Monday, September 25, 2006

Time for Republicans to face the truth about race.

For the third time in a little over a month Sen. George Allen must face questions stemming from remarks and actions that demonstrate what could be politely termed racial intolerance, but in fact reek of old fashioned racism. According to a recently released article in Salon, Allen's former college teammates are now coming forward with tales of blatant racism that some, like Rush Limbaugh, will characterize as "college pranks," but clearly border on hate crimes to any right thinking person. In one incident Allen had his friends drive him to the local black neighborhood so he could take the severed head of a deer and randomly stuff it into a mailbox.

While Allen's case may be extreme, it says something about what has happened to Republican Party. For some, it’s been a game of "catch me if you can" with racism for years. Late night comics tell jokes about "how few Blacks Republicans there are," but they don't seem funny anymore given the current climate. The American people have known for years about the underlying truths behind those jokes. The Republican Party has increasingly become a home for racists of every stripe and the sooner that party starts to come to terms with that reality, the better.

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Frequently, when cases like Allen's come to light, the knee-jerk reaction of Republicans is to attack the messenger. The standard defense is to make an accusation of "playing a race car," or claim oversensitivity or "political correctness" in the extreme. In cases where no possible other explanation can be found except racism, a quick act of contrition, followed by immediate forgiveness of "youthful indiscretions" or a "lack of sensitivity" has been the modus operandi.

But no longer can Allen be viewed as an aberration. Increasingly, Republicans are having to deny accusations of racism. From Tom Tancredo standing behind a Confederate flag singing "Dixie" with the members of the League of the South, to candidates supported by the Minuteman having to explain pictures of skinheads carrying Nazi flags as they patrol the border, or endorsements from the KKK , from Vernon Robinson's racist campaign ads in North Carolina, or the RSNC ads run in the RI primary, racism is becoming a major topic of discussion.

But should this really surprise us.

In order to understand how an inordinate amount of racism can be concentrated in one political party, one must look back over the last half century or so and see how the modern Republican Party was born.

Throughout the New Deal years of Democratic dominance, racism was the national norm. Yet it's most extreme proponents were evenly dispersed between the two major parties. The Democrats had the racists of the Old South, tied to the ideals of the Confederacy and segregation. The Republican Party contained the blueblood racism of country clubs and private estates, of those who divided their world by class, race and religion.

In the 1950's this dynamic began to shift. A rift emerged in the Democratic Party over civil rights leading to Strom Thurman's Dixiecrat breakaway. But perhaps a more subtle shift was going on within the Republican Party. A new thread of racism began running through the party as those whom Nixon would later call the "silent majority" of white suburban voters who had fled the nation's urban centers to escape "urban decay" and quite frankly people of color, started joining the party. Yet the balance between the parties remained the same for the most part throughout the sixties.

In the late sixties and early seventies everything changed as the modern Republican majority was cobbled together through a coalition of diverse groups with differing agendas and goals. It began with Nixon's Southern Strategy to woo disaffected Dixiecrats from the Democratic majority. After the late sixties and the final absorption of newly franchised minorities into the Democratic Party a major transition began. Throughout the period, large blocks of lifelong Southern Democrats, opposing their party's support of civil rights, switched parties and joined the Republican ranks. With them came the seeds of racism in today's Republican Party.

Later in the 80's, Reagan went after another disaffected group, the "Reagan Democrats." Made up of white working and middleclass Americans, and union workers, Reagan took advantage of a backlash against school bussing, desegregation, affirmative action and many of the other programs and policies that grew out of the civil rights, women's rights, gay rights and youth movements to bring a new group into his party. But with this group also came some more seeds of racism.

With the absorption of these two groups the face of the party was transformed. Reagan could now appeal to his new base with tales of "Welfare Queens" in order to gain support of longtime conservative goals like disassembling the social welfare system. GHW Bush could use Willie Horton to get elected.

This situation has existed for about the last twenty-five years. Social and fiscal conservative need only wrap their ideas in a thin veil of racism and then with a wink and a nod present them to their new found friends. We see it with affirmative action, school vouchers, immigration, welfare reform, and even foreign policy. If a racial component can be found and somehow exploited, the policy can be sold.

But this situation has always been a deal with the devil. No political party can use race so flagrantly and continue to garner support from a growingly diverse American people. Ergo the new push by some to close the borders and stop the "browning of America."

Increasingly there is a Republican backlash against "multiculturalism" and an insistence on linguistic and cultural purity. That is because there is no more powerful weapon against racism than diversity. It is no wonder that some of the most racist elements of society now find themselves drawn to the anti-immigration movement.

The question now at hand in the light of the Allen revelations and everything else that's been going on over the last few years is: How long can reasonable Republicans hold their noses and ignore what's going on, and perhaps most importantly, keep their party viable without it going entirely off the deep end ?

If those in the party who do not attest to Allen's or Tancredo's brand of racism do not do something soon their party will not survive, and if it does, it will certainly not be anything they would ever want to be a part of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a little 60+ grandmother. My father came to this country in the Twenties with a British passport and a secondary school education that could put some colleges to shame. Given the time span you may have guessed correctly.that he was Anglo Saxon. How did it go for him getting a job, etc.? Rather badly. The country was in a building boom and he was perfectly suited to this. Would you believe that in many cases he was told that only Americans were being hired? Talk about a fear centered philosophy and policy! He ended up in the Depression taking a job loading crates of bottled milk onto horse-drawn delivery wagons at a creamery. This was a job largely rejected by "Americans" because they were afraid of large animals such as horses. Dad moved from there to building the tanks and airplanes that helped to beat the Axis in WWII. By then he was a citizen, married and starting a family. He eventually owned 2 homes outright and had no trouble buying a decent car and enjoying a dignified old age. And he voted Democrat.