ideals and policies have been empirically proven wrong. A short list:
Trickle-down economics
Supply-side economics
Support for the Shah
Support for the Contras
Support for Saddam Hussein against Iran
Tax-cuts for the wealthy
Jim Crow
Pre-emptive war
War on terror
War on drugs
Exclusion of blacks from the military
Exclusion of gays from the military
Misegenation laws
Stem Cell research
Global warming
Pollution and the environment

I could go on but the point is all white people calculate their interest through the prism of their whiteness. In fact, I would suppose that many more white people calculate their interest throught the prism of their humaness.

Posted by: Winkandanod on October 20, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

It is important to understand that this is actually a very deep strategy that was hatched in November 2008. The GOP took a highly treacherous and calculated course to deepen the economic crisis until it impacted vast swaths of the work force. Part two of the strategy was to use this economic calamity to turn people against the government and each other. Rove calculated that the "them vs. us" racist strategy would be a broadscale winner in hard times. So the GOP felt we would be fair weather patriots and liberals only so long as we were not terrified for our basic economic survival. The GOP is literally the cause of all of our misery and cynically wants to turn us all on each other. It is Machiavelli meets the Manchurian candidates. A whole group of the GOP slate is literally unqualified for any office and will take their orders from offstage. Scary.

Posted by: Sparko on October 20, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

As ugly as is this strategy is it keeps getting used because it keeps working. Demographic trends or not when it comes to elections Whites turn out in greater numbers than minorities. And as long as that is the case canidates (mostly Republican) will use race-baiting, however subtle, as a key component in elections.

One thing that Republicans get better than Democrats is that certain people will never vote for them so there is no point in even trying to be nice. Or for that matter there is no worry about making them angry. So they have no problem alienating black or latino voters. Or demonizing progressives because they won't get those votes anyway.

Democrats labor under the misguided belief that if they just use the right combination of words a southern bigot will suddenly see the light and vote Democratic. They are afraid to anger people who are already angry with them and will never in thousand years vote for them. Hence their inability to go for the throat or effectively call out Republicans for race-baiting.

Posted by: thorin-1 on October 20, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Coupled with the generational tensions being exploited by the GOP in this cycle, such racial and ethnic resentments may very well help in a low turnout midterm. The point to keep in mind is that they are much less likely to work for Republicans in 2012, unless the GOP can sufficiently block and undercut economic recovery to keep Democrats and Independents demoralized. Pretty clear that is their strategy.

Posted by: Skocpol on October 20, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the Southern Strategy is alive and well. It's served the interests of corporate America and their GOP gunsels quite effectively.

As GOP strategist Lee Atwater explained back in 1981 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04E6DF1E30F935A35753C1A9639C8B63), the whole point of the Southern Strategy was to convince white voters that cutting taxes, especially on the rich, was a great way to attack black people while hiding under the white hoods of alleged "fiscal responsibility" and "deficit hawkery". Scratch a "deficit hawk", find a racist.

This is why you see billionaires like Carl Paladino, guys who you would expect to be more couth, giving vent to incredibly vile and bigoted beliefs. This is why you see the Koch billionaire brothers, both of whom are among the ten richest persons in America and who have a long history of race-baiting (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer), helping the GOP work to reabsorb the racist Republican base voters that flock to the Tea Party and keep the TP from becoming an actual nationwide party capable of doing to the GOP what the (GOP-funded) Greens do to the Democrats (i.e., leach away voters). Of course, doing that is resulting in unelectably batty bigots like Paladino and Maes winning GOP primaries, so they may well have been better off letting the TPers go.

Posted by: Phoenix Woman on October 20, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that, in contrast ot Lee Atwater's famous statement, Republican racist rhetoric is getting less subtle strikes me as an indication of that party's demographic desperation. Sure they can appeal to the 27% dead-enders by doubling down on the racist appeals, but in the process they'll lose even more of the mainstream.

In fact, if we had anything like an objective media -- let alone a "liberal" one -- they'd be losing more of the mainstream already.

Posted by: Gregory on October 20, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

One way Republicans have been insulating themselves against "Macaca Moments" this year is by having so many of them that no individual moment gets much attention.

Posted by: tomb on October 20, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Herd mentality. Worse, lazy herd mentality.

One of the biggest complaints from conservatives is how others don't work or pull their fair share, yet these folks use the most obvious and worthless indicators to separate "them" from "us", mindlessly repeat liberal stereotypes and bloated generalities of little factual bearing on the group they've chosen to malign, and let corporate run Fox News and Talk Radio continue to pointlessly reinforce an embattled and stagnated conservative world view.

Posted by: Skip on October 20, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone know who the "Republican strategist" was that Rachel referred to? The one who referred to "Negrophobes"?

Posted by: Michael Carpet on October 20, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Asks Rachel:"Does this work in 2010? Does this work in more than just the South?"

it must, because of all these examples: Rachel took note of West Virginia's John Raese's attempts at ethnic "humor," Nevada's Sharron Angle's racist TV ad followed by her telling Hispanic students they look Asian, New York's Carl Paladino's racist emails, Colorado's Tom Tancredo's call for a return to Jim Crow policies, Kentucky's Rand Paul's discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only one involves a candidate from the South (as it is commonly defined as "being part of the confederacy").

And, I'll also note that the person who's email prompted the blog post, also came from "the South" and he's the only one mentioned as having had negative consequences.

So maybe we quit calling it the "southern strategy" and start calling it by it's true name: the racist's strategy.

Posted by: els on October 20, 2010 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Maddow kept referring to Goldwater's racism as a reason he lost in 1964.

I doubt that's true.

Goldwater lost primarily because at that time voters were still scared shitless of the BOMB.

The USSR, the Cuban Missile clusterfuck, hundreds of photos of Test Explosions in the centerfolds of the tabloids, Kennedy's ridiculous "Missile Gap" campaign.

In addition, Johnson was unusually popular across the country following the Kennedy assassination.

Later on, Nixon's the one who won by corralling the white racist vote,,, and by promising "Peace" in Viet Nam instead of adopting Goldwater's position that the US should just drop "The Bomb" there.

Posted by: cwolf on October 20, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone know who the "Republican strategist" was that Rachel referred to? The one who referred to "Negrophobes"?
Posted by: Michael Carpet on October 20, 2010 at 12:30 PM

It was Nixon's political strategist Kevin Phillips, commenting on the Southern Strategy.

Posted by: electrolite on October 20, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

So all leftists think that conservatives and tea party activists are "ignorant, un-educated rednecks"(stereotypes anyone?)- but the facts are that conservatives/tea partiers are better educated and more affluent than their leftists cohorts - and these characteristic always correlate closely with higher intelligence.

As for the South- you-all hate us so much - why don't you vote us out of the union - if you would we would even forgive the war atrocities that you engaged in during the War for Southern Independence.

Posted by: tom on October 20, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I think politicians always used to say outrageous things; they just weren't recorded until recently.

Rachel Maddow overstates the case here (I'm generally a fan though). It looks like a lot of nutpicking.

I think the problem is that the public is growing bored with these Macaca moments and they recognize that everyone will say things they later regret. I think we need to differentiate between statements which are merely lack of cultural sensitivity or ignorance of history (such as Rand Paul's civil rights position) and those which are appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Don't get me wrong. There are still a lot more nuts on the Right than the left. But I think people often blow out of proportion the macaca moments at the expense of substantive issues (global warming, health care, foreign affairs).

Posted by: Robert Nagle on October 20, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Tom, get your redneck friends to stop proclaiming the 'stars 'n' bars' are a celebration of southern heritage but simple racism and then maybe us northerners will apologize for war 'atrocities'. Until then, tell your story walking.

Posted by: berberdan on October 20, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

@ berberdan at 2:37

Ok, Speaking for myself, this northener apologizes for Andersonville Prison

Oh, wait - that was a Southern Death Camp.

Apology recanted.
Sherman Was Right.

Posted by: cwolf on October 20, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

As for the South- you-all hate us so much - why don't you vote us out of the union - if you would we would even forgive the war atrocities that you engaged in during the War for Southern Independence.

That's it; I call parody.

Posted by: Gregory on October 20, 2010 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

White supremacism is alive and unwell, still.

Posted by: HMDK on October 20, 2010 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Andersonville was a tradgedy- but does not equate with the thousands of Southern POWs who literally starved and froze to death in Yankee death camps because the North had plenty of food and clothing yet deliberately committed war crimes against these prisoners. Andersonville was isolated and had no food or clothing to provide- it held 40,000 POWs when designed for less than 5,000. The major problem was that the North stopped all POW exchanges and the South could not even feed its armies because of the wanton destruction of Southern infrastructure - even Yankess referred to Southern soldiers as "scarecrows".

Yes, the North was guilty of untold numbers of
war crimes! - against POWs and civilians.

Posted by: tom on October 20, 2010 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK



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