It was the era of the civil rights struggle in America. As is the case today, there were two reigning political parties in America: The Republican Party and the Democratic Party. However, all was not the same WITHIN these parties. In fact, on many policy positions, the parties were “flipped,” compared to their modern equivalents. Up until the 1960′s, the Republicans had been called the “Party of Lincoln.“ They were known, as was President Abraham Lincoln, for their support of civil rights and equality, and a strong federal government which takes full precedence over decisions made at the state level. It is important to note that they had already changed in one, significant way from the days of Lincoln: while Lincoln had (following what is known as the American School of economics) shown a marked distaste for corporations, instituted the Federal income tax, raised taxes, raised tariffs, funded large public infrastructure projects, and created a series of national banks…the Republican party had abandoned these ideas following the presidency of Herbert Hoover, and now clearly supported “big business” and corporations, lowered taxes and tariffs, and opposed federal banks and public works projects.
The Democrats of the civil rights era didn’t have too much in common with the Democrats of today, either. They were not the diverse party they are now, nor did they place a strong emphasis on civil rights. In fact, during the civil rights struggles…they tended to stick with their platform of states’ rights, and to assert that each individual state could decide on how to handle matters of discrimination, workplace inequality, and segregation. They did have one, big advantage in the South: As the party representing workers and unions over management and “big business,” they held dominant sway over the southern states, which were more heavily populated by working class and impoverished citizens than the other regions of the country.
Looking back at the two parties surely has a sort of “looking glass” feel to it. Each party was “halfway” towards the policies it holds today…with only one major ideological flip needed to set things as they are now. This change would come courtesy of the Republican Party and its new president in the early 1970′s: Richard Milhous Nixon. Nixon, who had come from a very poor background himself, knew of one sure way to lure southern voters away from the Democratic Party’s grasp. One subject that would outweigh the voters’ interest in jobs, income, and all other areas of economic self-interest. Race. Nixon’s use of race to influence voting, often accompanied with “social conservatism” issues, would form the heart of what has come to be known in politics as the “Southern Strategy” of the GOP. This was not a completely new strategy. In fact, during the civil rights struggles, Democrats had widely employed race-baiting, a cornerstone of the “Southern Strategy,” as a defense against the coming wave of changes, and with some success…they had won some battles, while losing the overall war. Republicans, like Nixon, would perfect its usage as a political tactic.
You see, “race-baiting” is the politically-safer, passive-aggressive version of “overt racism.“ The time had come in America when overtly racist statements would cause the speaker to lose support among liberals, moderates, and even many conservatives. While many people at the time still held racist beliefs, there was a growing common understanding that it was not acceptable to utter them aloud. Race-baiting allowed politicians and other public figures to address racist voters, to play upon their prejudice-based fears…while still being able to deny that they had said anything “racist.” Examples include:
- Showing photos, statistics, or simply retelling events in such a way as to make people of a particular race look menacing or dangerous.
- Making claims of people of a particular race “taking over” in terms of a locale, an industry, government power.
- Making claims that measures intended to help a disadvantaged group overcome institutionalized prejudice are giving them an “unfair advantage.“
- Offering racists “substitution terms.” For example, instead of calling a person a racist term, substituting terms like “foreign,” or “socialist/communist/fascist,” or simply inferring that they are “arrogant,” or that they otherwise “don’t know their place.“
- Intimating that the previously dominant race or culture is “under attack” by the other race. This attack may come in terms of social norms, dress, music, religion…or even accusations inferring that interracial reproduction some sort of “danger.”
Suffice it to say, the strategy worked for the Republicans, and southern voters have strongly supported them to this day. The transformation was now complete. Democrats had become the party for minorities, civil rights, centralized government power, labor and unions, higher taxes, and public works. Republicans had become the party of big business, lower taxes, smaller government, states’ rights…and prejudice.
Then for nearly forty years…the Republicans didn’t need the “Southern Strategy” as much. The public trusted their assurances that they were the party of “fiscal responsibility” and “foreign policy experience” and so from the Reagan years to the end of the presidency of George W. Bush…the tactics were rarely employed. That is, until Barack Obama was elected. That is, until the people of this country found out that they were anything but “responsible” with the country’s finances and anything but “skilled” in terms of dealing with either friends OR enemies abroad.
With no accomplishments to brag about, and their economic and diplomatic skills under fire, Republicans, the Tea Party, and the rest of the nation’s conservatives would resort to using the “Southern Strategy” once again. Only this time, they had new tools to aid with its implementation: the internet and Fox News. This time, the would not only target black Americans…but also foreigners (particularly Hispanics), gays, and Muslims.
Here’s Rachel Maddow, giving clear examples of Fox News’ ongoing attempts to play on the fears of white Americans:
Fox News and the conservative blogosphere went after Obama’s advisor on Environmental Equality, Van Jones, with nearly incessant coverage portraying him as someone with “dangerously radical” views on race, and as a “Marxist” or “Leninist.”
They also went after Kevin Jennings, Obama’s pick for “Safe and Drug-Free Schools” czar…by attacking him for being gay, insinuating that he was somehow pro-pedophilia, and stirring fears that he would allow gay teachers to “turn students gay.”
They attacked Chai Feldblum, Obama’s appointment to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission…by stoking fears that she would “promote gay sex,” and would give gays a hiring advantage over heterosexuals.
They have repeatedly covered items related to an ongoing theme: the supposed “war” on Christianity. Any other religious group enjoying the freedom to practice their religioun…is portrayed as a “threat” to Christians being able to practice theirs. Sound ridiculous? That’s because it IS, and this was not lost on Jon Stewart of The Daily Show:
They gave a lot of time, and tacit support, to the new Arizona law, which unconstitutionally requires Arizona’s police to ask anyone “suspected” of being an illegal alien to prove his or her citizenship. They allowed the bill’s supporters to tell their viewing audience about the murders, kidnappings, and beheadings occurring in their state due to lax border enforcement. Of course, what Fox did not do…is to point out that there have been no such beheadings, and that violent crimes in these states have actually DECREASED over recent years.
Recently they went after the Department of Agriculture’s Shirley Sherrod, citing that a film clip of her speaking at an event was just “another example” of blacks in the Obama administration who are racially discriminatory against whites. The clip was quickly revealed to be deceptively edited…Sherrod was actually telling a morality tale about overcoming racism, and the speech took place many years before she was even a federal employee.
For the last week, they have been allowing a single story to dominate their headlines. They show a picture of two “menacing” black men from the New Black Panthers standing outside a polling place, stoking fears of black radicals taking over the political process. Of course, they don’t focus on the fact that the men were removed by police, banned from serving as poll-watchers, and that the Justice Department justifiably decided not to press charges against the men because the case was so weak. They also don’t point out that while there are an abundance of case examples of voter intimidation being perpetrated against blacks in this country…there is just this one, ridiculous example of the reverse ever occurring.
And countless times…Fox went after Obama himself. They gave “birthers,” those that claim Obama is not an American citizen, lots of air time. They’ve attempted to paint him as “arrogant,” or “socialist,” or as “pushing a black agenda,” at every available opportunity. They’ve even gone so far as to directly call Obama…a “racist.” In fact, that’s the real hidden “trick” behind race-baiting: Since you’re not making overtly racist statements, if anyone accuses you of racism…just deny it, blast them for “playing the race card,” and if they are a minority member, you accuse THEM of being racist/prejudiced against YOU. This was recently the case when the NAACP called for the Tea Party to condemn the racist positions of some of their supporters, due to the PROVEN fact that a number of white-supremacy groups openly support the Tea Party. So how did the Tea Party respond? They feigned outrage at the suggestion that ALL of them are racists, even though no such allegation had been made, and…wait for it…accused the NAACP of being racist against white people. It was only when the Tea Party’s spokesperson made obviously racist comments on his blog, that he was forced to resign.
I hear the effects of this strategy every day, living in the South. I hear men and women I work with whisper things about how “hard it is to be white, and Christian” these days. They moan about how they are “under attack.“ They fear the “effect” that society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality will have on their children. They swear, incorrectly, that ours was founded as a “Christian nation,” and that people of other faiths should build their churches elsewhere. They complain about “Mexicans,” who according to them cause crime to rise (incorrect), and who steal “their” jobs (also incorrect), and who soak up massive amounts of tax dollars by receiving free services (yup…also incorrect). They complain that their lives would be “so much easier” if they were black, Hispanic, or some other minority, and had everything “given to them.” These are the fruits of the “Southern Strategy” of race-baiting: Large numbers of semi-literate, white people feeling victimized and threatened by the very idea that someone else….someone DIFFERENT…might now live, work, worship alongside them. Told that the racism they have held, quietly in their hearts…can now be expressed as long as they do it using certain careful terms, certain substitutions, certain “code.” Told that even in expressing their racism, THEY are not racists…because they are the victims of the racism of the minorities.
Lo! How the mighty “Party of Lincoln” has fallen.
I only see one cure: We must rediscover our passion for the American ideals that were set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Read it here. I know, it’s been some time since you read it…so really let it sink in. Now study the Founding Fathers and their passions…and let those passions become yours. For it will only be when we all accept the universality of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…that our nation will experience true growth, true unity, true national greatness. It will only be when all Americans embrace the idea that this nation was created as a haven of racial, religious, ideological, and political tolerance…that we will be able to focus our true and full attentions on the very real problems that face our country, and that keep us from thriving. It will only be when we all accept that one group’s religious doctrine was never meant to dominate our government, our schools, our workplaces, or our laws…that we will see that it is not about what you or I believe, but instead, it is about what all of us agree on together.
And most of all: We must abandon our fears…especially our fears of each other. Then…we must condemn those who play upon our fears for little more than petty, partisan purposes. Shame on you, Republicans….shame on you, Fox News….shame on you Tea Party….shame on you Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, WorldNetDaily, Rush Limbaugh, and all you other ideologues. And shame on us…for ever having listened to them.
I’ll leave you with Keith Olbermann’s spirited call to reject race-baiting…if we all had such passion, it would already be a thing of the past: