Yesterday, in my long day of travel from the left coast back to Memphis, I was watching, with some interest the events unfolding with the RNC Chairman’s race. Most intriguing to me was the fact that Katon Dawson, who until recently was a member of a Whites Only Country Club stayed in the balloting and eventually came in second. If you’re interested in how the balloting played out, you can read some “after the fact” play by play here.
Once Michael Steele, the former Lt. Gov. of Maryland, and the RNC’s first African-American chairman, was selected, I wrote a tweet that may have been offensive to some of my “twitterpeeps”.
I guess Republicans are finally abandoning all that old school racism that helped make them so successful over the past 28 years.
It will be harder for the GOP PR people to produce coded dog whistle messages for the class war that will most certainly ensue.
These two tweets, but probably the first one most, set some people off, and caused them to challenge my assertion. Unfortunately, since I was following along on my phone, where copy/paste isn’t really possible, and, I was sitting on the tarmac at Houston International Airport, waiting to take off, defending my assertions wasn’t an option at that point. Now it is.
Case in point 1, The Southern Strategy: Here’s a darling little quote from the man who popularized this tactic Kevin Phillips of Connecticut:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
Harnesing ill-will held by segregationist Democrats from the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Republicans flipped the script on the previously dominant party of the south, the Democratic Party. This alone does not make a political party “racist”…I guess…but it sure makes them look like they are.
As former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman noted in speeches during his term “Republican candidates often have prospered by ignoring black voters and even by exploiting racial tensions” and “[B]y the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African-American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out. Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.” (bold emphasis mine (Source))
In apologizing for the use of racism in politics, the former RNC chair affirms that it was indeed part of the strategy.
Certainly, during the 20th century, there have been Democratic officials who have used racism as a tool to elevate themselves to office. No one denies that. However, the modern Democratic Party has never used such a tactic in a national campaign.
Case 2, Adopting the Language of Segregation: States’ Rights has been called a “code word” for the segregationist positions of Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond and George Wallace. From Wikipedia:
The term “states’ rights,” some have argued,[who?] was used as a code word by defenders of segregation, and was the official name of the “Dixiecrat” party led by segregationist presidential candidate Strom Thurmond. George Wallace, the Alabama governor—who famously declared in his inaugural address, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”—later remarked that he should have said, “States’ rights now! States’ rights tomorrow! States’ rights forever!” Wallace, however, claimed that segregation was but one issue symbolic of a larger struggle for states’ rights; in that view, which some historians dispute, his replacement of segregation with states’ rights would be more of a clarification than a euphemism.
Clarification or euphemism, when coupled with the “Southern Strategy” euphemism seems the far more appropriate conclusion.
This was further affirmed by the comments of former Senator Trent Lott during the 100th birthday celebration of Strom Thurmond where he declared, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” Coupling this sentiment with the voting records of southern Republicans since the advent of the CRA of ’64 and the VRA of ’65, one could conclude that, even if the Republican Party at large was not seeking to affirm racists or racially insensitive goals, that many of their party members were throughout the latter part of the 20th century.
Case 3 Policies that Affirm Exclusionary Goals: There are several instances of Republican Party policies that affirm exclusionary goals. The effect of these goals is the disenfranchisement, or disempowerment of a populace still struggling for equal opportunity. More often than not, throughout the recent history of the US, this has disproportionately affected African-Americans. Here are just a few of them:
The Myth of the Cadillac Driving Welfare Queen: One of the oft repeated myths of the Reagan era, the former President asserted that Welfare fraud was so pervasive that the entire program should be scrapped, leaving millions of poor Americans, with no safety net. The media was never able to uncover this “Welfare Cheat” and eventually discovered that she didn’t exist, however, the folklore of this person lived on and became a part of the prevailing “Conventional Wisdom” as originally defined by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith.
This myth became so pervasive that it eventually led to former President Clinton, using studies promoted by Conservatives, to agree to cut welfare benefits, despite several scholarly studies to the contrary.
Affirmative Action: Affirmative Action was originally implemented by Executive Order 10925 during the Kennedy Administration for Federal Employees. President Lyndon Johnson took up the cause after Kennedy’s death. In explaining his support for the policy Johnson noted:
…You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair…This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. (Source)
Affirmative Action sought to level the playing field, giving those who had suffered at the hands of racial, religious, gender and class discrimination.
Since the release of the Philadelphia Plan under Richard Nixon in 1969, Affirmative Action opponents have asserted that the policy discriminates against more qualified Caucasian candidates for jobs and University admissions. Once again, this is an example of the conventional wisdom overtaking fact.
Affirmative Action is, and always has been a guideline for hiring. Nowhere in Affirmative Action law or policy does it state that quotas are to be maintained throughout the entire system. Organizations under review are given a benchmark to achieve based on a series of local data that includes racial breakdown and estimations of qualified candidates. As an example, if a city has a racial breakdown of 15/85, but only 5% of the total the benchmark is set at 5%. Assuming the company makes a good faith effort to reach the stated goal, no penalty is assessed. Only after multiple years of repeated failure stemming from blatant discrimination are quotas applied by the courts.
Unfortunately, the Conventional Wisdom often spouted by Conservative opponents of Affirmative Action, denies this fact, and has used this conventional wisdom over the years to smear and distort Affirmative Action.
More recent arguments against Affirmative Action state that it benefits middle and upper class minorities at the expense of lower-class Caucasians, or that the policy serves as a detriment to reconciliation, replacing old wrongs with new wrongs. To once again quote President Johnson:
Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in–by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.
In this statement, President Johnson affirms the imperfection of Affirmative Action as a vehicle for universal social justice. Race, gender, creed, and other social divisions are imperfect benchmarks for attaining equality in a diverse society. That said, making the perfect the enemy of the good, to paraphrase Voltaire, is not really a solution, but compounding of the problem. In order for the inequity of class to be adequately addressed, other more readily recognizable benchmarks may need to be attained.
Conservatives actually weaken the plight of Americans, regardless of the social divisions outlined in the policy of Affirmative Action, to rise above the conditions of poverty; be they financial, educational, or any other measure. The goal of Affirmative Action is to create an “equality of possibility” for all who suffer external challenges to their ultimate success. That benchmarks or attributes are currently focused on more recognizable attributes, such as race or gender, speaks more to a condition of American society that has not evolved to recognize such issues rather than any failing of a policy whose ultimate goal is to erase inequity. Further to that point, by pushing to remove protections based on these attributes, Conservatives ultimately do a disservice to the very people they claim to fighting for, as well as all those included in Affirmative Action protections.
Vote Suppression: From photo-ID laws and random purges, to the less blatant, but just as effective tactic of sending less or less reliable equipment to areas with large minority representation, voter suppression has long been a tactic of the Republican Party.
Back in the 80’s the RNC signed a consent decree in response to a lawsuit that alleged the party violated the Voting Rights Act by using tens of thousands of returned mail pieces, mostly targeting minority or Democratic areas, and using those as a justification to challenge, or remove voters from the rolls. Despite the prohibition by the RNC to engage in this tactic, other Republican organizations and candidates continue to use the practice.
In 2004, a document generated at the RNC surfaced detailing their caging plans
At whatever point registration in the state closes, a first class mailing should be sent to all new registrants as well as purged/inactive voters. This mailing should welcome the recipient to the voter rolls. It is important that a return address is clearly identifiable. Any mail returned as undeliverable for any reason, should be used to generate a list of problematic registrations. Poll watchers should have this list and be prepared to challenge anyone from this list attempting to vote.
If you would like a list of all the most recent work of the Republican Party to disenfranchise voters by “caging”, take a look at this page which details their “Greatest Hits” more than the whole catalog.
A simple search of “Voter Suppression” nets hundreds of instances of Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters nationwide. A simple look at the Voter Suppression Wiki page, gives us only one instance of Democratic efforts at said tactic
in 2004, 4 Kerry staffers, slashed the tires of 25 vans used to transport vote monitors and voters to the polls.
As this was not a widespread problem in 2004 one could conclude that this was the act of individuals who should have known better, more than something ginned up by the campaign or any Democratic Party institution.
I think I’ve made my point.
In closing I want to make a couple points about my original statement, which I will now repeat:
I guess Republicans are finally abandoning all that old school racism that helped make them so successful over the past 28 years.
First, I think for a party that has engaged in so much divisiveness and racially motivated tactics, to elect a man whose ethnicity is that of their targets in the past, is either one of the most positive things in American politics in some time, or one of the most mindlessly manipulative things. I’m hoping for the positive, because even though I disagree with Republicans on just about every issue of substance the faces America, I still believe that we are stronger with a diversity of opinion.
Secondly, I didn’t call Republicans racists. I called the actions of the party, racist. Calling 30 odd percent of America, including some people I consider friends and colleagues racists is just plain stupid. However, the racially motivated actions of certain Republican candidates and party organs must not be ignored. Certainly, there have been, and probably are Democrats who have engaged in similar tactics, particularly during segregationist times. Because I limited my claim to 28 years (though in truth it should have been 40) I acknowledge that I was able to avoid some of the ugliness that took place in my party…and eventually moved to yours. Doctor, heal thy self.
Finally, if my arguments aren’t compelling, or you just want to get yourself up in a lather about my initial statement or no matter what I say you don’t care because your feelings are hurt and I’m an asshole, please fill out the following form.
Thanks, and have a nice weekend.