New York Times (pg. A23)  [Printer-friendly version]
September 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Race is central to political power in the
U.S. The Republicans' "southern strategy," developed decades ago, was
fundamentally a racist strategy and it has served them well from
1964 to today. Anyone who wants to build political power -- for
chemical policy reform or any other worthwhile reform -- probably
can't succeed if they ignore race.]

By Bob Herbert

George Allen, the clownish, Confederate-flag-loving senator from
Virginia, has apparently been scurrying around for many years,
spreading his racially offensive garbage like a dog that should be
curbed. With harsh new allegations emerging daily, it's fair to ask:

Where are the voices of reason in the Republican Party -- the
nonbigoted voices? Why haven't we heard from them on this matter?

Mr. Allen has long been touted as one of the leading candidates for
the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. But this is a man who
has displayed the quintessential symbol of American bigotry, the
Confederate battle flag, on the wall of his living room; who put up a
hangman's noose as a decoration in his law office; who used an ethnic
slur -- macaca -- in an attempt to publicly embarrass a 20-year-old
American student of Indian descent; and who, according to the
recollections of a number of his acquaintances, frequently referred to
blacks as niggers.

The senator has denied the last allegation. But his accusers are low-
keyed, straight-arrow professionals who have no obvious ax to grind.
They, frankly, seem believable.

Dr. R. Kendall Shelton, a North Carolina radiologist who played
football with Mr. Allen at the University of Virginia in the 1970's,
recalled a number of incidents, including one in which Mr. Allen said
that blacks in Virginia knew their place. Dr. Shelton said in a
television interview that he believed then, and still believes, that
Mr. Allen was a racist.

Beyond the obvious problems with the senator's comments and his
behavior is the fact that he so neatly fits into the pattern of racial
bigotry, insensitivity and exploitation that has characterized the
G.O.P. since it adopted its Southern strategy some decades ago. Once
it was the Democrats who provided a comfortable home for public
officials with attitudes and policies that were hostile to blacks and
other minorities. Now the deed to that safe house has been signed over
to the G.O.P.

Ronald Reagan may be revered by Republicans, but I can never forget
that he opposed both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of
the mid-1960's, and that as a presidential candidate he kicked off his
1980 general election campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which just
happened to be where three civil rights workers -- Andrew Goodman,
Michael Schwerner and James Chaney -- were savagely murdered in 1964.

During his appearance in Philadelphia, Reagan told a cheering crowd,
"I believe in states' rights."

The lynching of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney (try to imagine the
terror they felt throughout their ordeal) is the kind of activity
symbolized by the noose that Senator Allen felt compelled to put up in
his office.

One of the senator's Republican colleagues, Conrad Burns, is up for
re-election in Montana. He's got an ugly racial history, too. Several
years ago, while campaigning for a second term, Mr. Burns was
approached by a rancher who wanted to know what life was like in
Washington. The rancher said, "Conrad, how can you live back there
with all those niggers?"

Senator Burns said he told the rancher it was "a hell of a

The senator later apologized. But he has bounced from one racially
insensitive moment to another over the years, including one occasion
when he referred to Arabs as "ragheads."

You don't hear President Bush or the Senate majority leader, Bill
Frist, or any other prominent Republicans blowing the whistle on the
likes of George Allen and Conrad Burns because Republicans across the
board, so-called moderates as well as conservatives, have benefited
tremendously from the party's bigotry. Allen and Burns may have been
more blatant and buffoonish than is acceptable, but they have all been
singing from the same racially offensive hymnal.

From the Willie Horton campaign to the intimidation of black voters in
Florida and elsewhere to the use of every racially charged symbol and
code word imaginable -- it's all of a piece.

The late Lee Atwater, in a 1981 interview, explained the evolution of
the Southern strategy:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger! 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's been working beautifully for the G.O.P. for decades. Why would
the president or anyone else curtail a winning strategy now?