Rachel's Democracy & Health News #859, June 15, 2006
A WINNING POLITICS BUILT ON RACISM
After the civil rights marches, protests and battles of the early 1960s, the southern states were seething as an end to apartheid was forced on them by national guardsmen wielding bayonets. When George Wallace ran an explicitly racist campaign for President he discovered to his surprise that he could draw huge crowds and a large voter turnout, even in some northern states -- for example, 30% in Michigan. "They all hate black people, all of them!," he is reported to have said. "Great God! That's it! They're all southern. The whole United States is southern!"[1,pg.6]
This was not quite true of course, but it was true that unspoken tendencies toward white supremacy were alive and well across America -- not a majority perspective except in the south, perhaps, but common enough to be readily exploitable by unprincipled politicians.
During his long career, in which he vowed never to be "out-niggered" by a white-supremacist political opponent, George Wallace went on to discover (some would say "invent") the politics of resentment and hate -- which every major Republican presidential candidate has used to advantage since, including Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. If you don't believe that this is true, I have four books to recommend:
1. Dan T. Carter, From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994 (1996; ISBN 0-8071-2366-8).
2. Thomas and Mary Edsall's Chain Reaction; The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics (1992; ISBN 0-393-30903-7)
3. Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion; Right Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (N.Y.: The Guilford Press, 1995); ISBN 0-89862-864-4.
4. Jean Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999); ISBN 0-8070-4316-8).
With the historical evidence presented in these four books, I believe the case is closed. Republican strategists used -- and continue to use -- race to divide and then conquer the bottom-up New Deal coalition, which they have replaced with a top-down Republican coalition of plutocrats and radical Christian fundamentalists, which then allowed them to engineer the most accelerated upwards redistribution of wealth in the nation's history.
Racial resentments were carefully cultivated and manipulated, in combination with anger about "anti-Christian" court decisions outlawing prayer and Bible readings in public schools; street crime; "welfare queens;" law-flaunting anti-war protestors; women demanding liberation from lives of drudgery (and demanding the right to control their own reproduction, up to and including abortion if needed); "pointy-headed intellectuals" developing unpopular policies like busing kids across town to integrate the schools; and hippies thumbing their noses at the social conventions of sex and drugs. From 1965 onward, coded appeals to white supremacy became standard fare among Republican politicians (and among those members of the opposing party who became known as "Reagan Democrats").
As historian Dan T. Carter has concluded, race remains the driving wedge of conservative American politics -- it is the thing that most reliably divides the old New Deal coalition and thus allows Republicans to prevail. The Republicans maintain their tenuous hold on power through a fractious coalition of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, world-empire-through-military-might conservatives, ethnic conservatives, and religious conservatives -- and the glue that holds the whole thing together is coded appeals to white supremacy. Think Willy Horton, the convicted murder who committed another murder while on furlough from prison -- a furlough arranged by then- Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. President George H.W. Bush's subtly but unmistakably racist Willy Horton TV ads sunk Michael Dukakis's chances of becoming president and in a very real sense began the Bush dynasty that rules America today.