The Southern Strategy lives on
Is it just me, or are conservatives feeling more emboldened than ever to lie their asses off? For years, many of us pro-science types have been raising the alarm about the Republican war on science—denying global warming, lying about the medical realities of women’s health care, denying evolution, and now even attacking the theory of relativity. And of course, there was the usual political lies, especially the brazen way that the Bush administration lied about WMDs in Iraq. But lately, it seems like they’re not even interested in hat-tipping the truth when they assault basic reality. And part of this new, brazen, “fuck the truth” strategy is an assault on basic historical facts.
Glenn Beck is the king motherfucker in this department, with his “university” nonsense. I’ve watched some of it, and basically it’s just a matter of rewriting history. The wingnut obsession with history is nearly as fascinating to me as their obsession with claiming that they’re just speaking for god or the upswing in interest in combining a sort of self-help speak with hyper-right-wing politics. I asked Will Bunch about it in an interview that’s going to be released on Tuesday on the podcast—he’s got an awesome new book out called The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama—and he pointed out that it relates to the notion that they want their country “back”. In order to establish their claim that the country belongs to angry white conservatives and not to everyone, they need to make appeals to history. Thus the powdered wigs and nostalgia for a time when slavery was legal but women voting wasn’t. But the fact of the matter is that most of American history isn’t really conducive to the incoherent arguments they want to make about how they’re both totally not racist and yet they want to claim that controlling all the reins of power is the birthright of a group of people who just so happens to be super-white. So, they rewrite it.
The latest example is claiming there was no Southern Strategy. Even though it’s literally undeniable that racism was a major factor in creating the modern Republican party, and not just because Southern Democrats decamped to the Republicans in open revolt over the Civil Rights Act. The fact is that Republicans at the time were pretty open about this:
In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “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.”
The reason to rewrite history is that the Southern Strategy is still in play. The Tea Party is the Southern Strategy, exactly as outlined by Lee Atwater. But the new wrinkle is denying this at the top of their lungs, in hopes that a few morons will be swayed into buying their bad faith arguments. Sadly, I think it’s working—I’ve seen a few ostensible “liberals” get all upset when some of us suggest that the use of the Southern Strategy is as racist as it ever was, and the intensity of it now might have something to do with our black President. Which makes me wonder what their grasp on history must be. After all, mowing down civil rights protesters with hoses happened within the lifetime of the majority of Americans. Granted, as the years go by the people who openly supported segregation are becoming fewer in number. But still. Do people really think that Dr. King made a speech and suddenly all those mean racists just evaporated into thin air?
In reality, those mean racists stayed right where they were. They got quieter about it. They only started saying what they really thought in private to white-only audiences. Their ugliest opinions may have softened up some. Some may even start to convince themselves they were never really that racist to begin with. But they didn’t go anywhere. And the Southern Strategy still works its magic on them.
The good news in all this is that the Tea Crackers aren’t a particularly young crowd. The average Tea Cracker is a Baby Boomer. The average Fox viewer is even older than that. One thing I do get from this is that the civil rights movement did more to racists than make them more circumspect about their racism. It also made it that much harder for them to pass their values down to their children. The folks who were born during a time when segregation was still legal were apparently still ripe to absorb the values of a previous generation, but then there’s a break. I’ve seen a lot of this with my own eyes—white Generation Xers and millennials who are openly at war with their older relatives about these issues. I honestly do think time will fix a lot of these problems. But let’s be clear about one thing. Just because the civil rights movement made it more taboo to be openly racist doesn’t mean the people who opposed the civil rights movement just up and went away.