Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tappin' out the code - The GOP and the Southern Strategy

There is a whole generation of young Republicans raised on the coded racism of the Southern Strategy who have no idea that what they are hearing, and often repeating, is in fact coded racism.

Atwater with Pres George HW Bush at a 1989 inaugural party
I asked a young Republican friend in deep denial (and not a racist by any measure) why he thought Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 general election campaign from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a small farming town of about 5000 people in the middle of nowhere. Philadelphia Mississippi is famous for two things: the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman (the subject of the 1988 film, "Mississippi Burning"), and Reagan's 1980 speech that offered a ringing endorsement of states rights.  Tappin' out the code,....

Lee Atwater spent his life in Republican politics using the Southern Strategy to play on the racist sentiments of white voters in and out of the South. Lee Atwater was the father of 'push polling' used to smear an opponent under the guise of an 'independent pollster'. For instance, In a 1980 SC congressional campaign, Atwater used a push poll to inform white voters that his Democratic opponent was a member of the NAACP.  One of Atwater's most despicable acts also came in this race and has come to be known as the 'jumper cable' episode.

Immediately after the 1980 SC congressional campaign, Atwater joined the Reagan Administration under political director Ed Rollins.

In 1981, then Reagan political aid Lee Atwater gave an interview to political scientist Alexander Lamis who was researching his book, "The Two Party South." Atwater, quoted anonymously,  explained the Southern Strategy in blunt terms,   
LEE ATWATER: As to the whole Southern strategy that [Nixon political strategist] Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964 and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.

QUESTIONER: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?

ATWATER: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Lamis identified Atwater as the source of the above quote in his follow-up book, "Southern Politics in the 1990s" published after Atwater's death in 1991 from brain cancer.

Atwater was a Republican hit in the 1980's.  He was the campaign manager of George H.W. Bush in 88 and the mastermind behind the Willie Horton' attack

Karl Rove was an acolyte of Lee Atwater and used what he leaned from Atwater to effectively end McCain's 2000 campaign by push polling McCain in South Carolina by asking white voters "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain...if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" The McCains adopted daughter, Bridgette, 8 years old at the time, is from Bangladesh.

It's fair to say that with time the Southern Strategy might be less important to the GOP, but it's no coincidence that the GOP is now a captive party of the South.  And if you listen with an honest ear, you can hear Romney tappin'out the code in 2012.

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