Day By Day

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Republicans and Racism

One of the left's most cherished myths is that of the GOP's "Southern Strategy" which, they argue, transformed the Republican Party into a bastion of right-wing racism. The myth, which originated in political discourse, spread rapidly into academic circles and today is almost universally accepted there. It is a remarkably useful narrative. It holds that prior to the 1960's Southern Democrats were frequently racists, but these reprobates were purged from the party and found a new home with the Republicans who, under the arch fiend Richard Nixon, crafted campaigns that included specific appeals to racists everywhere. To be sure these appeals were carefully "coded" but Democrats claim to be able to discern them everywhere. As a result of these efforts, they argue, the South went from being solidly Democrat to being solidly Republican and the GOP became, in the modern era, the "party of hate".

Gerard Alexander, writing in the Claremont Review of Books, has responded brilliantly to this Democrat fantasy. He shows that Southern culture was not universally racist -- that segregationist sentiment was both socially and geographically isolated. Moreover he shows that Republican gains in the South came first and foremost in the least racist segments of Southern society and that the supposedly "coded" appeals to racism were actually race-neutral positions designed to appeal to the region's emerging middle class. He argues, quite persuasively, that movement into the ranks of Republicanism involved a weakening, rather than an affirmation, of racist values; that southern religious institutions helped to lead the way; and that anti- segregationist reform was already well under way long before Brown v. Board of Education. At the time when Republicans were moving toward a race-neutral stance, Democrats were avidly embracing race-based appeals that the middle-class found repugnant. As a result middle-class southerners, many of them migrants from the North, moved away from the Democrats and into the Republican Party and that factor, rather than a racist program is what initiated the electoral success of Republicans in the late Twentieth Century.

Check it out here -- it's well worth your time.

HT Jonah [here]