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24 September 2009

The Revival of the Southern Strategy


William John Bennett served as United States Secretary of Education under Ronald Regan from 1985 to 1988. He also held the post of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (or "Drug Czar") under George H. W. Bush.  He is infamously remembered for his statement on a radio broadcast:
''I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.''

In 2005 when Bob Herbert wrote his op ed piece for the New York Times titled "Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant" he finished the piece by writing: "Bill Bennett's twisted fantasies are a malignant outgrowth of our polarized past. Our job is to keep them from spreading into the future."  

Here we are four years later and following the election of President Obama, we are nearly (some would say equally or more so) as polarized as we were in 1954. Our past has followed us into the future.  When President Carter addressed the underlying racism of certain segments of society participating in the Tea Party protests, he reminded me of Lee Atwater's description of the evolution of the Republican Party's Southern Strategy.  Mr. Atwater gave interview to  Alexander P. Lamis which was reported by Bob Herbert in the the New York Times:
As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. . . .

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can't say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

The strategy is the same, only the code words have changed.  Instead of forced busing, it's Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Obamacare.  Denial will not make it go away.  Denial will not solve the long, loathsome history of racism in this Country.  Denial will only strengthen and embolden the rhetoric.  President Carter was correct in his analysis.  He did not use the term "Southern Strategy" but the result is the same.  The Tea Party Southern Strategy is to shoot down as "Socialism" or "Communism" or "Fascist" any policy by the President and the Democrats that will benefit poor, and especially Black, Americans.

The South has risen - again.

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