The NBRA Explains The “Southern Strategy”

One thing that has always confused me is the Right Wing’s obsession with recounting the racist history of the Democratic Party and the anti-slavery origins of the Republican Party that inevitably seems to end right around the mid-1960s.  

For example, we wrote a report about right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton a few years back that examined a video he produced called “American History in Black and White” in which he diligently recounts the atrocities committed by early members of what was then the Democratic Party and ties them into positions held by current members of the party:

Barton claims that Democrats hailed the Dred Scott decision because it affirmed “their belief that it was proper to have slavery and hold African Americans in bondage.” He then takes it a step further, making a direct comparison between this decision and modern Democrats’ support of reproductive choice for women, claiming “Democrats have largely taken that same position in unborn human life, that an unborn human is really just disposable property to do with as one wishes. African Americans were the victims of this disposable property ideology a century and a half ago, and still are today … For over a century and a half, Democrats have wrongly argued that some human life is merely disposable personal property and black Americans have suffered most under this philosophy.”

On and on he went, until he reached the for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, at which point his “history lesson” ended.  

This tactic continues even today – just last week the Wall Street Journal ran a piece accusing the Democratic National Committee of posting a history of the party on its website that is “so sanitized of historical reality it makes Stalin look like historian David McCullough.” Not surprisingly, the WSJ piece received prominence on the website of the National Black Republican Association, whose leader, Frances Rice, has made it her mission  to inform the world about what “Democrats have done in the past and are doing now to black people … They are keeping blacks in virtual slavery.”

The obvious question raised by all of this is not why the Democrats are reluctant to discuss it, but why right-wingers who are obsessed with it never manage to explain the so-called “Southern Strategy” employed by Richard Nixon to win over traditional Southern Democrats who were angry by the party’s emerging pro-civil rights positions.  As Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips explained it:   

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro 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 Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe 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.

Ronald Regan’s strategist Lee Atwater was even more blunt about the reasoning behind the strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “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.”

Given that, beginning in the late 1960s, the GOP made a concerted and successful to court Southern voters who had traditionally been supporters of the Democratic Party which, as the Right loves to point out, was fundamentally racist, it has been confusing to understand how those who hammer this point rationalize this obvious disconnect.  Usually, they do so by not talking about it. 

But finally someone shed some light on this question when the NBRA’s Rice explained the history of the “Southern Strategy” at a sparsely attended conference earlier this month.  You see, it was not that Nixon and the GOP were courting racist Southern voters; Nixon was really just trying to get the “fair-minded people in the South to stop discriminating against blacks”:

That strategy was designed to get the fair-minded people in the South to stop discriminating against blacks and to stop supporting a party that did not share their values.  So those fair-minded ones who migrated to the Republican Party did so.  They joined us, we did not join the racists.

If Rice’s history is correct, how does she explain that both President Bush
and former RNC chair Ken Mehlman apologized for the Southern Strategy, with Mehlman admitting in 2005 that “Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”