Tuesday, April 27, 2010

GOP Wrote Off Blacks With 'Southern Strategy' -- And Now They're Writing Off Latinos, Too

Republican Chairman Michael Steele's Admission That the Party of Lincoln Betrayed African-Americans by 'Focusing on the White Male Vote in the South' for 40-Plus Years Predictably Draws Fire From White GOP Conservatives, But the Republicans Are Still Using Their 'Southern Strategy' -- This Time Against Hispanic Americans

Demonstrators hold up a giant American flag during a mass demonstration in support of comprehensive immigration reform on the National Mall in Washington in March. In an extraordinary admission, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele acknowledged that his party -- founded in 1854 as an anti-slavery party -- betrayed African-American voters in 1968 by openly appealing to conservative Southern whites opposed to the civil rights movement. But the party's infamous "Southern Strategy" is far from dead. With GOP-dominated Arizona's newly-enacted crackdown on illegal immigrants, combined with incendiary anti-Latino rhetoric by several prominent Republicans on the immigration issue, the GOP is now running a serious risk of permanently alienating Hispanic Americans -- the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc. (Photo: Ryan Roderick Beiler/Sojourners Magazine)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 27, 2010)


An extraordinary thing happened in Chicago last Tuesday night.

In a speech at DePaul University, Michael Steele, the Republican Party's first African-American national chairman, told some 200 students that black voters "really don't have a reason" to vote for Republicans.

"We [Republicans] haven't done a very good job of really giving you one," he said.

In a remarkably candid assessment of his party's standing with black voters, Steele told his audience that the GOP had lost sight of "the historic, integral link between the party and African-Americans."

Noting that the Republican Party was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, "This party was co-founded by blacks, among them Frederick Douglass," Steele said. "The Republican Party had a hand in forming the NAACP, and yet we have mistreated that relationship. People don't walk away from parties, Their parties walk away from them."


Steele's candor didn't sit well with a number of conservatives. In an e-mail to Washington Post blogger David Weigel, conservative economist Bruce Bartlett slammed Steele's remarks as "his biggest gaffe so far."

Bartlett acknowledged that "The term 'Southern strategy' is such a loaded term, like 'states' rights,' that it's hard to use it without conveying a certain racial stereotype. The fact that Steele used that term is, therefore, significant in and of itself."

"Ironically," Bartlett noted, "the Voting Rights Act is what made it possible for Republicans to compete in the South. Once blacks could no longer be kept from voting in primaries [where winning the Democratic nomination was tantamount to election], there was no longer any reason for whites to remain Democrats. Many found the Republican Party more attractive. Of course, the national party reached out to them, but the idea that they used racial code words like 'law and order' is nonsense. . ."

Bartlett said he thought that it was "too bad that Steele gave Democrats reason to believe that their distorted vision of how Republicans came to dominate the South is correct. It may be his biggest gaffe so far."

Greg Alexander, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise institute think tank, was even more dismissive in his own e-mail to Weigel. "For four decades, national GOP strategists and candidates have certainly valued Southern white voters," Alexander wrote. "At the margins, that's meant accommodating them on some racial issues. But notice that Nixon did not repeal and instead enforced the '64 [Civil Rights] Act, did not 'retreat' on school desegregation nearly the way he has been indicted for doing, and launched affirmative action and minority business contracting as we now know them."


Steele was historically inaccurate about Frederick Douglass. He wasn't a co-founder of the GOP, but he was a staunch supporter of the party until his death in 1895 and often conferred with President Abraham Lincoln -- and even his Democratic successor, Andrew Johnson -- on the treatment of black U.S. soldiers during and after the Civil War.

But Steele was right about Republicans having a hand in the founding of the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil-rights organization, was co-founded on February 12, 1909 -- the centennial anniversary of Lincoln's birth -- by several prominent black Republicans, including W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells and Archibald Grimke.

The NAACP was founded six months after a deadly race riot in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois in 1908, in which angry white mobs attacked and burned the city's black residential and business district to the ground, killing scores of the city's black residents.


For nearly a century after its founding, African-Americans were the Republican Party's most loyal voting constituency. This was, after all, the party of the "Great Emancipator." The fact that the Democratic Party was far from friendly to blacks -- especially in the Deep South, where Democrats wrote, passed and strictly enforced the region's blatantly racist "Jim Crow" segregation laws -- didn't leave African-American voters (That is, those outside the South who could vote) much of a choice.

Things began to change in 1947, when President Harry S. Truman, a Democrat, issued an executive order to desegregate the Army and introduced civil-rights legislation to Congress the following year. This resulted in conservative southern white delegates walking out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention in protest. The southerners later formed the States' Rights Party -- which came to be known as the "Dixiecrats" -- with South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond as its presidential nominee.

By the 1960s, the Democratic Party was a house bitterly divided -- pitting northern liberals against southern conservatives -- over civil rights for African-Americans. It took the support of Republicans in Congress, mostly northern and midwestern liberals and moderates, to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

President Lyndon Johnson, a southerner from Texas, confided to his aide, Bill Moyers (now a prominent TV newsman and commentator) after signing these two landmark bills into law, that "We've lost the South for a generation."

By "we," Johnson meant his Democratic Party. But what Johnson didn't anticipate was that the Republicans were about to lose Black America for a generation -- and longer -- when Barry Goldwater won the GOP nomination in 1964. Goldwater voted against both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (which he publicly regretted years later).

The damage to the GOP's standing with African-Americans had only just begun.


Enter Richard Nixon. In a bold and determined comeback bid eight years after losing his first run for the White House to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Nixon devised an electoral strategy for victory in 1968 that forever altered the character of the Republican Party -- and turned the fortunes of both major parties completely upside-down.

It was a formula best described by Kevin Phillips, a top Nixon campaign strategist, in a 1970 interview with The New York Times: "From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the [African-American] vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

"The more [blacks] who register as Democrats in the South," Phillips continued, "the sooner the [anti-black] whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."


But after more than four decades -- and despite the election of a black man as its national chairman -- the Republicans' "Southern Strategy" is still very much alive and now threatens to alienate another entire segment of the electorate: Hispanic Americans.

Unlike blacks, however, Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population -- and of the electorate. A recently-released study of U.S. Census Bureau data by the University of New Hampshire predicts that non-white births will likely outpace white births sometime this year -- and that the Latino birth rate already is outpacing the white birth rate in the Southwest, particularly California.

Republicans in California have been paying a devastatingly high political price ever since they pushed through Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative designed to prohibit illegal immigrants from using the state's social services, health care, and public education.

The measure, introduced by Republican state Assemblyman Dick Mountjoy and strongly backed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, passed with 59 percent of the vote -- only to be struck down by the federal courts on the grounds that immigration is the exclusive domain of the federal government.

With the California Republican Party having so strongly backed Prop. 187, Hispanic voters -- who now comprise 40 percent of the state's electorate -- have severely punished Republicans at the ballot box, handing control of both houses of the legislature and four of the five top statewide offices to the Democrats in every statewide election since Prop. 187 passed.

In that same period, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- a moderate who is himself an immigrant from Austria -- is the only Republican who's escaped Latino voters' wrath and win a statewide race in California.


The debate over illegal immigration proved too hot for Republican President George W. Bush to handle. For Bush -- who has a sister-in-law and two nieces who are Latina -- the issue became personal. He lobbied hard for Congress in 1997 to pass a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that would pave the way for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. to become legal residents.

But an open revolt by conservatives in his own party sank the measure.

In one of his last interviews before leaving office, Bush warned his fellow Republicans not to turn the GOP into an "anti-immigrant party." Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Bush said the GOP "should be open-minded about big issues like immigration reform, because if we're viewed as anti-somebody -- in other words, if the party is viewed as anti-immigrant -- then another fellow may say, 'Well, if they're against the immigrant, they may be against me.'"

But Bush's warning to his fellow Republicans has apparently fallen on deaf ears.


Last week, Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed into law a measure passed by the GOP-controlled legislature which allows police to question and detain anyone in the state they believe may be an illegal immigrant.

Critics of the new law warn that it would lead to widespread discrimination against Latinos, including Mexican-Americans, who make up nearly a third of the state's population, according to 2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Police in Phoenix reported Monday that vandals smeared refried beans into the shape of a Nazi swastika onto the glass doors of the state Capitol building. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a sharp critic of the new law, accused many supporters of the measure as being not just misguided but also racist.

"It's just morally wrong," Gordon, a Democrat, told CBS News Monday. "This country is not about having people wear arm bands with Jewish stars or in this case, Hispanic brown symbols."

Gordon branded the law "clearly unconstitutional."


The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has vowed to challenge the measure in court. And -- in a possible repeat of what happened in California -- Latino community and political groups across the state have vowed an all-out campaign to oust Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of it.

Even a Fox News analyst openly warned that the new law will be "a disaster for Arizona" and trigger a huge backlash against Republicans by Latino voters.

Appearing Friday on "Your World with Neal Cavuto," Napolitano, a former federal judge, bluntly warned that "Hispanics -- who have a natural home in the Republican Party because they are socially conservative -- will flee [the GOP] in droves."

The new law is "gonna bankrupt the Republican Party and the state of Arizona," Napolitano predicted. "Look at what happened to the Republicans in California with Proposition 187!"

Napolitano added that the measure "is so unconstitutional that I predict a federal judge will prevent Arizona from enforcing it as soon as they attempt to do so."

# # #

Volume V, Number 19
Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Anonymous said...

And, just as there are still a sizable number of blacks who vote Republican there will no doubt continue to be Hispanics who vote Republican.

The fact that so many people vote against their own interest seems to be what keeps the Republican party going; that and the fact that the votes are largely counted by voting machines that Republicans have under their control.

Skeeter Sanders said...

I wouldn't call FOUR PERCENT of African-American voters casting their votes for Republicans "sizable" by any stretch of the imagination.