The Southern Strategy's Last Stand?

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JFP Editor Donna Ladd

The week before the election, I wrote a column calling for white Republicans to reject the racist "southern strategy" of national politicians pandering for the bigoted vote (and, thus, spreading bigotry when it should be disappearing). As I'd hoped, the southern strategy was upended election night--nationally anyway.

Sadly, its demise wasn't at the hands of the people who had been promoting this nasty political strategy over the years (or their media surrogates like FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart). The rest of the country--a wonderful coalition of blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, young voters and a bunch of fed-up white women--stood together to turn back a party that lost its way some years ago, and that couldn't bring itself to face that it had become a haven for a shrinking base of "angry white guys," as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said during the Republican Convention this year.

The rest of the country forced a bizarre last stand on conservative white America, which had stood aside and accepted a racist campaign against the president and then apparently went into the evening thinking they were going to win in a landslide, regardless of clear data indicating otherwise.

Four years ago, we heard lots of talk of whether America was "post-racial" after bi-racial Barack Obama was elected, but the ugly bigotry--from the blatant resurgence of the N-word in public to slightly more subtle lies about him weakening welfare work rules pushed by Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and conservative media--really rose to the top while he was the president. We saw an ugly obstructionist movement rise up against Obama like we've never seen. Even though the president is fiscally moderate and adopted many Republican ideas, the party seemed more bent on putting him in his place than actually helping the country, or veterans, or auto companies, or small businesses.

Why? We can only guess considering how white the GOP has defiantly remained and how diverse and united the rest of the nation has become around it.

Leading up to the election, I hoped this would be the last one with one lily-white party, bankrolled by the privileged, lying to poor whites to get them to vote against their own economic interests. And as the results came in election night, it actually started to feel like the real America had stood up and, with any luck, forced the current Republican leadership to see what it had done to itself and the nation by making deals with unsavory people with hateful ideas.

Then, just as President Obama was about to come out Tuesday night and give his acceptance speech, I saw a tweet from one of our interns about a disturbance at Ole Miss. I quickly did a Twitter search and, just as he started speaking, read tweets from black students saying white students were "rioting" at Ole Miss in response to his re-election.

God has a wicked sense of humor, I thought, to make a group of Ole Miss students lose their minds again over a powerful black man "beating" them. Or perhaps a greater power wanted us to finally confront these issues head on. Later, I heard about white adults and teens--not just in the South, although Mississippi and Alabama had the most--tweeting openly about the president as a n*gger, a monkey and even talking about his assassination. And now, it seems, some residents of southern states want to secede. (I suggest they all read the Mississippi Articles of Secession to remember what secession was about the first time, too.)

Becoming a post-racial society won't be easy, nor is achieving and maintaining freedom and equality for all Americans. Just like it was in the 1960s and the 1860s before that, it is going to be messy. We are going to see and hear things that shock us because many people are desperate to feel superior to others and really want a major political party and powerful people to tell them its OK.

Remember: Those Ole Miss students who shouted racial epithets and "The South Shall Rise Again" didn't just have a few beers and become raving lunatic racists willing to put their entire education, and futures, on the line to have some fun. They were taught to think this way. They were raised to believe they are superior, somehow, to Barack Obama. (Those words make me laugh a little even as I type them).

In recent months, these young people heard the GOP, dishonest conservative media, and friends and family and maybe some frat brothers, go around lying repeatedly about the president. He's Kenyan, he wasn't born in America, he's Muslim, he's not a Christian, he's a socialist, he's a communist, he ended the National Day of Prayer, he's a sleeper agent, he's doing the bidding of a daddy he met once ... all lies foisted on the nation by powerful folks who sow division and distrust in pursuit of the almighty buck.

Here's the thing: Hate never ends well. We are damn lucky that no student got hurt or even killed that night at Ole Miss. Right now in our state--with an economy reliant on federal resources--the Ku Klux Klan is resurging even as some so-called "values voters" are signing secession petitions. Why? Because supposedly smart people have egged them on for years now from the desks at FOX News to Tea Party rallies attended by our own governor. Make no mistake: What happened in front of residence halls at Ole Miss is a societal problem, and everyone who spread false rumors about the president owns a little piece of responsibility for it.

Fortunately, this entire arc of ugly is good for us all, ultimately. First, the Republican Party is now openly talking about how to fix its "demographic" problem. (Hint: Lip service won't work, nor will promoting a hatred of government or calling everything in sight "socialism." That's just dumb).

Second, racism and bigotry never go away because people decide to ignore it. Many people brand intelligent race discussions "racist" because they don't want to face the past. Somehow, they think talking honestly about our history, and our problems that resulted from it, makes us look bad. In fact, it is denial and refusal to talk about it that makes us look like we're living in the 19th century. Denial is never impressive.

Meantime, our state is on the bottom economically. Many residents still vote against policies that would help change that because someone powerful convinces them that it is "the other" trying to take their money. This division, cynically created by people who believe they benefit from it, keep the hate and distrust in place--not to mention a bad economy and world reputation.

Oh, and it drives our smart young people to move to more tolerant places.

While the national GOP is debating how to stop being racist, here in Mississippi people of all races must figure out that we sink or swim together, even as there are people who bank on us never being willing to heal our divides--and profit from it.

I just have one thing to say to that: Screw 'em. We can be better than this.


Comments

margeryfreeman 2 years ago

Kudos to Donna Ladd for continuing to speak out courageously and honestly about the effects of Mississippi's politicians' inequitable and injust policies and practices

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brjohn9 2 years ago

Secession is immoral, even when race isn't part of the equation. When we vote, we implicitly consent to being bound by the results. Sometimes, our candidate or cause does not win. Democracy demands that we accept the result. You cannot maintain a functioning democracy if the losing side simply picks up its toys and goes home.

But the secession talk is mostly just an embarrassing spasm. It's a temper tantrum by the folks who lost. It's a noisy way of refusing to grapple with what the election really means.

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brjohn9 2 years ago

It's a real question whether the GOP's (southern white conservative) base will allow it to adjust, even rhetorically. Reagan was happy to gobble up southern votes through the Southern Strategy. As with Atwater, this was cynical opportunism rather than racism. But in the end, it may be that the South consumed the GOP rather than the other way around.

The problem with gobbling up white southern voters is that they don't want to be in a coalition with anyone else because it requires compromise. Thus, they drive away other voters. They scuttled Bush's attempt to build an advantage among Latinos through the ferocity of their bigotry. Are these folks ever going to support balanced immigration reform? Are the people who feasted on Chick-Fil-A going to give up their jihad against gay marriage? How many people did the GOP drive away through the sheer ugliness of its rhetoric against Obama?

I think many white southerners would rather lose than compromise. If so, the GOP is in big trouble. Ultimately, even Mississippi might turn purple, as blacks join with young whites in a progressive coalition. Where Virginia has led, Mississippi may follow. Will Tupelo then secede from the rest of Mississippi?

The GOP is like the python that swallows the hippo. Such a large meal may prove fatal.

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StevenBrody 2 years ago

Donna, Excellent piece, spoken well.

Regarding the whole “post-racial” thing, I think Tim Wise is among the most erudite and clear thinking; quite penetrating. http://www.timwise.org/

At the end of this post I discuss what I was intending to address here, about Rep Robert Clark; I did a google search for “Rep Robert Clark Ole Miss riots”, and lo-and-behold, look at what was at the top of the search: (a different Clark)

“Ole Miss Begins Its Slow Slide Backwards Into the Security of the Comfortable Past.” Dated 12/8/66; from the Harvard Crimson newspaper, four years after the 1962 Meredith riots. A fascinating piece, given contemporaries; recommend link to it and read in entirety. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1966/12/8/ole-miss-begins-its-slow-slide/

“Though the Law School has nine Negroes, it also still has its die-hard segregationists. But most of them are clearly on the defensive. In the last few months, Dave Clark, a freshman, has become the standard bearer in a small-scale campaign to return segregation and conservatism to the Law School. Complaining of the "Yale invasion," he has written a number of letters to the editor of the Mississippian, the University daily, attacking Dean Morse and the "leftists" that are "leading the Law School down the road of liberalism.

“When Aaron Henry and Marion Wright spoke in a Law course on "Political and Civil Rights," Clark sat in a chair outside the lecture room, refusing to sit in on any lecture given by a Negro. But even Dave Clark's questions from outside the room have added to the potential for creative dialogue.

“If the Ole Miss Law School, over the next two years can encourage Dave Clark, and others like him, to reconsider the ideas by which they were raised, then it will have contributed more to Mississippi than all of the civil rights workers in the state combined.

“But it may not get the chance.

“Just two weeks ago, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution aimed at preventing professors, particularly certain Law professors, from engaging in any kind of civil rights activity.”

Wow.

I think the most startling thing I read re the ‘Ole Miss riots’ came from former Rep Robert Clark. Regarding the words being shouted during the uproar, Rep Clark said, “(I) did not even know those kind of thoughts even existed in the state of Mississippi today.” http://www.wmctv.com/story/20057467/mississippi-leaders-battle-racism-in-light-of-election-night-protest

Huh? (That’s a Haley Barbour statement if ever there was one!) I don’t know Rep Clark, but what in the world is he talking about? He could spend 5 minutes on Jerry Mitchell’s blog and get a rather large clue that that kind of thinking is not exactly hidden. Surely he knows that it was not until 2009 that Mississippi finally repealed the law the prohibited blacks from gathering for political reasons. In what world does Rep Clark live? Stunning ........

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lenajones61 2 years ago

Brilliant insight as always. However, with conservative Republicans it's hard to tell if the dog is wagging the tail or the tail is waging the dog. I just finished reading Journalist BillPress outstanding discourse on the subject (Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has poisoned America's Airways) and he argues rather convincingly that racial fires are being stoked by Rush Limbaugh and the light to the extent that if Republican elected officials even dream of offending these hosts that will wake up an apologize.

I am glad that Democrats and Independents are not beholding to a group that survey shows only a minority of people agree with but since so many watch them notwithstanding the news media that keeps them on the air look at the numbers they draw and chose not to muzzle their cash cows.

It is clear to me that had Mitt Romney, a man of the cloth, chosen to hear his "better angles" in stead of following the dictates of a completely racist and near fascist fringe, although he lost his history would have been secured as the Republican leader who lead his party back to the center and a more united America.

It is so sad that by this later example (petition to succeed) in addition to everything else you've stated, that the example shown is one that suggest an unwillingness to take it on the chin that way Democrats did when their backed nominees lost. Suc sore losers. What a poor example to the next generation.

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goldeneagle97 2 years ago

Apparently, Romney just doesn't get it. He had a conference call with donors (and a couple of reporters who happen to listen in) and he said Obama's victory was because of "gifts" the president promised to his base. Now, the GOP is blaming voters.

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donnaladd 2 years ago

Yes, that was remarkable, golden. It proved he meant the bigotry against the 47 percent. At least now we know.

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JLucas 2 years ago

Apparently, Romney just doesn't get it. He had a conference call with donors (and a couple of reporters who happen to listen in) and he said Obama's victory was because of "gifts" the president promised to his base. Now, the GOP is blaming voters.

Ultimately, Obama's victory was due to the gift the GOP gave him: nominating Mitt Romney.

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Eforeman 2 years ago

Donna Ladd, you nailed it in this article. You expressed beautifully what so many of us believe. You zeroed in on the real culprit by saying "We are going to see and hear things that shock us because many people are desperate to feel superior to others and really want a major political party to tell them it's ok." And further down, "They were taught to think this way. They were raised to believe they are superior, somehow, to Barack Obama." Still further, "Everyone who spread false rumors about the president owns a little piece of responsibility for it." These people who refused to acknowledge the good things in our president and the good things he has done have failed to realize that by tearing him down they became smaller themselves. It's only in focusing on what's true and good in others and in supporting and encouraging that in them are we able to rise to the greatness that each of us can attain to. It is interesting to note that so many of these naysayers tout their love for Christ when He was always the first to show mercy and to see the good in others.

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