Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How the GOP Became the "White Man's Party"

I've noted before that I hail from a family that long supported the Republican Party and that I myself held a City Committee seat in Virginia Beach for eight years before resigning in disgust as the GOP became increasingly racist and controlled by religious extremists of the Christian Right who sought to merge their extremists beliefs with the civil laws.  These are the people I call the Christofascists.  And in the years since I resigned from the GOP, the party has become increasingly horrible with the racism becoming ever more overt.  A piece in Salon looks at how the GOP became so racist commencing in earnest under Barry Goldwater and later Richard Nixon and his "Southern Strategy."   A second, older piece also looks at the rise of the Christofascists within the GOP which, in my view has only intensified the white supremacist agenda of the GOP a separate post will look at this piece).  Here are excerpts from the first piece:

The Republican Party today, in its voters and in its elected officials, is almost all white. But it wasn’t always like that. Indeed, in the decades immediately before 1964, neither party was racially identified in the eyes of the American public. Even as the Democratic Party on the national level increasingly embraced civil rights, partly as a way to capture the growing political power of blacks who had migrated to Northern cities, Southern Democrats—like George Wallace— remained staunch defenders of Jim Crow.

The 1964 presidential election marked the beginning of the realignment we live with today. Where in 1962 both parties were perceived as equally, if tepidly, supportive of civil rights, two years later 60 percent of the public identified Democrats as more likely to pursue fair treatment, versus only 7 percent who so identified the Republican Party. What happened?

Groundwork for the shift was laid in the run-up to the 1964 election by rightwing elements in the Republican Party, which gained momentum from the loss of the then-moderate Nixon to John F. Kennedy in 1960. This faction of the party had never stopped warring against the New Deal.
By 1961, however, Goldwater and his partisans had become convinced that the key to electoral success lay in gaining ground in the South, and that in turn required appealing to racist sentiments in white voters, even at the cost of black support. As Goldwater drawled, “We’re not going to get the Negro vote as a bloc in 1964 and 1968, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.”

As the conservative journalist Robert Novak reported after attending a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Denver during the summer of 1963: “A good many, perhaps a majority of the party’s leadership, envision substantial political gold to be mined in the racial crisis by becoming in fact, though not in name, the White Man’s Party. 

The rise of a racially-identified GOP is not a tale of latent bigotry in that party. It is instead a story centered on the strategic decision to use racism to become “the White Man’s Party.”

Running for president in 1964, the Arizonan strode across the South, hawking small-government bromides and racially coded appeals. In terms of the latter, he sold his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a bold stand in favor of “states’ rights” and “freedom of association.”  . . . . in the South this meant first and foremost the right of business owners to exclude blacks from hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and retail establishments. Like [George] Wallace, Goldwater had learned how to talk about blacks without ever mentioning race.

Late in the [1968] campaign, Nixon opted to publicly tack right on race. He had already reached a backroom deal with South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond— an arch-segregationist who had led the revolt against the Democratic Party in 1948 when it endorsed a modest civil rights plank, and who switched to become a Republican in 1964 to throw his weight behind Goldwater. Nixon bought Thurmond’s support during the primary season by secretly promising that he would restrict federal enforcement of school desegregation in the South. Now he would make this same promise to the nation. On October 7, Nixon came out against “forced busing,” an increasingly potent euphemism for the system of transporting students across the boundaries of segregated neighborhoods in order to integrate schools.

Nixon also began to hammer away at the issue of law and order. In doing so, he drew upon a rhetorical frame rooted in Southern resistance to civil rights. From the inception of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, Southern politicians had disparaged racial activists as “lawbreakers,” as indeed technically they were. In the Jim Crow regions, African Americans had long pressed basic equality demands precisely by breaking laws mandating segregation: sit-ins and freedom rides purposefully violated Jim Crow statutes in order to challenge white supremacist social norms. Dismissing these protesters as criminals shifted the issue from a defense of white supremacy to a more neutral-seeming concern with “order,” while simultaneously stripping the activists of moral stature. 

Nixon had mastered Wallace’s dark art. Forced bussing, law and order, and security from unrest as the essential civil right of the majority—all of these were coded phrases that allowed Nixon to appeal to racial fears without overtly mentioning race at all. Yet race remained the indisputable, intentional subtext of the appeal. As Nixon exulted after watching one of his own commercials: “Yep, this hits it right on the nose . . . it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.”

The Southern strategy, incipient for a decade, had matured into a clear route to electoral dominance. The old Democratic alliance of Northeastern liberals, the white working class, Northern blacks, and Southern Democrats, could be riven by racial appeals. Beginning in 1970, Richard Nixon embraced the politics of racial division wholeheartedly. 

Defeated by the Southern strategy, McGovern neatly summed it up: “What is the Southern Strategy? It is this. It says to the South: Let the poor stay poor, let your economy trail the nation, forget about decent homes and medical care for all your people, choose officials who will oppose every effort to benefit the many at the expense of the few—and in return, we will try to overlook the rights of the black man, appoint a few southerners to high office, and lift your spirits by attacking the ‘eastern establishment’ whose bank accounts we are filling with your labor and your industry.”   McGovern erred in supposing that the Southern strategy pertained only to the South. Nixon had already learned from Wallace, and then later from the number crunchers, that coded racial appeals would work nationwide. Other than that, especially in its class and race dimensions, McGovern had dog whistle politics dead to rights.
 What's frightening is that the GOP's current racism was planned from the start and has only intensified as the Christofacists and their Tea Party cousins have grown in power.  It is politics based on hate and resentment and it is nothing less than dangerous. 

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