A History of the Right and the Politics of Race-Baiting

Salon's editor-at-large, Joan Walsh, eviscerates a group of Republican House members for trying to destroy the nation's first black president through their latest ploy: a partial shutdown of the federal government. 

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The partial government shutdown closes the Statue of Liberty. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Joan Walsh, Salon's editor-at-large, eviscerates a group of Republican House members, who represent mostly white districts, for trying to destroy the nation's first black president through their latest ploy: a partial shutdown of the federal government. 

On the day the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the U.S. government is shut down, and it may be permanently broken. You'll read lots of explanations for the dysfunction, but the simple truth is this: It's the culmination of 50 years of evolving yet consistent Republican strategy to depict government as the enemy, an oppressor that works primarily as the protector of and provider for African-Americans, to the detriment of everyone else. The fact that everything came apart under our first African-American president wasn't an accident, it was probably inevitable.

People talk about the role of race in Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy": how Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips helped him lure the old Dixiecrats into the Republican Party permanently. Far less well known was the GOP's "Northern Strategy," which targeted so-called white ethnics -- many of them from the Catholic "Sidewalks of New York" like my working-class family, in the words of Kevin Phillips. Without a Northern Strategy designed to inflame white-ethnic fears of racial and economic change, Phillips' imaginary but still influential notion of a "permanent Republican majority" would have been unimaginable.

"The principal force which broke up the Democratic (New Deal) coalition is the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological inability to cope with it," Phillips wrote. "Democratic ‘Great Society' programs aligned that party with many Negro demands, but the party was unable to defuse the racial tension sundering the nation." Phillips was not trying to defuse that tension, far from it -- he was trying to lure those white ethnics to the GOP (although he later broke with the party he helped create.) But his Northern Strategy truly came to fruition in 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. Where Nixon swept the South, Reagan was able to take much of the North and West, too.

Read Joan Walsh's entire piece at Salon.

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