There are many political commentators who see Andrew Breitbart’s attack on the NAACP & Shirley Sherrod as “racist” as a gambit to resuscitate the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” forged by Richard Nixon. Nixon’s Southern Strategy, first employed in the 1972 Presidential election, subsequently was successfully exploited by the Republican Presidents Reagan and the two George Bushes.
Other than Barack Obama, who hails from Abraham Lincoln’s home state of Illinois, the only two Democrats to win a Presidential elections since Texan (and Southerner) Lyndon Baines Johnson beat conservative demigod Barry Goldwater in a landslide in the 1964 election were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Both hailed from states of the old Confederacy, Georgia and Arkansas.
A Generation Lost
It was the Southern Strategy, and the realignment of the “Solid South” of the former Confederate States from the Democratic Party to the GOP that resulted in the huge win in 1994, when the Republicans took back both Houses of Congress for the first time since the modern civil rights era.
LBJ, upon signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the key pieces of legislation instrumental in ending the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South, allegedly told one of his aides, “We have lost the South for a generation.”
We meant the Democratic Party. At the time, there was only one Republican Senator from the South, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. By the George W. Bush Administration, Democratic Senators would be almost as scarce.
It has been more than a generation, but the election of Barack Obama promised a new era of post-racism politics. Obama’s winning of Electoral College votes in the reliably Republican states of Virginia and North Carolina (and swing state Florida, all three having been part of the Confederacy) was a blow to the GOP’s Southern Strategy. Virginia — whose capital Richmond was the second capital of the Confederacy — and North Carolina represented 28 votes in the Electoral College and Florida an additional 28. Those 45 votes were one-sixth of what was needed to win the Big Brass Ring of the Presidency.
Andrew Breitbart and others seem determined to capitalize on white anxiety in a troubled economy to revive racism as a potent political weapon in national politics.
The states that made up the Confederacy and the border states such as Maryland and Kentucky that did not secede from the United States were called the “Solid South” for a century after the cessation of the Civil War as they essentially were “a one-party state” and that party was the Democratic Party. The Solid South of the period of 1865 to the 1972 Presidential election won by Richard Nixon was even more solidly in the Democratic column than it is in with the GOP, the once-hated party of Abraham Lincoln, conqueror of the Confederacy and the Emancipator of African American slaves.
The flip of the Solid South from the Democrats to the Republicans has been the major alignment in American politics of the post-Vietnam era and it has changed politics in several ways. The solid block of Democratic Congressmen and Senators that the Solid South sent to Congress after every election helped the Democratic Party dominate Congress from the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 through the first mid-term election in President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1994, a period of 62 years. They now are the backbone of the Republican Party.
The Republican Party up through 1972 had three distinct wings: a rock-rib conservative wing of Midwesterners and their kin; bankers and businessmen both big and small; and a progressive wing (exemplified by Teddy Roosevelt and the first Senator Robert LaFallotte) who were dedicated to such issues as civil rights and economic justice.
The dominant force in the Grand Old Party was the Eastern Establishment of WASP businessmen and their retainers in government, education and the media. No one was more Eastern Establishment than Nelson Rockefeller, the four-term governor of New York State, who had aspects of both businessman and progressive. (It was his flaunting of the morality of the rock-rid Midwestern conservatives, with his divorce and remarriage in the early 1960s to second wife Happy Rockefeller, that likely cost him the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination.)
It is this same Eastern Establishment that took a lickin’ from U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the first modern paleolithic conservative whose political offspring was Ronald Reagan , when he defeated Rockefeller for the ’64 Republican nomination.
Four years later, Californian Richard Nixon, who established his conservative credentials as an anti-communist in the Fifties, also bested Rocky. It was said by contemporaries covering the 1968 election, after the withdrawal of President Lyndon Johnson due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, Nelson Rockefeller was the man most likely to win in November. Rocky’s appeal was broad: the working class in New York loved him as he was a liberal committed to big spending by government, just like LBJ and the Democrats. The only problem was winning the GOP nomination. It was something he could not do.
After winning the GOP nomination and then the Presidency in a sqeaker, Tricky Dicky took the Republican Party to the right in the matter of race relations by adopting a “Southern Strategy” based on George Wallace’s third-party campaign for the Presidency in ’68. It was Wallace’s insurgent campaign, based on the fierce reaction to civil rights by white people (many of them working class whites who nominally would have voted for the Democrat), that put Nixon in the White House.
Wallace’s third party campaign won Electoral College votes in the Deep South, a total of 46, one more than Barack Obama won from his three former Confederate conquests. It was impressive but not enough to throw the Presidential election into the House of Representatives by denying Richard Nixon, who had racked up a plurality of the popular vote, a majority in the Electoral College.
Wallace had siphoned off traditional Democratic voters in many states, thus keeping some traditionally Democratic votes in the Electoral College from Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee. The only state of the old Solid South won by Humphrey was Texas, the home of his boss, Lyndon Johnson.
Richard Nixon planned to ensure his reelection in 1972 by copying Wallace’s appeal to the lesser angels of the whites of the former Confederate states, most of which had voted for Democrat Adlai Stevenson (a liberal) over Republican Dwight Eisenhower (the war hero) in 1952 and ’56.
In 1960, six of the states of the old Confederacy and three border states from the Solid South went for Democrat John F. Kennedy in ’60 rather than for Ike’s Vice President, Richard Nixon. Nixon win Virginia, Tennessee anad the swing state of Florida, but he had hoped to win Georgia and other states in the Deep South. (Alabama and Mississippi gave most of their Electoral College votes to the anti-segregationist Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia.
In 1972, with his “Southern Strategy,” Tricky Dick managed to rack up vote totals in states like Alabama and Mississippi in his run against the progressive George McGovern typically not seen in a election outside of a Soviet satellite country.
The re-alignment of the “Solid South” from the Democratic Party to the hated parted of Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” was underway. Ronald Reagan exorcised the ghost of Lincoln from the GOP, and within a generation the Solid South was solidly Republican.
And it all began in South Carolina, just like the Civil War, when — in 1964 — Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran on a racist “Dixiecrat” platform in 1948 against Harry Truman — quit the Democratic Party, resigned from the Senate, then was re-elected as a Republican due to his opposition of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was a shot fired across the bow of civil rights almost as portentous as those fired against Fort Sumter over a century before.
After Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America Republicans took the House in 1994, Congress eventually repudiated the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt (which Republican Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Gerald Ford never challenged), to say nothing of the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson, the last Democrat to rack up a major, Old Tyme victory in the South. It was a major realignment and to cop, the Democratic Party under southerners Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Al Gore of Tennessee was taken to the right.
By the 21st Century, it had gotten to the point where the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama was seen by many progressives AND conservatives as a cat’s paw of Wall St., doing the bidding of not only the big money center banks but of the speculators that go by the names investment bankers and hedge fund managers, a profession outlawed by FDR. Just as the spirit of Lincoln was exorcised from the GOP, so too has that of the second Roosevelt been cast out of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party are now Rockefeller Republicans — conservative on financial issues though liberal on social issues. The Rockefeller family was one of the great philanthropists in U.S. history, and the so-called Negro was one of their major issues, back in the days when the Republican Party was the natural home of African Americans. (The majority of blacks first voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in 1932, going for FDR over Herbert Hoover.)
Just as the old Democrats of the South hated the Party of Lincoln and African Americans, Andrew Breitbart and his fellow race-baiters in the Tea Party movement want to ensure that there is no post-racial politics in America. They want to belt home the idea, by playing on the anxieties of white Americans, that the Democratic Party is not welcoming to them and is in fact a party of minorities who hate them.