Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Conservatives Let Slip the Demons of Racism Back Into the Conservative Movement

An Ugly Trend in Current Politics

It is impossible to discuss the racism of the first 70 years of the 20th Century without noting how strongly entwined racism was with a part of (but not all of) the Conservative movement.  In this case Conservative means Conservative, it does not mean Republican or Democrat or any political party. 

In fact, for much of the 20th Century the racism in American culture was more a part of the Democratic party than the Republican party.  The Democrats, starting with Woodrow Wilson, a virulent racist and segregationist made a deal with the South.  Southern Democrats would support the national Democratic party and national Democrats would leave the South alone to implement official racism like segregated facilities, segregated schools and denial of basic rights to African Americans.

The country began to change with the Presidency of Harry Truman (D) who integrated the armed services, and the Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower (R) who enforced the court orders to desegregate schools, using troops when necessary.  (see Mr. Gingrich, this is what a President does.  He enforces the laws, he does not abrogate them.  A historian would know this.) This was a bi-partisan change, and bi-partisan support of civil rights culminated in Democrats and Republicans together passing the great Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s. 

Conservatives after that chose to go with the Republican party, aided by a willing Republican party that pursued a “southern strategy” designed to appeal to the Caucasian population of the South and to split America by race.  Allowing racist policies like segregation and discrimination by the private sector was championed under the Conservative mantra of not having government interfere in the lives of private citizens.

To their credit, national Republican leaders never embraced the racist aspect of Conservatism, and whatever criticisms of Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush can be made, racists beliefs is not amongst them. (Mr. Reagan did start his campaign in a place in Mississippi where civil rights advocates were murdered, but that is the exception).  The senior Mr. Bush rejected a Klan leader who ran for Governor of Louisiana under the Republican banner.   But the racist element in Conservatism has always been there, today small and below the surface.  In the current campaign though it is no longer confined to a small minority; it is beginning to creep into mainstream Conservative thought.

Consider the case with Newt Gingrich.  Mr. Gingrich wants to address the NAACP and tell them this.

 Singling out African-Americans, Gingrich declared that he’d attend the NAACP just to tell African-Americans why they should “not be satisfied with food stamps”:

GINGRICH: More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history. Now, there’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, “Would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks,” you wouldn’t [SIC] end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck.

And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which should be particularly good for African-American males — because they’re the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span.

In Mr. Gingrich’s mind African Americans are associated with Food Stamps, and Mr. Gingrich will apparently unveil a Social Security program that responds to the shorter life expectancy of African American males, as opposed to addressing social programs like increasing the availability of health care that would help everyone lead longer, more productive lives.

Then there is the case of that great compassionate leader, Rick Santorum.  From CBS News we have this.

At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa on Sunday, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum singled out blacks as being recipients of assistance through federal benefit programs, telling a mostly-white audience he doesn't want to "make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money."
Answering a question about foreign influence on the U.S. economy, the former Pennsylvania senator went on to discuss the American entitlement system - which he argued is being used to politically exploit its beneficiaries.
"It just keeps expanding - I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don't sign up more people under the Medicaid program," Santorum said. "They're just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That's what the bottom line is."
He added: "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

About as big a bigoted racial stereotype as one can find in modern political discussion. 

The Ron Paul campaign, and the history of Mr. Paul show the intertwining of racism and Conservative thought, and that has already been documented by The Dismal Political Economist and by others. 

Finally we come to a column by ultra conservative Kimberley Strassel in the Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Strassel is commenting on the relationship between working class Americans and the Republican party.  Ms. Strassel divides the election campaign by race

If Republicans have an opening this year, it is with the white working class, a crowd the Democratic Party has been hemorrhaging for decades. Barack Obama did better than John Kerry or Al Gore with these voters, though even he earned just 43% of their vote.

Obviously going back to the Nixonian years of appealing to Americans by race, and appealing to white Americans at the expense of African Americans for the simple reason that there are more white American voters than African American voters, and for the less obvious reason that people like Ms. Strassel, Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum don’t really care about African Americans.

The core of Ms. Strassel’s piece of work is that both Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum are committing, in her mind, the unpardonable sin of trying to present policies that will help lower income working families (don’t worry Ms. Strassel, they really aren’t) and not presenting policies to help the rich.  She concludes with another exhortation for Republican candidates to appeal to voters on the basis of race.

These are mistakes Ronald Reagan would never have made. The Californian was great at identifying with Everyman, but he never pitted the classes against each other. He understood the winning politics of growth and how to tie the aspirations of average earners with those more successful. His was a message of opportunity and optimism, and if the 2010 election showed anything, it was that the white working class is more open than ever to hearing that argument again. (emphasis added)

Don’t look for this trend toward the ugly resurrection of separating voters by race and appealing to voters on the basis of race to receive much commentary from any side.  It is just too shameful too acknowledge for too many non-bigoted Conservatives and requires too much courage for those who have a wider audience and influence than this Forum.

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