Friday, September 26, 2014

Race and the Modern GOP

As I have noted many times, the Republican Party in which I grew up and in which I was very active for the better part of a decade no longer exists.  In its place one finds a sectarian party that embraces white supremacists and celebrates the embrace of ignorance - also so it can woo some of the nastiest elements of society to get out and vote.  The rise of the Christofascists within the GOP has fueled this decline into something ugly, especially the growing embrace of white supremacy.  Anyone who denies what has happened is either lying to themselves - usually because they don't want to admit that it is their own greed that motivates them to continue to support the GOP - or they have been living under a rock or imbibing vast quantities of Kool-Aid.  Apiece in Politico Magazine looks at the racism than now suffuses the GOP.  Here are highlights:
In the past few years, we’ve celebrated the 50th anniversaries of many seminal events and landmark achievements of the civil rights movement, from the nonviolent direct action campaign waged in Birmingham, Alabama, to the March on Washington and Freedom Summer. An award-winning play devoted to Lyndon Johnson’s shrewd stewardship of the Civil Rights Act ran on Broadway for most of 2014. And next year, we will commemorate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which restored to Southern blacks the franchise that had been unconstitutionally denied them during the Jim Crow era. These are all, certainly, accomplishments to celebrate.

But the legacy of the all these landmarks is much more complicated and tinged with—make that drenched in—irony than the conventional story of courage and triumph lets on. It is time to state the obvious. Forget about weak explanations for today’s deep political divisions like “the culture of Washington,” gerrymandering or the rise of cable TV: The civil rights movement, while a victory on many levels, was also the origin of our present morass. It spawned a powerful national “white resistance” countermovement that decisively altered the racial geography of American politics, pushing the national Democratic and Republican parties off center and toward their ideological margins, undermining the centrist policy convergence of the postwar period and setting the parties on the divisive course they remain on today. Many will blame today’s unprecedented political polarization on recent events, such as the rise of the Tea Party or Obama’s election in 2008, but they will be wrong. The seeds of America’s dysfunction were planted 50 years ago. And the ugly politics of race had everything to do with it.

In just 8 years, the number of liberal Republicans in Congress fell by 75 percent and the number of conservative Republicans quintupled. The policy preferences of the two parties essentially flipped. As Democrats moved sharply left on matters of race, the GOP delegation moved even more dramatically in the opposite direction.

In 1956 the “solid South” holds true to its historic allegiance to the Democratic Party, even in the face of Eisenhower’s sweep of the rest of the country. Eight years later, the South is out of step with the nation once again, this time in a way that no one could have imagined in 1956. The votes of the Deep South now belonged to the Republican Party and, more tellingly, to its conservative, anti-civil rights candidate, Goldwater.

The shift was not just limited to the South: By the middle of the decade the southern segregationist resistance to the civil rights struggle had morphed, as the mainstream media proclaimed, into a nationwide “white backlash” movement.

Seeing an opportunity, an increasing number of Republicans began to embrace more conservative racial politics designed to appeal to Wallace supporters throughout the country. “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so,” said Ronald Reagan during his 1966 campaign for California governor, in which he also decried welfare and opposed government efforts to encourage neighborhood integration.

In a scant eight years, the Party of Lincoln had gone from being the more racially liberal of the two major parties to something more closely resembling a coalition of white racial conservatives, with the South as its natural geographic home, at least when it came to presidential politics.

In short, the essence of today’s GOP—overwhelming white and disproportionately Southern—was evident by the late 1960s. This is not, of course, the whole of the story. The evolution of the party and the broader racial geography of American politics would continue in fits and starts over the next 45 years. But unquestionably it was the civil rights movement, and white resistance to it, that put the Republican Party on its demographic and ideological trajectory.  . . . .  the GOP has moved from its broadly centrist, racially liberal, geographically diverse base in the postwar period to the ideologically extreme, overwhelming white and disproportionately Southern party it is today.

These politics were on full display in the 2012 Republican primaries, a half a century later, with the candidates seemingly trying to outdo one another in impugning the poor and African-Americans in particular. Newt Gingrich accused Obama of being a “food-stamp president” and opined that, “poor people should want paychecks, not handouts.” Rick Santorum was even more explicit when he offered up the following quote: “I don’t want to make black peoples’ lives better by giving them someone else’s money.”

Even Mitt Romney played the race card, blaming his defeat on the policy “gifts” that Obama had bestowed on the very “dependent” segments of the population he had alluded to in his notorious “47 percent” video. “Especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and young people,” he clarified, . . . . 

The imprint of race and racism on today’s GOP is not only a matter of rhetoric. It was also reflected in the party’s transparent efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the run-up to the 2012 election. Throughout the country, Republican legislators and other officials sought to enact new laws or modify established voting procedures that, in virtually all instances, would have made it harder for poor and minority voters to exercise the franchise.

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