The Democratic Party’s Legacy of Racism–Part II
Responding to my post on the Democratic Party’s legacy of racism, Bobby Oliveira wrote:
Up until the Voting Rights Act, which LBJ predicted “would lose the South
for years to come”, you are exactly correct.
However, since that day, all those folks, foreshadowed by Strom Thurmond in
1948, have left and now hang out with the Republicans. In the South, the
religous right and the white supremacy crowd are very close friends.
I know this is a popular argument about why the formerly Democratic “solid South” became Republican. The only trouble is that it is wrong. The charge that Republican Party’s “Southern strategy” was based primarily on race essentially slanders white Southerners–such as myself, who abandoned the Democratic Party of our ancestors–suggesting we are a bunch of crackers and red-necks, the sort of characters that inhabit such movies as Mississippi Burning. Yankees seem to have a selective memory when it comes to own race problems in the North.
But the appeal of the Republican Party to white Southerners in the late 60s and 70s had far less to do with race than with disgust about the Democratic Party’s philosophy of government and its position on foreign affairs, especially Vietnam. Now I’m no Richard Nixon fan (I voted for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and for the Libertarian candidate in 1972) but he did a good job of outlining the Southern strategy in a 1966 newspaper column. There he stated that the foundations of the Republican Party were states rights, human rights, small government and a strong national defense. The Republicans, he continued, would leave it to the “party of Maddox, Mahoney and Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice.”
One source of the claim that the Republicans’ Southern strategy was racist is the undeniable fact that Nixon and other Republicans criticized the civil-rights leaders who refused to condemn the riots that erupted in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. But it is hard to make the case that it is racist to distinguish between defending civil rights on the one hand and looting and burning on the other.
But the centerpiece of the Southern-strategy-was-racist slur is the claim that during the 1968 election, pro-segregationist supporters of Alabama governor George Wallace eventually supported Nixon. But the record shows that at the outset of ’68 campaign, Nixon polled at 42 percent, Humphrey at 29 percent, and Wallace at 22 percent. On election day, Nixon and Humphrey were tied at 43 percent, with Wallace at 13 percent. The 9 percent of the national vote that defected from Wallace went to Humphrey and the Democratic Party.
OK, I’ve posted a lot over the past couple of days and I’m taking my sons to California tomorrow for a week to visit Disneyland, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo. Until I return, discuss among yourselves.