Ken Mehlman, a campaign manager for former President George Bush Jr. and former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, claimed that Republican political candidates often have prospered by ignoring black voters and by exploiting racial tensions. It was his opinion that while the Democratic Party did what it could to make solid gains in the African American community, the Republican Party did try to reach out to the black community. Many Republican politicians gave up on the black vote and instead made a decision to develop a brand of racism that came to be known as the Southern Strategy.
Lee Atwater, a political consultant and strategist to the Republican Party, an advisor to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., and another former Chairman of the Republican National Committee described southern politics as follows…
”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. You’re talking about cutting taxes. And all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is 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.”
The Southern states were once a political stronghold for the Democrats and the south became synonymous with overt racism. But when the Democratic Party actually started taking steps to include black voters and supporting the civil rights movement, Republican candidates expressed support for states’ rights and argued that the federal government should stay out of states’ affairs. This was little more than coded language expressing support of southern states by opposing the federal government intervening on the black community’s behalf at a time when many southern state officials not only condoned the unfair treatment of black people, but participated in it.
Now one would think that people who want to follow the Southern Strategy would be the most opposed to black people getting their fair share. And most are. But the cleverest of political thinkers who follow this strategy recognize the benefit of black people making gains in our social structure. Black people doing well pisses a lot of racist white people off and it gets them angered enough to take action in extreme ways. Case in point, has anyone noticed how angry a lot of white people have gotten since America elected its first black President.
How many times have we heard some political conservative say something that sounded like, we want to take our country back? Conservative people were turning up at political rallies that President Barack Obama was scheduled to attend with arms. People were showing up with hand guns and rifles and carrying signs claiming that the tree of liberty needs somebody’s blood. People would like for us to believe that this is just some freakish, blue moon, once in a life time coincidence of the political times we live in. But rather than being dismissed as just a turn of random happenstance and people’s manifestation of their fed-up-ness, it really does look like the continuation of a political philosophy designed to take advantage of that which keeps racial disparity close to the root of our social makeup.
The Southern Strategy has morphed in recent years. It now touts a return to conservative values. I will be the first to agree that on the surface, a return to family values and the dismantling of social programs and the repeal of civil rights in favor of property rights sounds like a return to a time of good old wholesome values sounds like it would be attractive to most people. But it also sounds a lot like the Mr. Atwater’s prediction a handful of decades ago that the byproduct of such economic maneuvers would hurt the black community worse and a lot of people really seem to like that idea.
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