For the last few years I've written a great deal about how I believed that there was no way to understand the recent conservative ascendancy in American politics without understanding that at its core was an ugly intolerance, a sustained and strategic exploitation of racial fear, a divisive politics which became known as the Southern Strategy. I discussed this idea at length in a recent video essay called The Politics of Intolerance.
I have also argued that for the modern GOP to have a fighting chance at appealing to the more racially diverse America of the 21st century, it would have to do more than adapt to the new demographic realities of our country. The new leaders of the GOP would have to acknowledge and repudiate the ugly intolerance at the core of the Southern Strategy. It is also something that I have never been terribly optimistic that would happen, certainly not in the next few years.
Which is why I found this passage from a NY Times blog, reviewing an interview with RNC Chairman Michael Steele, so interesting:
During this interview, Wolf Blitzer, the CNN host, confronted Mr. Steele with the composition of the Republican House and Senate — displaying the nearly all-white makeup on the G.O.P. side against the polyglot of the Democrats during the joint session of Congress which Mr. Obama addressed. (The setting where Congressman Wilson uttered his outburst.)
Mr. Steele acknowledged the racial divide between the parties: “I’ll accept the indictment. I’ll accept it, you know. And I — and I know we’ve got to change. And our party has, for over a generation, employed a strategy that right now we wish — many of us wish we never had."
"Many of us wish we never had." Wow. All of us need to hear more about this from Michael Steele in the days ahead. What exactly does this mean, Chairman Steele? That you have regret over Willie Horton, the demonization of Hispanics, the caricatures of the Welfare Queen, of systemic voter suppression and so much more?
There are many reasons we helped launch this new campaign, Drop Dobbs, these past few days. But chief among them is the desire to continue to liberate America from the destructive racial politics of the Southern Strategy era of American politics, an era which Lou Dobbs seems to be relentlessly unwilling to let go of. This statement by Michael Steele gives me hope that the once proud party of Lincoln can once again embrace its heritage and help us confront - and then move beyond - the modern GOP's shameful Southern Strategy brand of politics.
Michael Steele had a lot to overcome. One of his opponents, the sitting GOP Chair from South Carolina, had just resigned from an all white country club and admitted that he became a Republican in reaction to his personal experience with desegregation. Another opponent, Chip Saltsman, sent out a wildly racist CD to RNC Members which included the now infamous Magic Negro and Star Spanglish Banner songs. Saltsman was so battered by his out-of-touch comments that he withdrew from the race before the balloting began. But Katon Dawson, the SC Chair, went all the way to the final ballot before losing to Steele.
What a stark choice this was for the Republicans: an avowed disciple of the Southern Strategy era of racial politics vs. an African-American candidate from that awfully liberal, pretty far north state of Maryland. That Steele won, defeating Saltsman and Dawson, is a hopeful sign that the GOP has begun to confront its shameful exploitation of race as a national political strategy over the past 44 years. But the road back to power for the Party Mr. Steele has chosen to lead is a hard one. As I recently wrote:
Their recent success as a national Party was built on an approach towards race that spoke to a different racial reality in America, an American one where could get away with magic negro songs, and much much worse of course. But that America - a white/black, majority/minority America - is now an historic relic, and is in the process of being replaced by an America that has 3 times as many minorities as it did just 44 years ago, and is on track to be majority minority by 2042 (for more on this historic demographic transformation see here). But for many in the GOP, including ones who might become their Chairman, they know no other politics than this Southern Strategy era politics, a politics that has been rejected once and for all by the American people of today's America.
It is important that the leaders of the GOP have begun to confront its shameful racial past. But their problem has no simple or easy fix. It will require a complete refashioning of their politics around a very different set of 21st century demographics and a much more tolerant understanding of race in America - and a complete and utter repudiation of much of their domestic agenda for the past half century. Which is major reason why I think their road back is such a long one - many of their leaders came to power by becoming expert in this kind of politics; it is the core play in their playbook; it is the foundation of their domestic agenda; and they know little else. Their old Southern Strategy dogs aren't going to learn new tricks - for the GOP they will have to slowly, over time, replace their anachronistic leaders with ones schooled in the modern governing challenges, modern media and technology and modern demography of our day. The process of watching this generational replacement take place will be one of the most interesting political stories of the next 10-20 years, and of course has become all the more necessary in the age of Obama.
Recall that one of Mr. Steele's predecessors as RNC Chairman, Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, resigned in 2007 after less than a year on the job because of the lingering intolerance of the Party of Saltsman, Tancredo, Limbaugh and Dawson. So these tensions in the GOP - and the nation - will continue to play out for some time as old attitudes and people give way to new racial attitudes and a new America.
Just yesterday, Mr. Steele showed how hard this adjustment would be for the GOP. As Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported, Steele was asked on Fox News whether the GOP's position on immigration had alienated the Latino vote for a generation. His answer? No, of course. Hispanics really agree with our position calling for continued exploitation and demonization of Hispanics, but we just didn't message it very well. Score one for the nativists.
So, all in all, Mr. Steele's election is a hopeful sign for the GOP and the nation. His Party not only chose a new path in electing him their new Chair, they rejected candidates who would have sent a very bad signal about the values of the GOP in this new age of Obama. But as we saw with the irresponsible House stimulus vote last week, old ways die hard, and the choice of Steele alone does not a new Party make.
Streak of Racialist Extremism Exposed - New York Times (NYT) editorial this weekendon how the "relentlessly harsh Republican campaign against immigrants has always hidden a streak of racialist extremism. Now after several high-water years, the Republican tide has gone out, leaving exposed the nativism of fringe right-wingers clinging to what they hope will be a wedge issue." The editorial alludes to last week's visit by the American Cause to the National Press Club in Washington. The group, seeking to speak for the future of the Republican Party, declared that its November defeats in Congressional races stemmed not from having been too hard of foreigners, but too soft. The NYT points out several key points that have been repeated in NDN analysis throughout the years:
This is nonsense, of course. For years Americans have
rejected the cruelty of enforcement-only regimes and Latino-bashing, in opinion surveys and at the polls. In House and Senate races in 2008 and 2006, "anti-amnesty" hard-liners consistently lost to candidates who proposed comprehensive reform solutions. The wedge did not work for single-issue xenophobes like Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., or the former Arizona Congressman J. D. Hayworth. Nor did it help any of the Republican presidential candidates....Americans want immigration solved, and they realize that mass deportations will not do that. When you add the unprecedented engagement of growing numbers of Latino voters in 2008, it becomes clear that the nativist path is the path to permanent political irrelevance. Unless you can find a way to get rid of all the Latinos.
The Editorial also alludes to twoillustrative quotesby Bill O'Reilly, "for another YouTube taste of the Fox News host assailing the immigration views of "the far left" (including The Times) as racially traitorous."
On that note, you might want to review the NDN Backgrounder: State of the Modern GOP and the Conservative Movement
Chip Saltsman's Other Song - The Star Spanglish Banner - After all the attention received by the Republican mailing of the parody song "Barack the Magic Negro" by Chip Saltsman, last week NDN highlighted "The Star Spanglish Banner," a "puerile bit of Latino-baiting" on the same notorious CD. That same afternoon Mr. Saltsman withdrew his name from the race for RNC Chair.
The election for RNC Chair was finally won by Michael Steele. Many see this as a "first step" by the
Republican party to change direction, but when we read Mr. Steele's position on immigration, it is clear that the GOP just doesn't understand how to fix the broken immigration system, and they have no plan.
According to this article, and to the New York Times,incoming Senator Gillibrand "Hints at a Change of Mind on Immigration."
Postponing E-verify - The federal government has agreed to postpone implementing the E-Verify regulation for federal contractors until May 21, 2009 at the earliest, a business group said today. Federal officials agreed to a request by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to postpone enforcement of the regulation so that the rule can be reviewed by the Barack Obama administration, the organization said in a news release. It is the second time the federal government has pushed back the deadline. Under the new agreement, federal contractors will
not need to comply with E-Verify until May 21.