Thursday, May 18, 2006

A New Southern Strategy

John McKay at archy notices a disturbing trend in the right wing’s reaction to immigration and the population change in general. The new Southern Strategy means demonizing the people from south of the border.

Towards the beginning of this year, when I realized that Republican strategists were planning to make illegal immigration one of their keystone issues or the midterm elections, I was worried about it unleashing a wave of overt racism. The xenophobic nature of the War on Terrorism was already pushing Americans in that direction and appealing to fear has been one of this administration’s most dependable campaign tools. With the war in Iraq becoming less popular, people feeling insecure about the economy, and the well of public opinion already primed to fear brown foreigners, it was an easy segue to refocus our fear on undocumented Latin American immigrants.


The party of Lincoln has been involved in this dance with racism for forty years now. When the Democratic Party unambiguously embraced civil rights and desegregation in the sixties, the Republicans could have joined with them in a bi-partisan effort to erase the great shame of American society, racism. At that point in history, the Republican Party had the better record on race. Instead, they chose to view it as an opportunity to pick up disgruntled white Southern voters.

The Southern Strategy transformed the Republicans in ways they didn’t anticipate. It spelled the death of the liberal/social-reforming wing of the party. As the Democratic Party faded from the South, the Republican Party faded from New England. When the Republican leaders of the sixties wooed Southern racists with code phrases, winks, and nods, it didn’t occur to them that those new voters would eventually become the majority of the party and take over its positions of power and the creation of its ideology. The Southern Strategy didn’t result in the republicanization of the South; it resulted in the southernization of the Republican Party.* Whereas the identifying mark of Republicans was once a dour New England deportment, now it is Southern-style, vocal Protestantism. And racism, instead of disappearing, simply retreated for a generation to transform itself into a new style for a new generation.

The cynical and unprincipled strategy that the Republican Party has chosen for this election has the potential to release something very ugly in American culture. Once unleashed, it won’t be easy to contain it again. But, making these kinds of cynical and unprincipled tactical decision in the name of simply acquiring and keeping power has been the hallmark of the Republican Party for over a decade now and I didn’t really think they would stop now just because their action are hurting America.

*obligatory disclaimer: Of course when I say this, I do not mean to imply that all white Southerners are racist crackers or that there has never been racism outside the South. Some of the most principled and courageous Americans have come from the South and the shame of racism is a common heritage of all regions. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the Republican Party’s descent into overt racism has been the direct result of their decision to use racism to woo disgruntled white Southern voters.

Well said.

As John at AMERICAblog points out, illegal immigrants have become the newest target of bigotry, taking the heat off the queers. And while it’s cold comfort to say Bienvenidos a mi mundo, it’s tragic that fear and exploitation are the only elements that the righties are capable of using. Finding long-term solutions such as guest worker programs or revitalizing the Mexican and Latin American economies so that citizens of those countries wouldn’t feel the need to risk life, limb, or family to come to el norte don’t fit on a bumper sticker or into a Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage rant.