Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The GOP Southern Strategy of 1968 & beyond: What was it & how did it reshaped the Political Landscape?

I had to do a little research on this one. Let's go back in time.

In 1948, a group of Democratic congressmen, led by Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, split from the Democrats in reaction to an anti-segregation speech given by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, founding the States Rights Democratic or Dixiecrat Party, which ran Thurmond as its presidential candidate. The Dixiecrats, failing to deny the Democrats the presidency in 1948, soon dissolved, but the split lingered. The party's principles were revived by Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate.

Goldwater was notably more conservative than previous Republican nominees like Dwight Eisenhower; Goldwater's opponent in the primary election, Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, was widely seen as representing the more moderate, Northern wing of the party. Rockefeller's defeat in the primary is seen as the beginning of the end for moderates and liberals in the Republican party.

Okay, now at this point, the debate begins. The facts are this: in the 1964 presidential race, Goldwater adopted an extremely conservative stance. In particular, he emphasized the issue of what he called "states' rights". As a conservative, Goldwater did not favor strong action by the federal government--for instance, though not a segregationist personally, he strongly opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds that, first, it was an intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and second, it was an interference with the rights of private persons to do business, or not, with whomever they chose. This was a popular stand in the Southern states; whether or not this was specifically a tactic designed to appeal to (at that time) racist Southern white voters is a matter of debate. Regardless, the only states that Goldwater won in 1964 besides Arizona, were five Deep Southern states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

The Southern Strategy was deployed even more effectively by Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election. Nixon, with the aid of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who had switched to the Republican party in 1964, ran on a campaign of states' rights and "law and order." As a result every state that had been in the Confederacy, except Texas, voted for either Nixon or Southern Democrat George Wallace, despite a strong tradition of supporting Democrats. Meanwhile, Nixon parlayed a wide perception as a moderate into wins in other states, taking a solid majority in the electoral college. That is why the election of 1968 is sometimes cited as a realigning election.

In turn, the Republican Party became more and more overtly anti-intellectual, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-labor, and anti-poor much more generally, while remaining the party of big business.

The Voting Rights Act is what made it possible for Republicans to compete in the South. Once blacks could no longer be kept from voting in primaries there was no longer and reason for any whites to remain Democrats. Many found the Republican Party more attractive. Of course, the national party reached out to them, but the idea that they used racial code words like “law and order” is nonsense. Crime was a legitimate problem. Moreover, Nixon did more to desegregate the schools than any other president. Republicans certainly tried to make political inroads in the South for a long time prior to the southern strategy. Voters there tended to be sympathetic to Republicans on national defense, taxes, government spending and other issues.

Nixon’s pledge to preserve “law and order” looks very different in the context of urban race riots. In the short-years preceding the 1968 election, scenes from the riots in Detroit, Chicago and Washington D.C. (among others) emanated from the nation’s television screens. White Americans were more than familiar with the image of the black rioter, and when Nixon’s campaign used the “law and order” rhetoric to attack liberals, they knew exactly what he meant. Moreover, once president, Nixon continued to make inroads to the legions southern whites that supported him in the election (as well as the 1972 one). He nominated three southern conservatives to the Supreme Court — Clement Haynsworth, G. Harrold Carswell (known for his pro-segregationist views), and Herschel H. Friday — and opposed extension of the Voting Rights Act in its original form.

As civil rights grew more accepted throughout the nation, basing a general election strategy on appeals to "states' rights" as a play against civil rights laws grew less effective; there was a greater danger of a national backlash. Nevertheless, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan initiated his general election campaign after accepting the Republican Party nomination, he did so with a speech in which he stated his support of states' rights. He did so at a county fair in Neshoba County, Mississippi, which was also known as the place where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Reagan went on to make a speech praising Jefferson Davis, the strongly pro-slavery president of the Confederacy and states' rights advocate, at Stone Mountain, Georgia, site of the founding of the modern Klan. A prominent Klan leader endorsed Reagan, but he disavowed the endorsement and moved to neutralize any negative publicity by securing the support of noted Southern civil rights activists Hosea Williams and Ralph David Abernathy, which I didn't know he secured.

The Turning Point was in 1968
Racial liberalism (Civil Rights Act)
Cultural liberalism (especially limits on school prayer and restrictions on gun ownership)
Economic liberalism: (Keynes, social welfare)
Each component of liberal progress repelled Southern voters

The Republican response: A Southern Strategy by 1980
Low taxes
Small government
No social welfare (except social security)
Capital punishment
Each a persistent element of successful Republican campaigns
Replaced direct racial appeal (Basically the same things that are still being used in today's politifal climate)

It also included these other facets:

So-called fiscal conservatism, in the form of support for balanced budgets whenever it was a question of social spending, but not for the military or for tax cuts for the rich.


Ideological tests for judges

Demonizing and scapegoating of opponents

Opposition to Big Government, meaning social programs for the poor, for minorities, and for women, and Federal enforcement of Civil Rights laws on the states.

States' Rights, meaning the right to oppress citizens and other residents of a state without interference from the Federal government

In southern politics, race and ethnicity overshadow economic class, and both Nixon and Reagan knew this better than most politicians as the once "solid" South moved from the Democratic column to the Republican column. The Nixon "Southern Strategy" was also effectively used by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

On his deathbed, Lee Atwater, the famed republican strategist had a conversion and expressed remorse for the ugly tactics he used to win. He also became more candid about the role of racism in his campaigns. As he remarked in an interview:

Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964 and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.

Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps

Atwater: 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. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

There were alot of unflattering things that came with the GOP Southern Strategy. Although that strategy has gone by the wayside somewhat, there are still elements that are still being used by the GOP. You can say some of these tactics are being used right now by the opposition like immigrant bashing, demonizing & scapegoating opponents, opposition to Big Government (Like the Healthcare Reform Bill that was passed recently). I am one one of those who were to opposed to the bill. So in a way, you can say some of these things are still being employed by the GOP.

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