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The Grand Old Party of Racism

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Once upon a time, there was the party of Lincoln. It was devoted to the idea of emancipation and 40 acres and a mule. Over the last 150 years, how times have changed. Today, in order to secure their electoral base, the Republican party has lowered itself to the lowest common denominator of its rabid base. It has become the Grand Old Party of racism.

Since the Southern strategy became the bread and butter of Republican electoral politics, a key shift happened in the party. As new (more Southern) elements gained power in the party, racism began rearing its ugly head from time to time. The most toxic of these outbreaks was the Louisiana politician, David Duke. A former Grand Wizard of the KKK, he ran semi-successful candidacies for the House (1989), the Senate (1990), governor of Louisiana (1991) and president (1992). While much of the national party repudiated Duke’s racism, his ability to collect votes in Louisiana pointed to a demographic and a fact just beneath the surface of the Republican Party.  At the heart of the base (especially in Southern states) people with predominantly racist beliefs form the core of the party that Republicans rely on to get elected.

In recent years, the American electorate has basically broken itself down into thirds. About 25% of the electorate is liberal/progressive and about 35% of the electorate identifies as hard-core Republican/conservative. The remaining 40% or so occupy the mushy middle of non-ideologues, independents, libertarians, greens, and others. 40% might seem high, but that mushy middle has a tendency not to come out to vote. They are notoriously unpredictable. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Republican electoral strategy was pretty simple. To win elections all you had to do was get out your base, and focus on enough single, hot-button social issues to swing key constituencies who might be found in that mushy middle. For example, you might go for the Catholic vote by focusing on abortion. Additionally, Republican strategists also tended to focus on negative advertising as a means of voter suppression. If middle-of-the-road voters were not breaking your candidate’s way, you could always swing enough mud to turn those voters (who were not very likely to vote anyway) off. Meanwhile, Democrats would have to both excite their base and manage to pull enough of those 40% to get a plurality.

While favorable for many years, the demographics began to slip away from Republicans after 2000. Primarily in Southern states, Hispanics have become the new force to deal with in politics as the Hispanic population in the U.S. has soared.

Enter Karl Rove. Rove’s strategy was quite smart. He took into account the growing Hispanic nature of the electorate and chose to directly address them in Bush’s 2000 campaign. His improved slice of the Hispanic pie (35%) was just enough to help push him over the top in several key states in 2000, especially Florida. In 2004, Bush did even better with national security dominating the campaign. That year, Bush managed to get around 44% of the vote. But then, the bottom dropped out for Republicans with the Hispanic community. What happened?

The answer to that question is simple. In June of 2007, Bush’s Immigration bill, which would have established a path to citizenship for up to 12 million illegal aliens in the country, went down to ignominious defeat, largely at the hands of conservatives in his own party. Key conservative senators, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX) led the charge. Bush’s “Big Tent” had been scorched just in time for the 2008 elections. When all the dust had settled on the McCain campaign, he managed to receive only 31% of the Hispanic vote. Obama was able to pull together a powerful coalition of minorities, liberals, and people in the middle who simply wanted a change in the country’s direction. Obama easily won election as he managed to flip key states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia from red to blue. However, in massive defeat, the Republican party didn’t change course. Instead, Republicans at the state level got involved in the process and Arizona passed a “show me your papers” immigration bill that pushed even more Hispanics into the D column. The Republicans were facing electoral apocalypse. So, what to do?

Unfortunately for them, the solution will most likely be their undoing. Since 2008, Republican party strategy has shifted to give the nativist, “know-nothing,” bigoted wing of the Republican party exactly what they want. In primary after primary, they have pushed the extremist candidates of choice. Rebranded as the Tea Party movement and endowed by the wealthy supporters of Republican think tanks, they have systematically purged the Republican party of any moderation. In 2010, the new Republican strategy became clear. First, your base must over-perform in the polls. You do this by giving them red meat in the form of concessions and an enemy in the form of President Obama (more on this later). Second, you take advantage of a ruling (Citizens United) by your bought-and-paid-for Supreme Court that allows corporations to dump unlimited money on campaigns. You use that advantage to suppress Democratic votes in any way possible, be that hiring thugs to scream at town hall meetings, or massive negative campaign buys. The result was rather predictable: in an off-year election (2010), when moderates are less likely to vote, the Republicans managed to gain control of Congress. The trouble is that now their strategy is locked in for 2012.

In 2012, no Republican who significantly disagrees with the base will come close to being nominated. What’s worse, the concert of racism that was once conducted with dog whistles is now out in the open. It is slowly exposing itself as the racist strategy that it is. Since 2008, Republicans at all levels have used the Obama birth certificate as a code word for race. It gave birth (pardon the pun) to the weaselly argument of, “I take him at his word, but people have raised questions.” Time and time again we heard this talking point from the Republican leadership. Tea Party leaders, like Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), were even more open with their doubts about what President Obama was trying to hide.

Enter Donald Trump. Over the last month, Mr. Trump has managed to stir up huge free publicity on this non-issue to help put forward the central idea of his non-campaign for president. When not challenging the president’s nationality, Trump has been busy touting his, “great relationship with the blacks.” Trump’s constant verbal diarrhea merely reveals what has been there all along: the attacks on President Obama and his birth certificate were always about race.

While you might dismiss Trump as a “barker” for the Tea Party sideshow as President Obama so eloquently described the situation, the Grand Old Party of racism just keeps rolling along. State by state, the Koch Brothers, ALEC and other groups have been systematically pushing their racist agenda. Across the nation (Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and other states) Republican legislatures have all put forward curiously similar bills, all designed to make it harder to vote. For example, in Florida, those most likely to move by demographic are the poor and minorities. The bill would make it much more difficult for registration groups to work with these individuals, even leaving non-partisan groups like the League of Women Voters thinking they will have to suspend voter drives under the threat of fines. With more people voting provisional ballots (of which only 48% were counted across the country in last fall’s election), voter suppression is a certainty as voters forgo the long lines created by the shortening of early voting.

In Oklahoma, the mask has completely fallen off and Republican legislators seem to be empowered these days to say exactly how they feel. Upon the passing of legislation to put Affirmative Action up to a vote by the electorate, Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) decided to let it all hang out.  In an interview with the Tulsa World she said, “Minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.” She went on to add that, “We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

The GOP needs to ask itself if they still want to be the party of Lincoln. Right now, they are looking an awful lot like the party of David Duke and ‘Bull’ Connor.

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About Jerald Cumbus

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And you’re absolutely right – but prepare to be castigated by the BC conservatives who are absolutely convinced that there’s little or no racism among the Republicans or the Tea Party.

    BTW – Dubai? or Abu Dhabi? Been to Dubai quite a few times – nice place!

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Of course he’s right Glenn – A bunch of white, racist motherfuckers just elected the first black man as president. We must ALL be racists!

    And let us not forget that racist bastion of Virginia, fucking southern states. Was it NY or MA that elected the first black governor???? No it wasn’t! It was a fucking racist southern state that did it!

    This shit isn’t even worth reading! I’ve got better things to do…shit, I’d rather watch the wedding than read another whining liberal’s assesment of what’s wrong with EVERYONE else.

    I love how liberals call losing semi-successful!!! WTF is that? Semi-successful candidacies? He fucking lost, what’s successful about that?

    Oh, now I get it…another professor! ‘Nuff said!

  • http://bradenpace.wordpress.com Braden

    Okay, absolutely nothing you said proves that the GOP is racist. You point to David Duke, who has no current affiliation with the GOP and the GOP currently has nothing to do with him.

    If the GOP is the party of David Duke, Democrats are the party of Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist church, who is a lifelong Democrat and was a delegate for Al Gore at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. So by your awful, ill-conceived guilt-by-association game, Democrats are just as much the party of hatred as the GOP.

    You keep saying the TEA party is racist but provide no proof. You took one state legislator’s comment on a bill in Oklahoma and ran with that. So you’re still playing guilt-by-association there. But your actual proof for racism being some real plank of any TEA party or GOP platform is pulled out of thin air.

    I suppose you would gladly overlook the fact one of the major stars in the TEA party movement is Congressman Allen West, an African American from Florida. Or perhaps Herman Cain, an African-American GOP candidate for president in 2012. Oh wait, what about the GOP’s former chairman Michael Steele? Or we could go old school with Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, Jr. Take your pick. I’ll keep my fingers crossed to see if your association game works both ways.

    Oh and how about Democrat racists? The late Senator Robert Byrd who was an actual klansman who said he would rather see Old Glory trampled in the dirt than see this nation overtaken by “race mongrels.” Or George Wallace, who while he supported segregation as a member of the Democrat party. And I would say Jeremiah Wright too, but oh well… I guess Democrats are all racist too.

    Okay, just say the word “racist” one more time and maybe people will believe it. No proof, no evidence necessary, just say it. Glenn will nod his head in agreement, as long as it makes conservatives look bad, no proof necessary for him either.

  • Jay

    I live in the south. Racism is alive and well… the last two people who I took note of and would fairly classify as “racists” was a plumber at my house who was a democrat and told me he a Hillary Clinton supporter because “I just can’t bring myself to vote for a black man for president” and a cable guy at my work who doesn’t vote at all but claims he isn’t racist because “I have colored TV”. So from my first hand experience it would seem there are just as many racists that vote democrat and don’t vote at all as there would be in the TEA party. Though, having gone to about 4 Tea Party Rallies (Two in DC) I can say other than the RARE scattering of “Obama is Hitler” signs (And I do mean rare) I saw no evidence of racism… the black people who were at the rally, participating, would have felt pretty uncomfortable if there were a lot of racists at those rallies.

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    I always wear my helmet on such occasions… As always the right can dish it out. Remember Rush Limbaugh calling Sotamayor and President Obama racists?

    Remember Willie Horton? That was George W. Bush’s idea… Or, remember Jesse Helms? Macaca? The Harold Ford Jr. playboy ad. IF I wanted to to an account on the full extent of racism this piece would have had to be a book.

    @Glenn, Sharjah to be precise about it.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    See what I mean, Jerald?

    Perhaps these Republicans aren’t aware that the government once had to sue Donald Trump in order to get him to open his rentals to blacks.

    Perhaps these Republicans aren’t aware that a poll less than a month ago showed that 46% of ALL Republicans in MS still think that interracial marriage should be illegal.

    Earlier this week, a GOP representative in Kansas stated that blacks don’t work as hard as whites…and blamed it on the government, of course.

    And if you believe the Republicans and the Tea Partiers, racism has absolutely NOTHING to do with ‘birtherism’. Riiiiiight.

    And then there’s the racist statements that were printed in Ron Paul’s name in Ron Paul’s newspaper…that the Republicans are claiming aren’t at all his fault.

    I could go on all day long listing racist actions and statements and tendencies by GOP politicians, but I have NEVER said that all Republicans are racist – but it is a FACT that a lot are, and feel greatly threatened by the fact that we’ve got a black man in the white house. Anyone who says otherwise is either in denial or a flat-out liar.

  • http://bradenpace.wordpress.com Braden

    Glenn, for every Republican you have that is a so-called racist, there’s a Democrat that is either racist or a hate-monger like Fred Phelps. I love how you STILL have no proof that connects the TEA party to racism, but you make up a mythical connection because you presume it’s implied.

    I’d like to see some documentation on your Mississippi anecdote. And you may have mixed up the Kansas representative with the Oklahoma one mentioned in this article.

    Furthermore, I would say that since you have no proof of these allegations between the TEA party/GOP and racism, you are creating a stereotype, which could be construed along the same lines as saying “blacks don’t work as hard as whites.” You’re doing the exact same thing that you harp on the “racist GOP” for. How interesting… This must be why you can’t answer for the skeletons in the Dem closet or the crosses on Robert Byrd’s front lawn.

    Your anecdotal stereotype creation is mirrors the racist behavior you rail against. That’s the pot calling the kettle black. Oops, please don’t call me a racist for saying that….

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    Fred Phelps is a Dem…? I think he just qualifies as LOON.

    So, the Birther thing was just about legality??? I don’t think so… the racist dog whistle springs into action…

    I will ask you one very legitimate question… Would the same people have done the same to John McCain who had legitimate issues due to overseas birth?
    Why= The people who started the issue and who promulgated it CANNOT ACCEPT an African American as President full stop…

  • Baronius

    Jerald, if you’ll recall the 2000 election with the Jeb/Harris conspiracy theories, and the 2004 election with the Diebold conspiracy theories, you’ll realize that unfortunately a lot of people make up foolish stories rather than accept their political losses.

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    The purging of the voter rolls is real enough as were all of the other well-documented problems in Florida. And there are huge problems with the voting apparatus in this country. Have you not been paying attention?

    Have you forgotten that recent race in WI? No conspiracy theories there… it was majorly majorly messed-up.

  • Boeke

    Out of curiosity, how many African-Americans has the GOP sent to congress in the past 50 years? How many republicans in the Congressional Black Caucus?

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    I remember Allen West-FL currently (don’t think he is a member of the caucus) … JC Watts of OK. Did I forget anyone? Tim Scott, SC that’s all the recent ones anyway…

  • Baronius

    Jerald – See? Everyone’s got a button.

  • S.T..M

    I think it’s amazing that the Obama-Dunham families had the foresight to bodgy up Barack’s birth, falsely have him registered in Hawaii, organise to have birth notices posted in the Honululu Advertiser, and everything else, just in case, one day, he might become president of the United States.

    That’s American ingenuity.

    Unlike the fake Kenyan certificate, which was a copy of a birth certificate from the State of South Australia (all the certificates are slightly different in each state of Australia, but remarkably, South Australia’s appears near identical to that of Kenya … a country of a different continent!).

    Probably the telling factor about the alleged Kenyan Obama birth certificate, though, is that it bears the stamp of the Republic of Kenya.

    The only problem is, Kenya didn’t become a republic until a full year after the date of issue.

    It WAS independent, but as a Dominion, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

    It’d be a bit like Canada handing out birth certificates with Republic of Canada on them.

    It’s not, and they don’t.

    That’s the level to which this debate has sunk. And yes, I’d bet if he was a white fella, no one would be batting an eyelid. And yes, of course there is a race aspect to this.

    However, I think it’s wrong to suggest the GOP is racist. There might be some racists associated with it – they’re everywhere, you know – but I suspect it’s a small hard core of idiots who think the birther debate is real.

    Plenty of those on the right know it’s total lunacy and realise it is damaging the party as a whole … including our own Dave Nalle.

    The birthers are conspiracy theorists who will, bizarrely, trace the conspiracy all the way back to the President’s birth (“hey Martha, you never know, one day he MIGHT become president”).

    They are in the same league as the truthers, who refuse to believe that a pack of lunatics could plot and carry out an attack on the US without US help.

    Such is the price of democracy, however, so it’s not all bad even if it’s wrong …

  • Roger B

    JC Watts was some years ago and quit in anger at the republicans.

    Again I ask, how many black congressmen have the republicans sent to congress in the last several years? IIRC, the answer is few or none.

    IIRC, there are no republican members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

  • Baronius

    Jerald – My button, by the way, is that I get livid about race-baiting. It’s a form of bullying. I should recognize that false accusations of racism are generally motivated by a decent desire to protect people from bullies, and aren’t intended to be mean-spirited. But I have a short fuse with them anyway.

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    In a non-partisan spirit, the Republican party really needs to show people like Kerns the door! It also really needs to slap people like Limbaugh around when they get a case of verbal diarrhea. It also needs to cut out the race-tinged dog whistle that is birtherism and simply say it is wrong. The real point of my article is to point out the danger the GOP faces. I wish that the leadership would directly condemn this stuff when the issue of race comes up. All too often it’s CRICKETS.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger B –

    If you’ll check, the Republicans have sent a total of less than ten African-Americans to Congress since 1900. IIRC, the current total is something like seven.

    But we have to bear in mind, now, that there’s no racists there….

  • Ca