Looking, Walking, Qualking

As he put his pen down after signing the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson is reported to have turned to an aide and say, “We have just lost the South for a generation.”

Much of the South, segregationist, racist, and still bearing old wounds from the Civil War was lost by this new direction taken by national Democrats.  As seems to be the story of the South, again the Northerners were looking down upon their way of life, their culture, and their ideals.  Of course, with all power vaccuums must come something to fill them, and you know who I’m talking about.

Writing for the New York Times, Bob Herbert has an angry, yet accurate breakdown of how as the Democrats lost the South, the Republicans were right there and ready to take their place.

This is the party of the Southern strategy — the party that ran, like panting dogs, after the votes of segregationist whites who were repelled by the very idea of giving equal treatment to blacks. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. (Willie Horton) Bush, George W. (Compassionate Conservative) Bush — they all ran with that lousy pack.

Dr. Carolyn Goodman, a woman I was privileged to call a friend, died last month at the age of 91. She was the mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young civil rights activists shot to death by rabid racists near Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964.

Dr. Goodman, one of the most decent people I have ever known, carried the ache of that loss with her every day of her life.

In one of the vilest moves in modern presidential politics, Ronald Reagan, the ultimate hero of this latter-day Republican Party, went out of his way to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 in that very same Philadelphia, Miss. He was not there to send the message that he stood solidly for the values of Andrew Goodman. He was there to assure the bigots that he was with them.

“I believe in states’ rights,” said Mr. Reagan. The crowd roared.

In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “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.”

It would sound almost ludicrous to think that a major political party would actively try to politick off of racial tension through some cabalistic code, but it’s not.  Not when you realize that there is code that persists through much of the rest of the rhetoric as well.  The example that jumps straight to mind is “Constructionist Judges” which itself means interpreting the Constitution in the narrowest possible way to allow for such things as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Schempp v. Abington, etc.

In truth, “Constructionist Judges” is to the Religious Right what “States’ Rights” is to segregationists.

But if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to flat out call the GOP racist, you’re barking up the wrong tree.  I’m not that guy.  I will say that it doesn’t bode well for candidates and sitting legislators to continue to so blatantly disregard interests of black people.

The most cynical reasoning was on display last week when key members of the Republican party lambasted GOP presidential frontrunners for bowing out of Tavis Smiley’s presidential forum.  The idea here is simply that just because you don’t have the black vote doesn’t mean that you stop working for it.  You’ll never get it if you don’t ask for it.

But there’s something deeper here as well.  The vote is not all that is important.  The message is.  Millions of minorities in this country continue to feel as though the system is rigged against them, sometimes with good reason.  As evidenced by the Jena 6 situation (for which my colleague Matt is doing wonderful work keeping us posted on the most relevent articles and blog posts surrounding that sad episode of recent American history), racial tensions in America are at a level that is simply intolerable.  By being so flagrant in at the very least ignoring the minorities in this country, Republicans are not merely cutting themselves off from a valued bloc of voters, they are themselves contributing to the kind of racial animosity in this country that is slowly tearing us apart.

But racism is heavy criticism for me, and it’s difficult for me to come straight out and call the entire party racist, though their actions do make a solid case.  Instead, I tend to follow along more with the reasoning of the GTL:

Another thing being left out of the argument is the FACT that the Republicans of today don’t necessarily discriminate against black Americans nearly as much as they do underprivileged Americans — a segment of our society which is growing exponentially, courtesy of THEM and their policies.

To me, if the GOP truly has any broad prejudices it is against the poor, or at least, the non-rich.  That so many black people fill the ranks of the non-rich is itself travesty.

But here lies the rub.  While ignoring the needs and issues of minorities may have put black people off of the Republican party, the rest of the working poor and dwindling middle class are still votes reaped in plenty by the Republican party.  Why?  It goes back to the code, and the politics of fifty plus one, and cultural differences, and the politics of fear.

It is this strategem that has led me to question the wisdom of Edwards trying to campaign off the merits of the Labor bloc.  You see, much of politics is about division these days, and the way the GOP has chosen to divide us plays not only to in their hands, but out of the Democrats’ hands.

They carve segregationists and racists from the poor and middle classes by being for states rights.  They carve the Christians out by being the party of God.  They carve the “security moms” by continuing to preach the neoconservative gospel which may not necessarily work worth a damn, but at least sounds tough and capable of keeping you safe.

The gist of it is simple.  The frontrunners took a pass on the black presidential forum because those are votes that they know they are unlikely to get.  Republicans in Congress filibustered giving DC representation because DC is considerably blue, and would hurt their own electoral future.  There’s an explanation for all of it, but the combined effect is simple, blaring, and just another contributor to the kind of animosity that plagues this nation today.

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