The GOP’s Arc of Racial Strategy


Dorothea Lange Photo. Person County, NC. July 1936.       daughter-of-white-tobacco-sharecropper-at-country-store-person-county-north-carolina-ju39.

Dorothea Lange Photo. Person County, NC. July 1936.
daughter-of-white-tobacco-sharecropper-at-country-store-person-county-north-carolina-ju39.

The current arc of Republican success begins with Nixon’s Southern strategy, a program of ideology, voting restrictions, and coalition-building around race and white entitlement to power. Harry Dent and others (including a young Lee Atwater) laid out the framework. Thurmond led Southern Democrats into the GOP. He supported Goldwater, shepherded Nixon past Reagan’s challenge, and was an early user of the term, “socialist.” (Yet, he was careful to fund infra-structure in black communities–and everything he opposed passed in spite of him–but he and Bob Dole involved cloture on Jesse Helms’ filibuster to pass the King holiday bill!)

Enormously successful at the grassroots and state levels, this race-based strategy led to a mass exodus of Southern Democrats and a new GOP ascendancy. The glue between conservatives and populists was always race; now it no longer holds. The same forces that pulled Obama to success pulled up hidden and embedded racism in the society.

Hence, the confusion. Unable to admit “race fail,” they have no options. As a populist force, racism is very alive. But it no longer translates politically. None of the GOP models, including Ross’, will find success until the GOP resets its racial appeal.

(Primarily, I tell stories. Some concrete: personal, community, historic, with details, images that enter creative space and time. Some abstract: a look at values and ideas that are inside our souls and are the silent actions and unspoken words of our lives. This used to be called “deep thought.” It’s my favorite place. It often draws responses as it did here, on Paul Krugman’s column. /wr)

Slavery and the Search for Historic Memory


Lenox Avenue (looking south) at 116th Street. Harlem, New York City.

Lenox Avenue (looking south) at 116th Street. Harlem, New York City.

I see a neat match between our current place and the landed gentry who decided selling human beings from auction blocks was a capital idea–after trading with corrupt leaders for their capture, and disposing of those who died in route by dumping the bodies into the sea as great whites tore the flesh off the falling bones. Nothing defined America’s political parties, inside and outside, the rich and poor, and the common collective consciousness, its “governance,” like weekly arriving barks and schooners of Africans. Law, will, and make-believe turned them into a half million enslaved.

I’m amazed that historic memory, the search for the right match for the contemporary moment never removes the dust from slavery’s massive footprints! Then and now, it has much too say. Then and now, cognitive dissonance suspended fact and belief successfully–on women’s rights, voting, immigration, wealth privilege, deregulation and cases of cause and effect and on human freedom itself.

The main difference of consensus, displayed in the last two elections, is race as a factor of a broad, tacit agreement about who holds privilege and power has been removed. For once, politics ran ahead of society!

As Barack was pulled up, the movement and effort pulled dormant layers of attitudes and acts of racism. Disturb the status quo and new ugliness (resistance and resentments!) always emerges. It is a historic principle for all actions of change. So what we see is the depths of a racism that was before lingering still and quiet–that some, to deny it, call “post-racial.”

Barack’s victory has produced a brutal politics even as other racial elements remain.

The latest idea, rebranding black conservatives as Frederick Douglass Republicans, tries to reset history away from its substance (making visible the pandering contempt and disrespect conservatives have for truth, principles, and blacks!)–and ignores the lessons of George Wallace-D and Strom Thurmond-R (both won black votes!): make a sincere mea culpa backed by action; bark loudly but never bite.