We’re going to have to make this a regular column. My last post was about how conservative states’ rights/local solutions arguments suddenly evaporate when the aim of federal programs is to persecute minorities, rather than protect them.
But we’ve not plumbed the depths of conservative hypocrisy yet.
“Culture of failure”
If you’ve watched Fox News any time in the last 8 years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard that the only thing standing between minority communities and success is personal responsibility. Mitt Romney famously attributed the difference in economic success between Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims to “culture.” The UN emphatically disagrees. But the most popular place to apply this trope is unquestionably black communities in the US. Since the Right has declared racism officially over, the success of black communities is in their own hands. And, by extension, if black communities don’t succeed, they have no one to blame but themselves. They could succeed if they could rid their communities and their lives of drugs, get and stay married and stay in school. You may also have heard about our black President’s failure as a leader to lecture young black men into successful careers as bow-tie-clad hedge fund managers. According to the Right, any discussion of racial disadvantage is unmanly excuse-making. Minorities should stop blaming anyone else for their problems, pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and get a job.
No scolding for the white kids?
But the discussion of white poverty and economic hardship looks very different. White Appalachian coal miners and factory workers really are victims, you see. They can’t be blamed for their increased drug use or suicide or the increasing failure of their marriages or their inability or unwillingness to relocate or retrain for new jobs. Obama’s failure with respect to them (to listen to right-wing media) was too little coddling. When unemployed factory workers blame their hardship on “Obama’s NAFTA” and vote for Trump, it’s not complaining or shirking their personal responsibility. It’s making America great again! Because the natural order of things is for policies like tariffs and subsidies to benefit white, native-born people as they have for generations. This heavy-handed tilting of the economic playing field in favor of white people is not a hand-out. It’s restoring the natural order. See?
This, ladies and gentlemen (and Bill O’Reilly), is what privilege looks like. When Parties and nations mobilize to solve your problems and whole governments are turned upside down out of fear of your electoral wrath, you’ve made it. All the brown folks are entitled to is a scolding from “their” President.
A better way
The Left should not fall into the trap of scolding and blaming rust-belt factory workers for the disaster President Trump is making of our country. They are victims of a system they could not control. And I, for one, do not envy their position. Instead, progressives should be inviting these victims of capitalism back into the Party fighting for a gentler economic system. And we can do so without amplifying their dangerous jingoist streak. In the past, we have been able to have a nuanced discussion of the connections between poverty and irresponsible behavior and we know the importance of digging to find the systemic causes of poverty. This is our chance to show the world the that love sees no color and that whether you’re a victim of driving while black or black lung disease, we’ve got your back.
My community is embroiled in a debate over whether to declare ourselves a “sanctuary city.” There’s widespread misunderstanding about this term. It means that local police will not arrest or investigate someone for no other reason than the suspicion that they’re breaking immigration laws. ICE can still operate in sanctuary cities. Persons arrested for other crimes can still be investigated for immigration violations and reported to ICE. The difference between sanctuary cities and other cities is that, in sanctuary cities, local police do not do the job of ICE. They serve the community and defend them against property and personal crimes irrespective of immigration status. Both citizens and non-citizens are safer in sanctuary cities because every minute police spend checking residents’ papers is a minute they don’t spend making the community safe. If deportations are important to the nation, they can pay for the enforcement, but the police in my community have enough to do.
The question of sanctuary cities also lays bare a truth about American politics. The “state’s rights” arguments made famous by Barry Goldwater and touted by Republicans since that time are nothing but a guise for racism. When the question is school integration or voting rights, it doesn’t take two sentences for Republicans to retreat to Constitutional assurances of the primacy of States. Local solutions, they tell us, are the thing that makes this country great. The citizens of South Carolina and Arkansas can and should (and must!) be entrusted with the protection of the rights of minorities in their own state. Federal interference is unconstitutional.
But on the question of sanctuary cities, Federal agencies like ICE are, apparently, within their rights to commandeer local and state police to conduct their business. In this case, States and municipalities, it seems, are incapable of making decisions about protecting minorities against unlawful search. Why the sudden about face by Republicans? Where are the cries for local solutions and the fears of federal tyranny?
The difference, of course, is the skin color of the persons being oppressed. It’s OK to use federal power to terrorize Hispanic communities. They’re not Republicans anyway.
While it may be counting chickens before they’re hatched, this election seems to be slipping from the tiny fingers of Donald J. Trump. America, you did it! It was the bare minimum required of a democracy hopeful of its continuance, but you did it.
The GOP has already begun its quadrennial public mortification and, in true Republican form, they don’t have a clue. George Will figures this will be accomplished in a single sentence, “Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.” This has been expressed more concisely elsewhere. You can find half a dozen fresh columns by conservative pundits each week insisting that The Donald has damaged the brand and, crucially, that he was never a real Republican any way and could we please just move on from this whole ugly episode. I see that point. I really do. The Republicans I know have no use for the misogyny, religious persecution, racism or protectionism of the Trump campaign. Their shtick is small government, local solutions, free markets, etc., etc.. They opposed Trump every step of the way and are a fine example of putting principle above Party. Bravo, #NeverTrumpers!
The point of this post is not to rub salt in their wounds. The traditional fiscal conservatives are entitled to their wrong opinions on taxing and spending. They don’t have to take credit for Trump any more than I have to take credit for everything said by the anti-natalists at NARAL. But, in my opinion, Republicans have put far too little thought into how they got here. Is it merely a coincidence that the free market advocates and the racists ended up in the same party? It is, after all, a genuinely impressive trick to win the votes of lower-class whites while advancing a host of policies that would take money from their pockets. Are Republicans just that good?
The key to understanding the big, peculiar circus that is the GOP is the concept that inspires the most eye-rolling from them. The connection between the “where’s the fence!” wing and the “taxation is theft!” wing of the GOP is … privilege. More accurately, it’s the willful or accidental ignorance of inherited privilege in the United States circa 2016. In order for the GOP to exorcise these demons, they’re going to have to first understand, then acknowledge the existence of, privilege and their relationship to it.
What privilege is not
We almost need a new word for this phenomenon. Modern conservatives have so shut themselves off from understanding the concept of privilege that they can’t speak of it sans sarcasm.
“Sorry guys. Gotta go. My white privilege job needs my attention.”
“With all this male privilege I’m enjoying, people just throw money at me.”
(It’s long been established that conservatives are abysmally losing the contest for comedic superiority. Low expectations are key here.)
I wish it didn’t have to happen, but let me say what’s been said thousands of times before: White privilege does not mean you didn’t work for the things you have. The rewards, financial and other, that you receive, are undeniably correlated with the effort you put in. Congratulations!
What we mean when we say that you enjoy “privilege” is that this correlation between effort/character and wealth is not perfect. And, some of the additional variation can be accounted for by your race/gender/religion/parentage/etc.. That’s it. You work hard. But some people who work just as hard as you receives less because they have different parents. Is that so hard to imagine?
We’ve explained this in a hundred different ways. The playing field is not level. Some people are born on 3rd base. There are comics. And object lessons. And a personal address to a lost Yalie. The resources are out there.
White privilege also does not mean that no woman or Black person has ever succeeded. That’s not how a statistical correlation works. At the upper end of the bell curve for all races/genders, we’ll find highly talented, motivated and lucky people who succeed. But that does not mean that one population does not enjoy an unearned advantage. Obama and Oprah do not mean racial privilege is over.
Why privilege is the glue
Privilege is the glue that holds together the Brooks Brothers wing and the patriotic jumpsuit wing of the GOP. The fiscal laissez-faire conservatives want to shrink government since it takes money from deserving makers and redistributes it to unworthy takers. But this only works if you think possessing wealth is highly correlated with deserving wealth. As you become aware of the myriad ways society and its institutions give incremental advantages to (for example) white men born into wealth and put obstacles in the path of lower-class Latinas, this argument becomes a lot less compelling. The weaker you believe that correlation between wealth and character to be, the less you’re concerned about taxing rich people to pay for programs for poor people. Wealthy Republicans believe this correlation is strong and taxes are, therefore, immoral.
The Trump wing of the party has a different privilege problem. They have a hard time coming to grips with their historically-conferred advantages. As astutely observed by Michael Kimmel, Trump is drawing support from the aggrieved entitlement of non-college educated white men and women. These are men and women who pine for the world of their parents and grandparents when a job in the factory got you a house, health care and a retirement. But this set up was always made possible by the presence and effort of both a domestic and an international underclass. Discrimination in employment, housing and education has bolstered the incomes and suppressed the rents of white people for decades. As that discrimination is eliminated, white people find it hard to build the life their parents had with only their high school diploma.
Even leaving aside state-side discrimination, the lives of Americans have been subsidized by the accident of their birth in the United States. The expansions of free trade has reduced that subsidy as well, to the benefit of the international lower class. But even if the knocking down of trade barriers benefits both rich and poor countries on the whole, there are individual victims within those countries. These disenfranchised Trump supporters see this as giving away the jobs to which they are entitled.
It’s not incorrect for this group to recognize themselves as victims of globalization. What’s incorrect is thinking the system has suddenly become unfair because you have to compete with Mexicans on a level field. The system has suddenly become fair and the real problem, that a modern economy does not support low skilled workers at American wages, was previously masked by tariffs. In effect, the US government has been picking winners and losers for decades now. Once it stopped, non-college workers discovered that the market made them the losers in this game.
Unfortunately, the GOP is the wrong place for economic losers. In the Republican Party, those who can’t support themselves have deficient character. So the GOP has to hide from it’s non-college voters the fact that they’re victims of the market. They’ve paraded various scapegoats during the Obama Presidency, but Trump’s genius was to latch on to a scapegoat with a long tradition in Republican states–the brown people.
The college-educated Republican elite are perfectly willing to paint this Republican underclass as victims of a system propping up minorities at their expense. They don’t believe in privilege either and, without white racial resentment, their political future is bleak. But the gig is up. I know right now we liberals are supposed to be sheepishly apologizing and examining our own unfortunate prejudices. But when I contemplate this country long term I believe privilege denialism is near its end. Every day, the racist and misogynist machinations of the system are more apparent. And when that glue that holds this twisted Republican coalition together dissolves, a new day dawns.
Charles Blow recently had some terrific things to say about race in the New York Times. In summary, people should stop “playing the ‘race card’ card”–trying to shut down dialogue about race because they see it as a facade for excuse-making. While it can’t be disproved that someone, somewhere deflected legitimate criticism by accusing her accuser of racism, it’s surely not the imminent threat to healthy dialogue its made out to be. Anyway, that’s Mr. Blow’s excellent point, expertly advanced in his article. Mine is different.
There are all kinds of silly ways conservatives attempt to shut down dialogue. Of course, as curator of a site called ThisWeekInStupid, I worry constantly about painting with too broad a brush. Not all conservative arguments fall into the categories described below. However, I’d like to coin a few new terms to describe some of the most ridiculous conservative arguments.
Playing the “stop playing the ‘Bush card’ card.” When cons play the “stop playing the ‘Bush card’ card,” they attempt to blunt criticism of GOP policies or defenses of liberal policies by asking liberals to pretend the world was created in 2009. No one is responsible for the rise of ISIS because there was no 2008. Budget deficits started in 2009. Obama should stop making excuses for the economy because it’s not like anyone else cratered the housing and credit markets. In one survey 20% of Americans faulted Obama more than Bush for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006. That’s some weapons-grade self-deception. Expect to see a lot of railing against the ‘Bush card’ in 2016 whether Jeb gets the nomination or not.
Playing the “Neville Chamberlain” card. In my experience, you cannot engage in a conversation about Khomeini, Putin, Kim Jong-Il, Obamacare or the Denver Broncos without someone invoking Hitler. Ben Carson if no one else. And, whether he’s mentioned by name or not, the specter of Neville Chamberlain and his policy of Nazi appeasement will, inevitably, haunt the discussion. To listen to players of the Neville Chamberlain card, you’d think that, without their constant vigilance, we’d have a world war every other year (perhaps in off-Olympic years?). Don’t want to put troops in Ukraine? You’re probably the kind who would have just let the Nazis walk in to London. Worried about collateral damage from air strikes against Iran/Syria/Libya/North Korea/Belgium? You appeasing pantywaist. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.
Playing the “free speech” card. You can read literally thousands of pages of whining by conservative pundits and politicos that conservative viewpoints are not heard and that this is a grievous blow to the First Amendment. When college students protested the invitation of Condolezza Rice to speak at commencement, that was the “PC police” out to throw a wet blanket over the discussion. But all viewpoints do not get equal time. Stupid doesn’t get the same respect as rational debate. You have the right to spout whatever ridiculous nonsense you want on your blogs and cable channels, but it is not limiting free speech when I call it out as ridiculous nonsense. If your views are valid, let’s have a discussion. But stop playing the “free speech” card and explain to me how to distinguish your ignorance from garden variety bigotry and selfishness.
I respect your conservative views. I do. Just kidding. I can’t really pull that off. These days it seems to me the Republican platform is equal parts racial ignorance and denial, poor arithmetic and the mistaking of the 1980s movie Red Dawn for a documentary. But I’m glad to explain all of that to you, and to hear your responses. But as soon as you pull out the Neville Chamberlain card, I’m outta here.
The Republicans are in the middle of an orgy of self-congratulation having just elected the first ever female Black Republican to Congress. Mia Love, newly elected representative of Utah’s 4th district, narrowly defeated Doug Owens on Tuesday. In that race, she outspent her opponent 7 to 1, having garnered millions of dollars’ worth of support from the New York investment bankers, the Kochs and Utah’s thriving multi-level marketing industry. This was important to the GOP. And so, on Wednesday the media took to the interwebs and airwaves to hail this important leap forward for America.
Now, ThisWeekInStupid would be over the moon if the Republican Party started addressing real problems with race in America, and we hope Representative Love will bring an important perspective. However, we thought it appropriate to point out that the GOP is about 40 years behind. The first Black Congresswoman was Shirley Chisholm, elected in 1968 by New York’s 12th district. She served there until 1983 and even sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. Since that time, the Democrats have elected 26 Black Congresswomen and one female Black Senator. Take a minute and let that sink in. That’s forty-six years. Babies became grandmothers in that length of time. The Beatles were still together then. There’s been a flag on the moon for a shorter amount of time than the time in which Black women in Congress only belonged to one Party.
So, congratulations, GOP. I do hope you’ll listen to Ms. Love and her perspective. But something tells me if you were really interested in being a part of progress in America toward racial and gender equality, you’d already be over here.
I may be missing my audience with this post. I don’t have much hope many people will care about the later lives of two dead opponents of civil rights. But the stories of these two men are both not only fascinating to me as a microchasm of American race relations, but also inspire me to hope that people, myself included, can change. So, here’s an introduction to Governor George Wallace and Senator Robert Byrd in the 1960s.
George Wallace: Champion of Segregation
George Wallace came from a political family and was active in politics from a young age. At age 33, he was an Alabama Circuit Judge and issued an injunction against the federally-ordered removal of segregation signs from train stations. By 1962, he was elected Governor of Alabama. In his inaugural speech he used the line which often defines him:
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.
In 1963, after integration of Alabama schools was ordered by a federal court judge to admit black students to the University of Alabama. Three students–Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood— were admitted, but as Jones and Hood arrived to register, Governor Wallace personally blocked their entrance to Foster Auditorium, where registration took place. After federalizing the Alabama National Guard, John F. Kennedy ordered Wallace to step aside. After some bluster, he did.
Robert Byrd: Exalted Cyclops?
Robert Byrd’s first leadership roles were in the chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in his home town of Sophia, West Virginia. He eventually became the top official in the chapter (Exalted Cyclops). In 1946, at age 28, he wrote this gem to segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo:
I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.
In 1964, he joined other Democratic Senators in a filibuster of the Civil Rights Act.
Into every life…
By 1972, George Wallace had been elected Alabama governor twice and completed an unsuccessful 3rd party bid for President in 1968. While campaigning in a bid for President, he was shot 5 times. One bullet hit his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He would remain so for the rest of his life.
Robert Byrd, by his own account, experienced a crisis of faith in 1982 when his teen-aged grandson was killed in a traffic accident.
For both men, life taught them some things they didn’t know in their twenties and thirties. Byrd recalled that his experience with losing a grandson brought him to the realization that “African-Americans love their children, too.” Wallace describes being “born again” some time after his attempted assassination.
For both men, this new wisdom translated into markedly different public policy. For most of his later career, Senator Byrd’s voting record was dubbed perfect by the NAACP. In Wallace’s last term as governor, he made a record-setting number of appointments of Black men and women to state posts. Both men made concerted efforts both to distance themselves from racist groups, to encourage others to avoid their mistakes, and to make clear their remorse at their role in the oppression of Blacks. Wallace attended the 30th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, addressing the crowd and asking their forgiveness. “May your message be heard,” he said. “May your lessons never be forgotten. May our history be always remembered.” How it must have pained Wallace to think of his name forever associated with bigotry and racial violence.
I sympathize with those who might express skepticism with this change of heart for both men. They each continued to make decisions which continued to reveal hints of racism or at least racial ignorance. It’s certainly possible that they’re simple opportunists whose views changed with public opinion. But Wallace and Byrd are both men who demonstrated their ability to take a bold stand against the popular tide. Byrd was the Senate’s staunchest opponent of the Iraq War. At the height of American anger and fear, he exhorted toward calm and care. Both have been outspoken advocates for progressive racial policies to audiences who did not welcome the message.
It would be a shame to let the behavior of these 30-somethings dictate our view of them for the rest of their lives. A nation that takes such pride in its Christian foundations, should rejoice at these stories of redemption and should emulate the example, especially of Governor Wallace, in admitting and seeking to rectify our mistakes at both a personal and a national level.
As a former college Republican myself, I had great sympathy for Tal Fortgang, Princeton student conservative, Fox News guest, and author of Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White, Male Privilege. I could hear myself saying some of those same things. And I ached with embarrassment. And so for his good and for mine, I’m posting
An open letter to Tal Fortgang and to my 19-year-old self:
Dear privileged white dudes,
You’re angry. I can tell. You’re frustrated that the world won’t hear you like you think it should. Your sincere and rational arguments aren’t reverenced as they should be. And I know where you’re coming from. I remember hearing exposition of social inequality as a indictment of myself and a devaluation of my talent and effort. Right now, in your darker moments, you think sometimes the brown kids get all the breaks. They get all the scholarships, right? You feel under-appreciated and unfairly passed over for accolades and criticized for oppression to which you’re not party.
I’m here to tell you I’ve been there and that there’s a third way to approach race, class and gender from your perspective.
First, it’s important to establish some facts.
Number 1. You’re a lucky guy. Miraculously lucky. Much of your luck is actually the result of the sweat of people who love you. Your grandfathers and grandmothers fought and worked and were beaten and went hungry and without medical care, to build your life. Your parents saved with admirable gusto, then mortgaged their future to pay for your place at the table. They worked nights and weekends for bosses that abused them to feed brats (you!) that sassed them then borrowed the car and wrecked it. Their gift to you could be measured in literal years taken off of their lives. And they did it all with pleasure because they loved you. And before there was you, they loved the vision of you. But all of those things, you didn’t earn.
Number 2. You’re a hard worker yourself. No one should devalue the fact that you studied and worked and practiced and prayed while others of your high school friends partied and slacked off. It would have been nice to spend some time in home economics or consumer math. Instead, you dragged your feet to Mr. McCarthy’s calculus class where you’d surely get a solid hour’s worth of homework. But you went every day (except that one day you skipped school to go to Wild Waves). Well done.
Number 3. You’re (temporarily) stupid. It’s not your fault. What makes you stupid is all the things you haven’t seen. In particular, some of the things you haven’t seen are the things your grandparents have. Like people assuming you’re lazy or irresponsible or criminal because you’re poor or speak with an accent. Or being judged first by the shape of your body. Or having no idea how to fill out a FAFSA.
But you won’t always be stupid. You’re quite close right now to a lot of wisdom. Expressing gratitude to your parents is an important foundation. Right now, you still feel like an extension of your parents’ family. Your successes are their successes and their efforts feel a little like your efforts. Denying yourself the advantages they worked to give you would be denying it to them as well. But as you get older you’ll meet very deserving, talented and hard-working people who weren’t given the things you were given. And soon, God willing, it will occur to you that, while someone certainly earned your privilege, it wasn’t you, or at least not primarily you.
And at that moment, you may even realize that while your effort was significant, doors have opened for you your whole life because people expect to be led by someone your color and gender. Principals, professors and bosses see in you an echo of themselves. When you assert yourself, it’s interpreted as a young man growing into the leader he was meant to be. It’s not that way for everyone. And that’s before even considering what your parents gave you individually. Is a minority scholarship any different than the tuition grant you got from the Get Tal To Move Out of the Basement Foundation?
So, as someone who’s been where you’re standing, here’s my unsolicited advice to you:
Listen more. That doesn’t mean you stop expressing your thoughts. But your instinct is to speak a little too often. Maybe only speak the cleverest half of the things you instinctively would. Spend the rest of the time listening to other perspectives and trying to imagine what it would be like living someone else’s life.
Do speak. But as you do so remember that the perspective of privilege has been heard. It’s been heard and codified–canonized even–in laws and textbooks and even in scriptures. That perspective is as valuable as any other but, in particular when the topic is social inequality, you may be the one speaking from a position of ignorance. Asking sincere questions is almost always welcome.
Stop hearing personal criticism. Living as a white man in a system that advantages white men does not make you bad. Refusing to acknowledge it does…a little. Often when we discuss social justice, we’re talking about things that happen at institutional levels. You don’t have to be a misogynist, or even a man, to be a part of a system (a company, a university) that disadvantages women. So, instead of assuming you’re forever relegated to play the villain in this narrative, hear an invitation to be part of the solution.
The next time you hear “Check your privilege,” hear it in your grandfather’s voice. Are there times when he might reprimand you for ingratitude? Would he relate better to you or to the person on the opposite end of your argument? Would he give you less credit than you give yourself? When you refuse to acknowledge what he’s given you, you disrespect him.
You’re a good person.You don’t harbor ill will toward others. Once you gain a little knowledge, you’ll be a great help to the world and a happier person yourself.
7 of 10 Fox News viewers think America is unfair to White people
A few years ago, the Brooking Institute reported that, among regular viewers of Fox News, nearly 7 in 10 believe that, in the United States, discrimination against whites is a bigger problem than discrimination against blacks and other minorities. In the context of the disproportionate success of white people in America, the racism in that statement is astounding. To convince yourself that whites are more successful in business, education, politics and science in spite of a systematic disadvantage, you’d have to be quite thoroughly convinced of the genetic superiority of white people.
GOP leaders agree. In Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” speech, we mostly ignored his statement that “had [his father] been born of Mexican parents, [Romney would] have a better shot of winning this.” You heard that right. Captain Oblivious is so fundamentally superior a person that he’d have risen to the top no matter where or to whom he’d been born. And if it happened to be to one of those Mexican families that get all the breaks, he’d be a shoe-in.
So, there’s a despicable racism that makes people think “reverse discrimination” is common. There’s also a perilously warped sense of justice behind the belief that society should worry more about disadvantaging the white beneficiaries of centuries of slavery and imperialism than about mitigating the damage to the children of its victims. We are only a generation or two separated from a time when Blacks were effectively precluded from voting in some states. So, instead of debating whether this-or-that program is discrimination against white people, perhaps the best reaction to accusations of reverse discrimination is “so, what?”. White men oppressed and enslaved the world for a thousand years. Will it really all come crashing down if Latinas have a leg up for a few decades?
Allen West recently read “with a heavy heart” Hank Aaron’s comparison of the Republican Party to the KKK and offered him a history lesson. Other of my conservative friends have offered me the same lesson, pointing out that, for much of American history, opponents of civil rights voted with the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party is the “party of Lincoln.” I wanted to share what I’ve learned about how the Democrats largely lost the support of American racists. In doing so, I’m fearful of offending my Southern friends. I’d like to clarify from the start that not all or even most residents of the Deep South are racists. But, these states do tend to have a non-negligible block of voters who are, in no uncertain terms, racists.
Before that, I’d like to point out what a ridiculous idea this really is. The people who doubt the historic interpretation I’m about to relate would rather believe that the men and women who marched with Martin Luther King like John Lewis and Jesse Jackson suddenly became racists and joined the Democratic Party. Every week the right-wing media reaffirms the Right’s commitment to last century’s ideas on race in their coverage of Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, immigration and anything related to Islam. So, here’s the history.
Beginning at the end of Reconstruction through 1948, the Deep South had voted for the Democratic Party. The 1928 elections were a bright spot for Republicans. (I’m going to use examples from Presidential politics because there’s less data to parse and I’m more familiar with it.) Herbert Hoover defeated his opponent, Alfred Smith even in his home state of New York. Hoover even won in the Democratic strongholds of Texas and Florida. And yet Smith, a Democrat, still carried the states of the Deep South, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, as had every Democratic Presidential candidate since 1880. These states would continue to vote for Democrats in every Presidential election until 1948.
Race and Politics
In that year, Harry Truman, a Democrat, split the Democratic party by supporting desegregation of the military and a civil rights bill. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina led the State’s Rights Democratic Party (the Dixiecrats) and ran for President against Truman, but lost. Thurmond would later switch to the Republican Party and serve in the Senate until 2003. After this, the Southern states returned to the Democratic Party for a few cycles until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When it was passed, the Civil Rights Act had more support in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson supported it with some reluctance fearing it would damage his Party in the South.
In that same year, 1964, Barry Goldwater, a conservative Republican for the ages, challenged Johnson for the Presidency. In the short run, Goldwater’s bid was quite unsuccessful. He won only his home state of Arizona and five Southern states protesting Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act. Goldwater, like Ron Paul, had opposed the Civil Rights Act on the grounds that the federal government should not interfere in such State matters and the economic and social forces would desegregate society in the long run. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights leaders were not so sanguine and strongly encouraged voters to support Johnson. The comparison of the electoral map in 1956 and 1964 shows just what a radical change 1964 was. Thanks to 270towin.com for the maps.
This “states rights” theme has become an integral part of the modern Republican platform, with its members arguing for a narrowing of the authority of the federal government. Democrats often argue that some issues, civil rights included, are compelling enough that the federal government should intervene to protect the rights of individuals against the tyranny of local state majorities.
Nixon’s Southern Strategy
In 1968, the civil rights debate was still roiling. Richard Nixon followed Goldwater’s lead and emphasized state’s rights over federal authority. Segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace (a fascinating historical figure and complicated man), ran an independent campaign and won electoral votes from the Deep South. Nixon won the remaining Southern States except Texas, and the election.
Not long after this election, a Nixon political strategist, Kevin Phillips, signaled his intention to abandon the black vote altogether. He even went so far as to say that the presence of blacks in the Democratic Party would drive racist whites to the Republican Party:
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.
The South did return to the Democratic Party to elect Jimmy Carter of Georgia to a single term, and Southerners Carter and Bill Clinton won their home states in their Presidential bids, but from this point, the South moved inexorably toward the Republican Party. Reagan and George H. W. Bush continued to emphasize minimal federal intervention in State issues. The overt racist appeals were gone, although accusations of implicit or “dog-whistle” racial appeals have been levied.
Ann Coulter has some alternate theories about this switch. It is that the South moved Right with the emergence of a wealthy suburban class who signed on to the Reagan revolution with it’s promises of a less intrusive federal government. Meanwhile, Strom Thurmond and KKK grand wizard and Republican state representative David Duke misunderstood or overlooked the racially progressive Republican agenda and signed on. At the same time, 88% of African-Americans were fooled into signing on to the Democrats’ new and subtler racial oppression via social programs. The reader may judge for herself between these two theories.
Today’s Grand Old Party
Now, I don’t go in for the accusations that the GOP membership are predominantly racists. I know a lot of Republicans and that’s not my experience at all. The important difference where race is concerned is that Democrats believe racism exists. The Republicans do not, which puts them in a quandary. Minorities, including and especially African-Americans, clearly achieve, on average, less than whites in this country and Republicans are caught scrambling for an explanation for this.
Thomas Sowell thinks it’s the welfare state itself that holds African-Americans back. He often points out that unemployment for blacks was lower than for whites in 1930 (although just in that isolated year). According to Sowell, the change was a result of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which established the first federal minimum wage. This ignores the mountains of progress toward racial equality of all kinds through the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, even as the welfare state was growing. Further, the data do not suggest that States with lower minimum wage have a smaller racial wage gap.
Others fare much worse than Dr. Sowell. When Mitt Romney talks about “cultural differences” explaining the differential success of Palestinians and Israelis, he’s trying to convince you that, while he doesn’t attribute the Palestinians comparatively worse situation to racism, he’s also not like those racists who would say the Palestinians are genetically inferior. You’re not genetically inferior, you’re culturally inferior. See? Don’t you feel better?
And then, of course, the proof is in the pudding. If the Democratic Party were full of closet racists, their policies would be repugnant to minorities. Instead, racial minorities, both those that underachieve and those that overachieve, support the Democrats. Those poor ignorant minorities–snookered by those schemin’ Democrats again.
Giving money and weapons to tyrants in Chile, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, South Africa, etc.
…skipping a few here…
Making rich people subsidize health care for poor people.
Policing the PC Police
So maybe Dr. Carson overshot a little. This is how you court the far Right, I suppose. Except that Carson also thinks the United States is similar to the Third Reich in that people are afraid to speak their minds in our “Gestapo state.” I guess we take this to mean that there are even more radical things Carson would say if not for the threat of government retribution. As curator of a website documenting Republican stupidity, this makes me desperately curious.
If these few statements are any indication, I think we can safely conclude that Dr. Carson’s verbal filter is completely broken and he just says the first thing that comes to mind. For example, he recently stood up for Condoleezza Rice by asking, “Where are the black liberals when atrocities occur?…Organizations like the NAACP, do you ever see them coming out in support of a conservative black person?” The “atrocity” in question was a protest by students and faculty at Rutgers University over the selection of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker. The objection by the protesting students is that Rice was a public supporter of torture by the US government and lied to the American public about weapons in Iraq and is not someone they respect or hold up as an example.
Is Neo-Con A Race?
Now, it’s true, the NAACP didn’t come riding to Secretary Rice’s rescue, but they are quite busy. They agitate for policies to curb predatory lending, voter disenfranchisement, stand-your-ground laws and racial profiling because these issues disproportionately affect African-Americans. As soon as academic backlash against high-ranking former state department officials at graduation events begins to disproportionately affect black people, I’ll expect the NAACP to jump on that as well. But, you can’t lie to people to send their sons and daughters to war and then blame it on racism when they don’t want to listen to you any more. And, in fact, Secretary Rice is still scheduled to speak, so it’s hard to see what exactly Carson expects from the NAACP, the first amendment being what it is.
So, like the parade of African-American darlings of the GOP before him (Allen Keyes, Thomas Sowell, Herman Cain), Ben Carson is no less crazy for being Black. The looniest thing about these episdoes that I don’t find these examples on MotherJones or AlterNet. They’re not some unguarded moment captured on someone’s phone. These are positions proudly trumpeted on conservative sites like Brietbart and Newsmax. The White Right seems sure that if they would just be freed by the PC police to say all the racist things black conservatives can say, that the country would wake up and accept their vision for America. Well, speaking from the Left, I vow to do anything in my power to give voice to these types of authentic conservative views on race in America. Republicans, how can I help?
Update! Eric Holder, black attorney general of the United States, recently cancelled plans to speak to graduates of an Oklahoma City police academy due to protests. So far silence from both the NAACP and Dr. Carson.