By Carl Reed
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Mark Twain (attributed)
Recently, Herman Cain made the comment that, “Many African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.” For this statement he was vilified, especially by the black liberal establishment. It may have been imprudent for him to say, especially if he wishes to garner a significant portion of the black vote, but it is the truth. Blacks have been brainwashed by the myth of the Southern Strategy.
There was a point in our history in which the black community voted overwhelmingly Republican. After all, the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves. During the reconstruction period, blacks elected to federal office were all Republicans. President Johnson had to appeal to Congressional Republicans for passage of civil rights legislation as the majority of Democrats opposed it.
On the other hand, the Democrats historical record on race relations is deplorable. The Democrat party is the party of slavery. The Ku Klux Klan was founded by Democrats as an enforcement arm of the party. Woodrow Wilson stabbed the NAACP in the back by seeking their support than, once in office, he segregated the federal government. When anti-lynching legislation was proposed during the Roosevelt administration, the President refused to support it. It was Democrats who fought for Jim Crow laws and segregation.
Given the foregoing, I must concede, the Democrats did a masterful job of selling the black community on the “racist Republican.” It has been so thoroughly accepted that the black electorate, which once voted overwhelmingly for Republicans, has done a complete about face and now consistently votes in excess of 90% for the Democrats. The Southern Strategy is a myth; a lie. It has been made up out of whole cloth.
Basically, the myth goes like this. Republicans made a concerted effort to attract southern white racists to their party as a means of locking up the southern vote. It was based on the syllogism that the Republican party assembled a national majority by winning over Southern white voters; Southern white voters are racist; ergo, the Republican party is racist.
There are three aspects to the Southern Strategy. First it is alleged that Barry Goldwater’s vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act proved he was a racist and his appeal to “states rights” implied a continuation of Jim Crow. The reality of Goldwater’s alleged “racism” is much different, however. Goldwater had been instrumental in the effort to integrate the Arizona National Guard even before Truman integrated the Armed Forces. Goldwater had voted for all previous civil rights legislation. He was only opposed to two provisions in the ’64 Civil Rights Act; provisions which affected private property. He believed that private businesses and clubs were subject only to market forces, not government mandates.
The second aspect alleges that Richard Nixon used hidden code words that appealed to racists within the Democrat party and throughout the South in an effort to win white votes by exploiting racial tensions. The problem with this line of thinking is that, in order for racism to be hidden inside another viewpoint, that second view – to be a useful hiding place – must be one that can be held for entirely legitimate reasons. In other words, these are also positions principled non-racists can hold. The views are racist simply because they are defined as racist, a tautology.
Again, the reality of Nixon’s appeal to racism was much different than alleged. Richard Nixon’s background indicates he favored civil rights early on. It was he, who as Vice President, urged President Eisenhower to appoint Earl Warren to the Supreme Court. Earl Warren was well known for his pro civil rights views. Nixon was also in favor of sending troops to integrate Little Rock High.
Media coverage of the 1968 presidential race shows that he was in favor of civil rights and would not compromise on this issue. For example, an article published in the Washington Post on September 15, 1968 headlined “Nixon Sped Integration, Wallace says.” In fact, it was Nixon’s principled stance on civil rights that prompted George Wallace, a well known racist, to enter the race on a third party ticket. Nixon, in his memoirs, said that “The deep south had to be virtually conceded to George Wallace. I could not match him there without compromising on civil rights, which I would not do.”
Nixon’s record, once in office also belies the charge he was a racist or appealed to racism. His administration made historic progress in finally ending the practice of segregating the races in “separate but equal” schools in the South. When he took office in 1969, 68 percent of black Southern students attended segregated schools. Within five years, that number had been cut to 9 percent. As Tom Wicker wrote in his biography, One of Us, “The Nixon administration did more in 1970 to desegregate the Southern school systems than had been done in the sixteen previous years…”
The third aspect for establishing the Southern Strategy myth was laid with another falsehood; that all the former Dixiecrats had joined the Republican Party after Nixon allegedly used the used the Southern Strategy. The Dixiecrat Party was a third party that splintered from the Democrats because of their dissatisfaction with Harry Truman over the civil rights issue during the 1940s. The goal of the Dixiecrat Party was to continue segregation and white supremacy in the southern states. Senator Strom Thurmond left the Democrats and became their presidential nominee in 1948. After losing the election, Thurmond returned to the Democrat Party, but later switched to the Republicans in 1964. However, almost all the other former Dixiecrats remained in the Democrat Party until they either retired or died. Fulbright, Wallace, Gore and Byrd retired as Democrats.
It was the next generation of white southern politicians who joined the GOP. This represented a passing of the torch from the segregationists to those who had accepted the civil rights revolution.
The Claremont Institute has published a much more comprehensive analysis of the fallacy of the Southern Strategy. You can read it here: http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.928/article_detail.asp
In their book, “The End of Southern Exceptionalism,” Richard Johnston of the University of Pennsylvania and Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin argue that the shift in the South from Democrat to Republican was overwhelmingly a question not of race but of economic growth. In the postwar era the South transformed itself from a backward region to an engine of the national economy, giving rise to a sizable new wealthy suburban class. This class, began to vote for the party that best represented its economic interest; the GOP. Working-class whites, however, even in areas with large black populations, stayed loyal to the Democrats. In that environment an appeal to racism was hardly necessary.