In my review of Ann Coulter’s otherwise excellent book Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama, I bemoaned her tendency to engage in Conservatism Inc.’s tired “Democrats are the real racists” trope; and also to deny that there was any racial aspect to the Republicans’ post-1960s “Southern Strategy.”
Anyone who listens to talk radio will immediately recognize the line that Coulter defends (admittedly unusually ably). Whenever a Democrat accuses a Republican of being racist, the talk show host will immediately go on a pre-programmed rant about how the Democrats supported slavery, the Democrats founded the Klan, Robert Byrd was a Klansman, Democrats opposed the Civil Rights Act blah blah.
The Democratic Party, through its racist agenda and “States’ Rights” claim to own slaves, sought to protect and preserve the institution of slavery … the Democratic Party in the South formed the Confederacy …. the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 by Democrats… during the civil rights era of the 1960`s, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a Republican, was fighting the Democrats including… Democrat Georgia Governor Lester Maddox… Democrat Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor… Democrat Alabama Governor George Wallace.
Coulter includes a similar history lesson in Mugged, but she does not make any of the NBRA’s glaring factual errors, like calling Martin Luther King a Republican.
Whenever Republicans try the “Democrats are racist” line, liberals retort that the Republicans simply absorbed the racist segregationist Southern Democrats as well as their agenda.
For example, Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum wrote recently:
The Southern Strategy was designed to capitalize on Southern white resentment of court-enforced busing to end school desegregation, of the 1964 Civil Rights Act`s prohibition of discrimination in interstate commerce, of enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to prevent historically racist Southern counties and states from discriminating against blacks who sought to exercise their right to vote where once they`d been effectively barred. By playing on these issues, Nixon and other Republicans of this era won many traditionally Democratic votes in the South. Later, GOP opposition to affirmative action, race-based hiring “quotas” and all other methods of compensating for the debilitating legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation fed into what was one of the momentous shifts, a total turnaround in just more than a decade (1970 to 1984) from a solidly Democratic South to a solidly Republican one.
[Is the Republican Party Racist? October 8, 2012] [Links added by VDARE.com]
There is a certain truth behind Rosenbaum’s claims. After the Civil War, the first time any Deep South state did not vote Democratic was in 1948—when Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats walked out of the Democratic convention in protest of a Civil Rights plank. In the general election, Thurmond carried Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In 1964, Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act—and he carried the Thurmond States, as well as Georgia. Not coincidentally, Thurmond switched parties during the Goldwater campaign.
But Coulter does an admirable job in responding to the wider Rosenbaum-type arguments. Here I am in full agreement with Coulter: in pursuing the Southern Strategy, the Republicans never actively supported anything approaching segregation or “racism.” Thus Coulter ably defends George H.W. Bush’s use of the Willie Horton furlough issue. Polls showed that the Furlough issue had influenced voters more than any issue in the election, but liberals were merely upset that voters did not look kindly upon soft-on-crime politicians. Coulter concludes:
As Peter Brimelow says: “A ‘racist’ is a conservative winning an argument with a liberal.”
And Coulter conclusively refutes the repeated refrain that Ronald Reagan launched his campaign in Philadelphia, MS by invoking “States’ Rights” in a place where Civil Rights workers were murdered. I myself had heard this refrain many times, and never bothered to look up the actual history. [VDARE.com note: It appeared here last January.]
Coulter shows that
- It was not Reagan’s campaign kickoff speech;
- it didn’t even take place in Philadelphia, MS—but in a neighboring county);
- and (if we are to impute geographic guilt by association) Jimmy Carter had kicked off his campaign at the town where the KKK was headquartered.
Additionally, of course, “States’ Rights” is not an inherently racial term. Coulter notes that Barack Obama used the phrase himself in the 2008 campaign, when discussing gay marriage.
But her analysis still comes up short.
Coulter notes that the South’s movement away from Democrats did not happen overnight. She points out that, in 1928, Hoover won several Border South states (of course, this could have been because the Democrats ran Catholic Al Smith against him). And, during the New Deal, the Democrats swept the entire country, so it’s hard to make much out these landslide elections one way or the other.
In 1952 and 1956 Eisenhower won many of the non-Thurmond Southern States, including Tennessee, Virginia, Florida. So did Richard Nixon in 1960. In 1964, Goldwater won the Thurmond states, but he lost the border South states that Eisenhower won. In 1968, George Wallace won the Thurmond/Goldwater States (except for South Carolina), while Richard Nixon won the rest of the former Confederacy.
In 1972, Nixon won every state in the country except for DC and Massachusetts, so (to be fair) it’s hard to make much out of that landslide election either. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the entire Old Confederacy except Virginia. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won decisively in the South, but he lost Georgia, (Carter’s home state) and barely won Alabama and Mississippi. In 1984, Reagan won in a landslide, everything but DC and Minnesota, again swamping a distinctive “Southern Strategy.”
It was not until 1988, when George H.W. Bush swept the South, that you can say that Republicans did decisively better in the Deep South than they did in other states.
Coulter’s explanation: the racist segregationist voters in the Thurmond/Goldwater/Wallace States were more likely to stick with the Democrats, while conservative, but non-segregationist Southerners were abandoning the Democratic Party.
And she certainly does undermine the simplistic narrative that the most segregationist Southern Democratic states simply became Republicans overnight.
But I believe we most face honestly the fact that it is simply implausible that race had nothing to do with Republican success in the South.
Most notably, the Deep South states also have the highest percentage of black voters. After the Voting Rights Act, combined with almost universal support for the Democrats from African Americans, Republicans had to win over two-thirds of the white vote to be competitive in those states. And they do—whites in Alabama voted for John McCain at the level of 88 percent—the same level of support that black voters give to Obama.
Moreover, all Coulter really shows is that, after Goldwater, Southerners consistently voted for the most Politically Incorrect candidate on the race issue. George Wallace fits in this category, obviously. But it has gone down the Memory Hole that Jimmy Carter campaigned as a Southern Baptist who said he would allow neighborhoods to maintain their “ethnic purity” and end white flight. His campaign ads in the South featured “Dixie” and appealed to (white) Southern pride.
The simple truth: the South has always been the most Politically Incorrect section on the issue of race. This is not to say that issues like as school prayer, gay rights, the Vietnam War etc. did not also encourage Southerners turn towards the Republican Party. But to pretend that race did not matter is implausible.
Coulter also asserts that the Southerners in the Senate who led the fight against Civil Rights legislation were, by and large, Democrats with otherwise relatively liberal voting records: Harry Byrd (VA), Robert Byrd (WV); Allen Ellender (LA); Sam Ervin (NC); Albert Gore Sr. (TN); James Eastland (MS); William Fulbright (AR); Walter George (GA); Fritz Hollings (SC); Russell Long (LA); Richard Russell (GA); John Stennis (MS). Coulter notes that all of these men remained Democrats—and, except for Hollings and Eastland, relatively liberal.
I might quibble with Coulter’s definition of liberal. (For example she notes that most of them opposed the Vietnam War, but ignores the fact that all except Fulbright, Long, and Gore voted against the 1965 Immigration Act). But, by and large, she is correct.
Coulter suggests the fact that Strom Thurmond is much more notorious than these other men is proof of Main Stream Media bias against Republicans. Maybe. But Thurmond did, after all, run for President on a Third Party ticket. George Wallace, who also ran for president, is probably even better known than Thurmond.
(As an aside, I will also note that George Wallace was able to win the black vote overwhelmingly in Alabama less than two decades after his “Segregation Forever” speech. This fact should explode the Conservatism Inc. publicists’ fantasy that informing black voters about the racial views of William Fulbright fifty years ago will somehow convince them to vote against Barack Obama today.)
But Coulter does not mention that the segregationist “liberals” who stayed in politics through the 1970s did, eventually, become liberals on race too. When the Martin Luther King Holiday came to a vote, Senators Robert Byrd, Long, and Hollings voted for it—as did every single Southern Democrat in the Senate, with the exclusion of Stennis. In contrast, Southern Republicans like Jesse Helms and John East led the opposition to the holiday (although some, like Thurmond and Thad Cochran, voted for it).
Fritz Hollings even endorsed Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential run. And, for all the talk about the Robert Byrd being a Klansman, he consistently scored near-perfect NAACP voting report cards in the last years of his career.
Of course, one could argue that these Democrats’ shift to support liberal racial policies in the 1980s was opportunistic. But their initial support of segregation may have been equally disingenuous.
The fact that these Southern Democrats had to preach segregation to get elected in the 1950s reveals the real issue: not that the Southern Democrats supported segregation—but that Southern voters supported segregation.
Look at the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Overall, Republicans were much more likely to vote for it than Democrats. But if you control for region, Northern Democrats were more likely to vote for it than Northern Republicans. Southern Democrats were slightly more likely to vote for it than Southern Republicans.
The real division: between North and South.
Polls still show that, while white Southerners today do not explicitly support segregation, they are still much more likely to oppose Affirmative Action and to be concerned about anti-white racism.
And there is a reason for this: Whites have rights too. Regardless of abstract justice, many Southern whites were materially disadvantaged by integration. They continue to be disadvantaged by Affirmative Action and by Obama-style racial socialism in general.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the GOP/ GAP attracting white voters based on those sentiments.
The real scandal: the post-Reagan GOP leadership has taken these white Southern votes for granted—and has done nothing to address the interest of White Southern (and for that matter white Northern) voters.
Alexander Hart (email him) is a conservative journalist.