How Race Shaped American Party Politics
It's a given that the GOP attracts more whites and the Democrats attract more blacks, but it wasn't always so.
When Northern politicians took the battle to the Democratic Convention in 1948, pushed by Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond was prompted to lead white Southerners out of the gathering and on to form the Dixiecrat Party. American politics have not been the same since.
Then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 permitted a level of political activity never before seen in the black communities of South and North, by removing barriers to registering and casting votes. With the ballot, African Americans altered the face of politics, from local offices to the halls of Congress. They gained not only elected office but also the attendant privileges, perks and jobs, such as being congressional aides and assistants.
Slowly and inexorably, white politicians drifted to the right and into the arms of the GOP, as the party once of Lincoln became more like the party of George Wallace, as far as blacks were concerned. Blacks looked on in horror as white Democrats -- mayors, entire city councils, state legislators, school boards, county sheriffs and other officers, congressmen and senators -- decided that they could no longer support a party that recognized the aspirations of African Americans in its agenda.
President Richard Nixon codified that move as Republican policy when he used his "Southern strategy" to wean white voters from Democrats in his successful bid to win the presidency in 1968. In an electorate already open to racist appeals, it did not take much effort to pull off.
Over the following decades, code words such as conservatism, small government, intrusive federal power and lower taxes appealed to their fear of losing power or money to those they considered inferior -- a fear that was, at its core, anti-black and more recently anti-immigrant.
Finally, the GOP has morphed into the radical politics of Tea Party advocates, a situation from which traditional Republicans are desperately trying to extricate themselves. Racism has always been accompanied by ridiculous denials, such as Donald Trump's declaration that he has "a great relationship with the blacks," or Glenn Beck's sponsorship of a march on Washington. Shucking off the ridiculous is part of the task facing GOP leaders if they wish to recapture the White House in 2012.
But it seems that Republicans cannot give up their old habits. For example, they continue to alienate and insult blacks and other nonwhites by promoting and supporting laws that would have the effect of depressing the voting of the young, minorities and the elderly. In several states, including Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans are leading drives for voter-identification laws. The actions are being fought in the courts and by the Department of Justice.
For those reasons, African-American disdain for Republicans and their policies will likely intensify as the political season progresses into 2012.
Paul Delaney is a frequent contributor to The Root.