It was Lee Atwater who showed Republicans how to appeal to the racist vote without sounding racist. He was the refiner of the finally backfiring Republican Southern Strategy. Atwater taught Republicans how to hide the racism upon which the Southern Strategy was built.
Today I made the mistake of joining in a trending topic by tweeting, “#WhySomePeopleAreDemocrats Because not everyone wants to wear a white hood while dragging women back to the cave.”
How was I to know that a single tweet would start an onslaught of Republican outrage wherein they would try to educate me with a history lesson that started and stopped when the folks who are now Southern Republicans used to be Democrats?
Here’s a sample of the tidings (I’ve left their names off out of unwarranted courtesy and yes, I have screengrabs):
“@srjones66 are you retarded? Liberals bully women just like they bully minorities. Open your eyes.”
“@srjones66 @CanadasGinger Here is a history lesson . The DEMS starting the klan. so i guess you dont want to be a dem?”
“@srjones66 your klan reference is weak – Klan members have always been Democrats.”
“Actually, the people wearing white robes and hoods, and lynching n-words were #Democrats , baby! .@srjones66 .@TheDailyEdge”
And my personal favorite, “@srjones66 get your facts straight – female entrepreneurs typically vote fiscally conservative and not long ago democrats were pro-slavery”
That’s a heck of a lot of denial that Republicans are seen as the party of racism. This denial is accomplished via deflection to a historical reference that definitely makes Democrats of the 1860s look bad but has nothing to do with today’s GOP or Democratic Party. This deflection is going on being two centuries old. That’s pretty desperate.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is a far right organization, advocating white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration stances. Their end goal was, is and always has been racial subordination, and to this end they fought way back in their founding against voting rights of black people and the right to keep and bear arms for black people. In Southern cities they opposed unions. They recruit in this century using issues of illegal immigration, urban crime, civil unions and same-sex marriage.
These positions align with the modern day Republican Party’s policies on many issues, which is why I referred to the Party as metaphorically wearing white hoods while they metaphorically took women back to the cave. Let us refrain from trying to explain metaphors to the party who still thinks that satire is what you call being mean in order to get away with it.
At any rate, the parties were not always like this! Change happens. Things evolve over a few centuries. Shocking, I know.
All of the conservative/Republican outrage demonstrated three things. First, Republicans don’t like being called out on their Jim Crow voting laws or their Stand Your Ground gun laws that frequently do not get interpreted the same for black people or women as they do for the whitest man in the room (highest ranker on the patriarchy scale).
They know it’s “bad” to be a racist, and so they will deny the white hood while hiding under the deflection that Democrats wore it first way back in the late 1860s when it was founded by six veterans of the Confederate Army. Yes, Democrats were a big part of the original KKK over 150 years ago. But Democrats were on the other side in 1948 with the addition of civil rights as a campaign plank and on into the fights for Civil Rights in the 60s, losing Southern white voters to the Republican Party. But really, what matters when you are voting is where each party stands TODAY. (The KKK had a resurgence in the 20s by white protestants angry at industrialization and immigration and high on Prohibition and the Bible, and a third big incarnation in reaction to the Civil Rights movement.)
Second, conservatives didn’t seem upset at all about being lumped in with dragging women back to the cave. The issue of women having authority over own body didn’t even register. This should disturb people because it demonstrates that it’s still socially acceptable to be a caver. I was informed that certain women vote “fiscally conservative”. The person assumed this inferred a Republican, but of course, that is inaccurate and as out of date as the KKK being Democrats. Democrats are the fiscal conservatives and have been for a long while now.
Third, there is no kind or even decent way to reply to this kind of willful ignorance on Twitter. These poor people were fed one tidbit of information and they don’t even know that they are making fools of themselves by repeating it, as repeating it admits that it’s wrong to be wearing the metaphorical white hood and reveals that said conservative has no idea that many of those same people left the Democratic Party over the issue of Civil Rights and joined the modern day White Hood party; aka the Republican Party. This is not a matter of “opinion” or rhetoric. It’s history.
Why did they do that? Many reasons, but we can attribute a lot of that shift to the Southern Strategy and to Atwater’s successful attempts to disguise the racism inherent in the strategy. He explained in an infamous interview that took place as he was serving under Reagan, “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni**er, ni**er, ni**er.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni**er”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract now; you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
The base that slops up the coded racism that makes up the entire Southern Strategy knows exactly what it means because it gets their wee hearts pattering faster and faster to think of the non-white immigrants taking over the good jobs and the black people daring to vote. They are now on Twitter doing exactly what Atwater planned for them – denying the racism and accusing the other side of it if it’s pointed out. In other words, they are carrying out their racism under a disguise or a metaphorical hood.
This brings us back to my original point, because the KKK still exists, and it aligns with the Republican party issues-wise, even if its membership is somewhat pathetic compared to its glory days. Well, it seems the two organizations have that in common as well. To put this in terms and using logic Republicans can understand, you can’t spell KKK without the letters G-O-P.
Many voters now see the GOP as obstructing Obama because he’s black. That’s a big old Atwater backfire just waiting to happen, and it couldn’t happen to more deserving party. There are many former Republicans and real independents who did not vote Republican in the last few elections because they could not morally do so, due to the rampant racism. Republicans can deny this all they want, but the numbers don’t lie.
Claiming that Republicans are the good guys because nearly two centuries ago they were on the opposite side of where they stand now actually proves my point, and wears an Atwater whitewashed white hood to do it no less. Also: Being aggressive does not make up for a refusal to deal with reality.
Try and explain that to a conservative.
Additional Source: Rory McVeigh, The rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-wing movements and national politics organizations, University of Minnesota Press, 2009
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.