Revolution: Stoking White Racism
The article is essentially about the competing viewpoints about the economic
legacy of LBJ and Ronald Reagan. One signed into legislation the Civil Rights Act of 1964
and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which changed life in the South as the old guard knew it.
Those acts made Barack Obama’s candidacy an eventual possibility.
Having been a Southern legislator, LBJ knew Republicans would benefit from the angry
Southern backlash. LBJ told Bill Moyers, “We’ve lost the South for a generation”
after signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
whistle politics to speak to those who were unhappy with the civil rights and voting rights
laws that had been passed. In 1980, Reagan spoke at the Neshoba County fair, which was
his the first time he spoke after receiving the Republican nomination. At that time,
Neshoba was infamous for the murders of the three boys above by members of the
Ku Klux Klan who were in Mississippi to try to encourage African Americans to vote.
In an Op-Ed opinion in the New York Times, Bob Herbert explained the true significance
of Reagan’s actions:
family had always believed strongly in equal rights and the benefits of social activism.
“I didn’t have the right,” Dr. Goodman would tell me many years later, “to tell him
not to go.”
County, Mississippi, a vicious white-supremacist stronghold. Just days earlier,
members of the Ku Klux Klan had firebombed a black church in the county and had
beaten terrified worshipers.
fellow activists Michael Schwerner and James Chaney disappeared. Their bodies
wouldn’t be found until August. All had been murdered, shot to death by whites enraged
at the very idea of people trying to secure the rights of African-Americans.
County’s primary claim to fame when Reagan won the Republican Party’s nomination for
president in 1980. The case was still a festering sore at that time. Some of the conspirators
were still being protected by the local community. And white supremacy was still the order
of the day.
general election campaign. The campaign debuted at the Neshoba County Fair in front of
a white and, at times, raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000, chanting: “We want Reagan! We
what he was doing when he told that crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.”
Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans — they all knew. The news media knew.
The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew.
“states’ rights” to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when
it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you.
Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and
that dismal record.
placed between the murders of the civil rights workers that preceded it and the
acknowledgment by the Republican strategist Lee Atwater that the use of code words
like “states’ rights” in place of blatantly bigoted rhetoric was crucial to the success of
the G.O.P.’s Southern strategy. That acknowledgment came in the very first year of the
keys to his political success.
first stop for the Presidential nominee, unless you are intent on making a statement.
of the white backlash against the civil rights movement and “the rise of the conservative
movement.” Krugman argues that voting data corroborates that non-Southern whites never
turned against the Democratic party; rather, the only shift was the formerly Democratic
guns, national security and so on. But what everyone knows isn’t true once you exclude
the South from the picture. As the political scientist Larry Bartels points out, in the 1952
presidential election 40 percent of non-Southern white men voted Democratic; in 2004,
that figure was virtually unchanged, at 39 percent.
as “humiliating to the South.” Yet Southern white voting behavior remains distinctive.
Democrats decisively won the popular vote in last year’s House elections, but
Southern whites voted Republican by almost two to one.
the Democratic party to the GOP really only occurred in the South. Reagan used Nixon’s
model of “constructing a politics and a strategy of governing that attacked policies targeted
toward blacks and other minorities without reference to race — a conservative politics that
had the effect of polarizing the electorate along racial lines.”
had not had much luck winning the African American vote. “The G.O.P.’s own leaders admit
that the great Southern white shift was the result of a deliberate political strategy. ‘Some
Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying
to benefit politically from racial polarization.’ So declared Ken Mehlman, the former chairman
of the Republican National Committee, speaking in 2005.” Ronald Reagan used it, exploited
and benefited from it. Some examples of Regan’s exploitation of racism:
Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were slaughtered. As president, he actually tried to
weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Congress passed a law creating the holiday by a veto-proof majority
overrode the veto.
Congress overrode that veto, too.
story years after it had been debunked, some people thought he was engaging in race-baiting.
stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store, he didn’t mean to play into racial hostility.
True, as The New York Times reported, the ex-Governor has used the grocery-line illustration
before, but in states like New Hampshire where there is scant black population, he has never
used the expression “young buck,” which, to whites in the South, generally denotes a large
verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating in 1983, Reagan
fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission.
wrote his article. He argued that Reagan’s support for “states rights” was “a coded declaration
of support for segregationist sentiments.” Krugman argues that a permanent conservative
majority will never be maintained because as “we have become a more diverse and less racist
country over time. The “macaca” incident, in which Senator George Allen’s use of a
racial insult led to his election defeat, epitomized the way in which America has changed for
the better.” The direct link between the conservative movement and racial backlash has been
undermined by what Barack Obama discussed in his inauguration speech– that seismic shift
in politics that is directly linked to the declining power of that racial backlash.
where blatantly and openly racist, that’s no surprise. They are the people who watch Faux
News (Fox News) psycho-tainment, listen to Rush, love Bill O’Reilly, think Hannity
is a “great American,” and love Sarah Palin because she speaks the code of Nixon and
of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of
what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very,
um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” –Sarah Palin, speaking at a fundraiser in
Greensoboro, N.C., Oct. 16, 2008
skills, but she exploits the ugly racial backlash just the way he did. They are shrinking, but
the work is not done. Clearly.