48 years ago today, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Following the passage of the CRA in 1964, African Americans were granted equal access to “places of public accommodation” (e.g. restaurants, theaters, buses, bowling alleys, etc.), ending the brutal era of Jim Crow segregation and subjugation. Needless to say, white Southerners – and the deeper heritage of white supremacy – did not agree with this federal push for racial equality. The CRA ruptured racial fault lines and forever altered the American political landscape, much like the Civil War had done 100 years earlier.
In response to the CRA, the Republican Party apparatchik instituted the “Southern Strategy” in which they sought to gain political support from disaffected white Southerners. Republican elites like Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan siezed upon a golden political opportunity to shift the South into the Republican camp by catering to Southern style cultural conservatism. Indeed, Republican nominee Barry Goldwater vocally opposed the Civil Rights Act and dominated Southern states in the presidential election of 1964 – the first time a Republican presidential candidate had ever captured the South. Four years later in 1968, Southern states supported segregationist candidate, George Wallace, and in 1972 overwhelmingly supported Nixon. Patterns of Republican allegiance and burgeoning GOP political power in the Deep South have continued in near lockstep ever since.
Republicans undertake the Southern Strategy by playing on the propensity to stereotype racial minorities in negative and unflattering ways. In short, conservative elites and right-wing media stir up whites’ fear and suspicion of “others” (e.g. minority groups like homosexuals, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, etc.). They stoke resentment toward African Americans and immigrants particularly, they have since the Nixon Administration and will continue to do so because it helps them politically. Dixiecrats – ultra conservative Southern Democrats – are now partisan Republicans in the 21st Century and the deep South forms the backbone (if not the heart) of the modern Republican Party.
Here are just a few examples (among many) from right-wing media and various Republican elites:
(1) Obama was “chugging 40s” instead of helping the Joplin tornado victims
– Eric Bolling on the Fox Business Network
(2) Obama was hosting “hoods in the hizzouse” by having the Prime Minister of Gabon over for a diplomatic meeting
– Eric Bolling on the Fox Business Network
(3) Obama was hosting a “violent cop-killer” by inviting rapper Common over for a poetry reading
– Guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show the O’Reilly Factor
(4) “None of these camel jockeys ever should have messed with us”
– Guest on the Sean Hannity show – There is a continual effort in far right-wing circles to dehumanize and negatively stereotype Muslims and Middle Easterners as violent, savage, animalistic terrorists. Muslims are invading and actively instituting draconian Sharia Law in America. Fringe conservative groups distribute videos with ominous sounding voices talking about the impending doom of Muslim domination. “They” (Muslims) are coming for “us” (whites)… Continual fear and white victimology. Southern Strategy!
(5) “Blacks should demand paychecks not food stamps”
– Newt Gingrich on the campaign trail in late 2011. Why does Newt specifically refer to “blacks” when talking about food stamps? Most food stamp recipients are white and food stamp usage has increased across all demographic groups during this Great Recession, but he specifically castigates “blacks” on food assistance. He does this for a strategic reason. The Southern Strategy subtext is that blacks are lazy, undeserving, and demanding food assistance instead of actively seeking work, and thus stealing your (white) tax dollars to live lavishly on the dole. Newt played the Southern Strategy like Charlie Daniels’ fiddle and actually won the South Carolina primary decisively!
(6) “I don’t want to make black peoples’ lives better by giving them somebody else’s money”
– Rick Santorum on the campaign trail in January of 2012. This is the same racialized “welfare queen” meme that Newt utilized in South Carolina. “They” (blacks) are lazy welfare moochers leeching off “your” (white) tax dollars. The ugly stereotype that blacks are “lazy” has deep roots in America. It was historically used a a justification for slavery and has been part of white socialization throughout American history. Unfortunately this potent stereotype remains ingrained in America’s collective conscious. Modern conservatives stoke this racial antipathy by tying minorities to “welfare” whenever possible. Reagan was a master with his “welfare queen” rhetoric. He would talk about a (mythical) lady from the “south-side of Chicago” (hint, hint) that has 8 Social Security cards, gets 5 welfare checks, eats t-bone steaks every night, and makes nearly $200K peryear through welfare fraud. Southern Strategy!
UPDATE (7/12/2012) – “If blacks just want more free stuff they should vote for the other guy.” – Mitt Romney on the campaign trail at a fundraiser in Montana after meeting with the NAACP earlier in the day. You get it by now…
(7) “President Obama is a racist that hates white people and white culture”
– Glenn Beck appearing on the Fox and Friends morning show. Glenn knows that stoking resentment, (Obama “hates you”) and fear plays well with his very right-wing audience. Glenn is the new face of McCarthyism in the 21st Century… The new Red Scare continually casting suspicion and animosity toward “them.” Glenn knows where his bread is buttered and he generally keeps a divisive racialized theme running in his projects. For instance, his internet arm, The Blaze, continually runs stories about how the – mostly irrelevant and anemic – New Black Panther Party is threatening whites’ dominate position in society.
(8) “Where is the birth certificate? Obama was born in Kenya!”
– Donald Trump during the summer of 2011. “Birtherism”, the (fallacious) belief that Obama was born in Kenya, is thinly veiled racism – not even thinly veiled really – and is popular only in staunchly conservative circles. Birther conspiracy websites populate right-wing enclaves, and media outlets like The Blaze, Drudge Report, World Net Daily, Big Government, etc. openly stoke suspicion about Obama’s birthright citizenship. Birtherism is probably the most obvious manifestation of racial resentment and latent racism in right-wing political circles today.
Coda: I do not believe the modern Republican Party is inherently racist, nor do I believe most Republicans or conservatives are fueled by racism. I also understand that divisive racial appeals exist in left-wing circles (e.g. shallow appeals to minority victimology), but the fact remains that the peculiar brand of Southern animosity and resentment is partially reflected in modern right-wing political movements like the Tea Party. The Republican Party is becoming a cloistered Southern, white (and elderly) party in some respects and they will have to find avenues to reach a broader electorate if they want to compete in American elections long-term.