Saturday, December 15, 2007

The GOP’s Southern Strategy and Ronald Reag

Several Op-Ed pieces have appeared in the media this past month regarding the so-called “Southern Strategy” of the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan’s role in its success. The debate of late focuses on whether the strategy is racist and was Reagan a racist.

There is no question that following passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the GOP gained more and more political power in the southern states, until achieving a Republican “Solid South” resembling the old Democratic “Solid South”. Demographers, geographers, economists, historians, political scientists, journalists and pundits have offered a myriad of reasons for the change. One of my favorite Republicans, Kevin Phillips, wrote an excellent and prescient analysis of this trend in the late ‘60s: The Emerging Republican Majority. As good as this book is as a geography of political change, it, as well as most of the other analyses, misses the main point.

That point is racism. The Democratic Party in the South had its share of committed racists prior to 1964 (I am sure that many remain). Indeed, many of these racists stayed with the party until the 1980s, most likely due to local traditions. It was Reagan, however, in 1980 who won the racist votes for the GOP with his campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi. At the urging of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), then a member of the House, Reagan announced his candidacy for the presidency in Philadelphia and also stated his emphatic support for states rights. By so doing, Reagan sent a blatant message of support for racism, and he quickly was endorsed by the KKK (they were in attendance at the speech). For a more complete and erudite history of this event, please see'%20Rights.htm, as well as recent nationally syndicated columns by Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman and David Brooks.

The Reagan years, viewed with nostalgic awe by the GOP, was laced with race-baiting tactics and legislation, exemplified by Lott’s and Reagan’s attempt to grant tax-exempt status to the racist Bob Jones University (their efforts were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision). Note that Lott lost his Senate Majority leadership post by stating that the USA would b e better off if the avowed racist Strom Thurmond has been elected president. Just about every Republican in a leadership position in Texas, for instance, switched parties following Reagan’s endorsement of “states rights.”

Racism remains the most destructive domestic problem in the USA. We will not become a true “nation” until this is remedied.