Is the Republican Party Racist?
It depends on race-baiting tactics and the votes of former Confederate states.
Really, just about everybody knows this—that the new solid GOP South is a gift from the legacy of racism—but few say it outright anymore, except a scattering of opinion columnists. It's been "priced in" you might say, taken for granted, or avoided for fear of offense—i.e., telling the truth.
Even The Nation, which recently devoted a cover story to attacking the GOP, focused on the party’s greed (as opposed to the non-greedy groveling to Wall Street by Democrats, of course). The issue did not focus on overt, structural racism as the GOP’s distinguishing—and delegitimizing—sin.
In one of the rare mainstream media recognitions of the issue, which appeared only on an opinion blog, the Times’ Thomas Edsall called out Mitt Romney’s “Southern Strategy”—in particular his dog-whistle “welfare-gutting” ploy:
The Romney campaign is willing to disregard criticism concerning accuracy and veracity [of the welfare slur] in favor of “blowing the dog whistle of racism”—resorting to a campaign appealing to racial symbols, images and issues. ... On television and the Internet ... the Romney campaign is clearly determined ‘to make this about’ race, in the tradition of the notorious 1988 Republican Willie Horton ad, which described the rape of a white woman by a convicted African-American murderer released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison during the gubernatorial administration of Michael Dukakis and Jesse Helms’s equally infamous “White Hands” commercial, which depicted a white job applicant who ‘needed that job’ but was rejected because “they had to give it to a minority.”
Edsall’s honesty is welcome, and would be more welcome (in the new age of no more he said/she said) on the main news pages of the Times, right? Tell it like it is. But even he argues that Romney is using racial tactics as a response to Obama’s poll lead. He does not feel the need to acknowledge that racism has been a built-in structural foundation for Republican Party politics for nearly a half a century.
It’s not that he doesn’t realize this; it’s almost as if he assumes everyone knows it—that it’s, you know, a fact. But if it’s a fact, isn’t it time we attribute this tendency not just to this candidate or that, but to the party itself? In this age of truth in journalism, shouldn’t we make it clear in reporting that this is a neo-racist party that doesn’t deserve false equivalency with the non-racist party? However flawed the Democratic Party was—and is—it’s anti-racist now.
(I'm not calling Romney a racist, I should stipulate, though there's no indication he actively objected to his church's policy of excluding blacks from priesthood until it was ended in 1978.)
And all those poll-analysis geek websites that continuously report vast majorities for the GOP in the South among white voters (far greater than those in the North) somehow can’t see their way to be forthright about why this is.
I’m not saying that the vast majority of Southern whites vote GOP only because of race. But I think Rick Perlstein’s argument, based on careful polling data, suggests that it is a crucial factor that makes an electoral difference.
Let me put it this way. Is it just an accident, a coincidence, that with few exceptions (for sons of the South, Carter and Clinton), in the 10 presidential elections since 1968, the core states of the Confederacy—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina—and their hundred or so electoral votes have been a Republican bulwark?*
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.
It’s disgusting as well that the Republican Party in the Confederate-flag-flying states recurrently wins elections against opponents who vacillate on the flag issue. Does anyone believe the lie that the display of the slaveholders’ banner is just about “tradition” and “nostalgia”?
Let me make a comparison some might think inflammatory but I believe is entirely justified.
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.
When is the last time a Republican in the South denounced the blatantly racist disgustingly immoral brandishing of the genocidal slaveholders’ flag?
Do you want some numbers? Edsall was good on Romney’s use of dog-whistle code words and phrases like “gutting welfare,” but the best numerical analysis of the state of affairs I found was by Earl Ofari Hutchinson in an opinion blog.
Speaking of the core old Confederacy he says,
These states hold more than one-third of the electoral votes needed to bag the White House. ... Despite much talk that the white conservative vote has shrunk to the point of being marginalized, it isn’t. Whites make up three quarters of America’s electorate. That’s a drop of slightly more than 10 percent from what they represented in the 1980 presidential election. These numbers belie another stark political reality and that’s that in every election since Nixon’s win in 1968 whites have voted consistently by either sizeable or comfortable margins for GOP presidential candidates. Whites favored Reagan in 1984 by a 64-35 margin. They favored George Bush Sr. in 1988 by a 59-40 margin. ...
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. ...
Romney’s Southern Strategy is anchored in another political reality. He ... crunched the voter numbers and the stats and those numbers have shown that his only path to the White House is getting an overwhelming number of white voters in the South, the Heartland States, and the swing states. Romney’s neo Southern Strategy with Ryan as point man is simply a repeat of what GOP presidential candidates have routinely done for the past five decades.
Let’s face it. If you ask me, there’s no he said/she said here. The Republican Party is only a viable entity because of Southern racism.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.