Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Reading

Here, Boy — Ian Haney-Lopez at Salon reports on how Ronald Reagan turned the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and George Wallace into the mainstream dog-whistle of the GOP in the 1980’s.

Why did Ronald Reagan do so well among white voters? Certainly elements beyond race contributed, including the faltering economy, foreign events (especially in Iran), the nation’s mood, and the candidates’ temperaments. But one indisputable factor was the return of aggressive race-baiting. A year after Reagan’s victory, a key operative gave what was then an anonymous interview, and perhaps lulled by the anonymity, he offered an unusually candid response to a question about Reagan, the Southern strategy, and the drive to attract the “Wallace voter”:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—, n—, n—.” [Editor’s note: The actual word used by Atwater has been replaced with “N—” for the purposes of this article.] By 1968 you can’t say “n—” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut taxes and we want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—, n—.” So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.

This analysis was provided by a young Lee Atwater. Its significance is two fold: First, it offers an unvarnished account of Reagan’s strategy. Second, it reveals the thinking of Atwater himself, someone whose career traced the rise of GOP dog whistle politics. A protégé of the pro-segregationist Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, the young Atwater held Richard Nixon as a personal hero, even describing Nixon’s Southern strategy as “a blue print for everything I’ve done.” After assisting in Reagan’s initial victory, Atwater became the political director of Reagan’s 1984 campaign, the manager of George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, and eventually the chair of the Republican National Committee. In all of these capacities, he drew on the quick sketch of dog whistle politics he had offered in 1981: from “n—, n—, n—” to “states’ rights” and “forced busing,” and from there to “cutting taxes”—and linking all of these, “race . . . coming on the back burner.”

When Reagan picked up the dog whistle in 1980, the continuity in technique nevertheless masked a crucial difference between him versus Wallace and Nixon. Those two had used racial appeals to get elected, yet their racially reactionary language did not match reactionary political positions. Political moderates, both became racial demagogues when it became clear that this would help win elections. Reagan was different. Unlike Wallace and Nixon, Reagan was not a moderate, but an old-time Goldwater conservative in both the ideological and racial senses, with his own intuitive grasp of the power of racial provocation. For Reagan, conservatism and racial resentment were inextricably fused.

In the early 1960s, Reagan was still a minor actor in Hollywood, but he was becoming increasingly active in conservative politics. When Goldwater decided to run for president, Reagan emerged as a fierce partisan. Reagan’s advocacy included a stock speech, given many times over, that drummed up support for Goldwater with overwrought balderdash such as the following: “We are  faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation.” Reagan’s rightwing speechifying didn’t save Goldwater, but it did earn Reagan a glowing reputation among Republican groups in California, which led to his being recruited to run for governor of California in 1966. During that campaign, he wed his fringe politics to early dog whistle themes, for instance excoriating welfare, calling for law and order, and opposing government efforts to promote neighborhood integration. He also signaled blatant hostility toward civil rights, supporting a state ballot initiative to allow racial discrimination in the housing market, proclaiming: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.”

Reagan’s race-baiting continued when he moved to national politics. After securing the Republican nomination in 1980, Reagan launched his official campaign at a county fair just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town still notorious in the national imagination for the Klan lynching of civil rights volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 16 years earlier. Reagan selected the location on the advice of a local official, who had written to the Republican National Committee assuring them that the Neshoba County Fair was an ideal place for winning “George Wallace inclined voters.” Neshoba did not disappoint. The candidate arrived to a raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000 whites chanting “We want Reagan! We want Reagan!”—and he returned their fevered embrace by assuring them, “I believe in states’ rights.” In 1984, Reagan came back, this time to endorse the neo-Confederate slogan “the South shall rise again.” As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert concludes, “Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.”

State vs. Family — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on life vs. death decisions.

Marlise Munoz was 33 when she died.

She was at home when she collapsed from an apparent blood clot in her lungs. It was an hour or more before her husband Erick found her. He says doctors pronounced her brain dead, though. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, citing privacy concerns, has declined to confirm that diagnosis.

It is, at any rate, nearly a month and a half since this happened, yet Marlise remains hooked up to life support. Her mother wants her removed. Her father wants her removed. Her husband wants her removed. He says his wife — like him, a paramedic — specifically said she never wanted to be kept alive by artificial means.

But the hospital has refused the family’s requests, citing a Texas law that prohibits taking a pregnant woman off life support. And Marlise, the doctors found, was 14 weeks along.

As it happens, this family’s plight is the inverse of another which has recently transfixed the nation. Marlise’s family wants her removed from life support, but the family of 13-year old Jahi McMath fought to keep her attached. McMath was declared brain dead by a hospital in Oakland after complications from surgery to remove her tonsils. This triggered a legal struggle that was resolved last week when the hospital released Jahi to the coroner and the coroner released her to her mother’s custody. Jahi is now receiving “treatment” at an undisclosed facility and her family says her condition is improving.

It seems unlikely. The cessation of neurological function is not some “technical” death. Experts say that in such cases, the brain liquefies, which would seem to be about as dead as you can get. So one suspects Jahi’s family is simply seeing what it needs to see.

That said, who can blame them? Who among us has the right to foreclose their prayers or the wisdom to draw some hard and fast line beyond which faith becomes foolishness and steadfastness an excuse to ignore reality? Who among us in the same situation would want somebody to substitute their judgment for ours — particularly if that somebody was some politician who’d never met us or our loved one?

This is what makes the situation in Texas particularly galling. Why is the state — not a doctor, not a faith leader, but the state — interposing itself in one of the most wrenching and intimate moral choices a family can ever make? What gives it the right?

News to Him — Andy Borowitz has the latest from New Jersey.

TRENTON (The Borowitz Report)—At a hastily called press conference today, Chris Christie revealed that he only became aware that he was the governor of New Jersey in the past seventy-two hours.

“Unbeknownst to me, some people I thought I could trust were secretly working to elect me governor of this state,” a visibly stunned Christie told reporters. “I have acted swiftly and fired them all.”

While asserting that he had terminated all of the people who were involved in the scheme to elect him, he said that, if he finds additional conspirators, “I will deal with them accordingly.”

Christie struggled to explain how he remained in the dark about being governor, a position he has held since 2010: “I guess I’m just not much of a detail person. People think I’m a micromanager. I’m not. If a bunch of people are going behind my back and plotting to make me the governor, that’s not the kind of thing I pick up on.”

Reflecting on his reaction to the news that he is the governor of New Jersey, Christie said he felt “angry, embarrassed, and humiliated, but mainly just sad.”

“It’s sad that this was allowed to happen,” he said. “It’s a sad situation for me and for New Jersey.”

Doonesbury — Coming up short.