I almost spewed coffee all over my screen. I had just opened a "Haley Barbour" news alert and read that our esteemed former governor had accused Democrats of playing the "race card."
"Name a campaign in the last 25 years where the Dems didn't play the race card," Barbour told BuzzFeed. "Surprise!"
Indeed, it is not surprising to see a leader of a party that is getting more white as the years go by complain that someone who challenges racism is "playing the race card."
It's not really any more surprising than listening to people who know little about what's actually in Obamacare or what he really did on Medicare or welfare, but who loathe Barack Obama for reasons they can't quite place. Or the folks who love to spew that Obama (and any fool who would support him) are socialists! Or communists! (Nope, he's not either.)
Of course, neither were most people in the 1960s who believed blacks should be able to vote or use public restrooms--but those, uh, radicals were called socialists and communists by people with similar regressive ideals for America as too many in today's GOP.
But to hear Barbour put himself out there as the arbiter of what is and is not racism, or the "race card," would be hilarious if not so infuriating. Barbour long ago sold out his home state of Mississippi, back when he helped his mentor, the political strategist Lee Atwater, and neo-Republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan infect the nation with the "southern strategy"--the game of appealing to the worst natures of white Americans.
There is no secret here--at least inside the Washington beltway or in political circles anywhere in America. It is fact, and a simple narrative: After the national Democratic Party rejected the segregationist demands of the Dixiecrats back in the 1960s, it lost the racist white vote of the south and beyond. The Republican Party, a fiscally reasonable party that was actually the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, saw a way to then remake itself and fatten its ranks: It went after those southern whites who were, then, ticked off over forced integration.
That set off a decades-long party switcheroo that seems to have come into full fruition this year. Remember: This is the same party that African Americans used to be proud members of before it turned on them in the 1960s. Now, it has become the party of corporate barons that is willing to stop at nothing to get people who won't benefit from their policies to vote for the candidates they back--who are willing to sell Americans up a racist river.
And that is the part that makes me the angriest: The elite leaders of the Republican Party and their wealthiest backers are just fine with their belief that most white people are racist. Or at least racist enough to believe outright lies about Obama (go to factcheck.org) designed to make white people think a black president is going to "redistribute" what they worked so hard for and turn it over to "his" people. (And they're not picturing the Irish side.)
We've been down this road many times since the GOP embraced this disgusting strategy: the Willie Horton scare ad, the black "welfare mothers" myth, the debunked young black "super-predator" crime hysteria hawked by Bill Bennett and other GOP drug "czars."
All of these ploys came straight from the Atwater-Barbour playbook. Say something to make scared white people conjure up visions of black folks taking their stuff or hurting their women; then blame the "liberal media" if you're called out on it--or, more recently, say that the person challenging your brilliance is "playing the race card." Then all the whiteys will flock to the polls, vote against their best interests and help enrich the Koch Brothers even more, even as they lose their right to sue negligent doctors and corporations, watch educational opportunities shrink and go back to pre-Obama health-insurance nightmares.
Skeptical? Here's how now-deceased Lee Atwater explained the southern strategy in 1981, during the first year Ronald Reagan was president, in an interview with a Case Western Reserve University political-science professor. "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Ngger, ngger, ngger,'" Atwater explained. "By 1968, you can't say 'ngger'--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." (I added the asterisks.)
This nasty stuff has infected Republican strategy now for too many years. Not every Republican agrees, of course. In fact, when Ken Mehlman was Republican National Committee chairman in 2005, he apologized for the GOP's use of the southern strategy to the NAACP's annual convention.
"Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization," Mehlman said, as reported by USA Today. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."
He continued: "It's not healthy for the country for our political parties to be so racially polarized. Just as the Democrats came to this (black) community in 1964 with something real to offer, today we Republicans have something that should cause you to take another look at the party of Lincoln."
Mehlman was right, but the GOP didn't take his advice with Mitt Romney now abandoning his more moderate roots to double down on whiteness. It is ugly with false ads about welfare flashing sympathetic white faces and even Romney himself telling birther jokes. Many misinformed people actually believe Obama is a Muslim--when he's the only mainline Protestant at the top of either ticket.
Then, if any of us dare to talk about the race-baiting, or even stand up and say "STOP treating whites like racists!," Barbour and his buddies blame us for bringing up race when they're the ones in the lily-white party trying to run on whiteness while they still can.
It's never been easy to call out racism. They will always call us socialist, communist, angry or worse. This is nothing new.
The good news is that with younger generations of all races who are sick of racism and don't want to just be in roomfuls of people of only one race, the southern strategy's days are numbered. Let's stand together and end it this year. Maybe then, the GOP can feel free to again become the Party of Lincoln.