Friday, May 1, 2009

Buchanan Made The GOP a Heavily White Party

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By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

GOP hatchet man and media pundit Pat Buchanan recently quipped that the GOP is a "heavily white party." It's not a heavily white party, it's virtually an exclusively white party; Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele notwithstanding. And Buchanan did much to make sure that the GOP got that way and stays that way. The checklist of Buchanan's blunt speak racially charged barbs, insults and inflammatory pitches to unreconstruted bigots during the past two decades can fill up a book. In fact it fills up two books, the State of Emergency and Death of the West.

Buchanan damned multiculturalism, railed against affirmative action as blatant discrimination against whites, lambasted Republicans for pandering to the NAACP, applauded those who called Martin Luther King, Jr. a "fraud" and a "demogouge" and in 1969 he opposed the federal holiday for King. Three decades later he hadn't softened his take on King one bit. He's called him a "divisive" figure.

Buchanan waded into the fight to keep the Confederate flag flying high on state capitols in the South. To him the flag is an honorable symbol of the South's noble fight in the Civil War for self determination, states rights, and to protect cultural differences (Slavery=cultural differences?) Buchanan also has no qualms about appearing on the aptly named The Political Cesspool radio talk show, a show less charitably described as an on air forum to fan and spew white supremacist views.

This is the kooky Buchanan stuff and it can easily be shrugged off as the rants of a fringe political hack and media bloviator to stoke controversy to peddle his books and inflate his on screen presence. But Buchanan and company played a big and insidious part in crafting, tweaking, and honing the GOP's Southern Strategy. The GOP used this to rule national politics for four decades. The strategy was simple; say and do as little as possible about civil rights, talk God, country and patriotism, use racially tinged code words and furiously court white males. The goal was to win elections by openly and subtly pandering to Southern white fears of black political domination. Buchanan even warned that tainting the strategy by pitching the GOP to minority voters would amount to political sepaku.

The race tinged strategy was the magic gateway to the White House for Republican Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. and Bush. The key as every Republican president since Nixon has known and in some cases unabashedly said, was to maintain near-solid backing from white Southern males. They have been the staunchest Republican loyalists. Bush grabbed more than 60 percent of the white male vote nationally in 2004. In the South, he got more than 70 percent of their vote. Without the South's unyielding backing in 2000, Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow. In 2004, Bush swept Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in every one of the states of the Old Confederacy and three out of four of the Border States. This insured another Bush White House.

The strategy didn't work in 2008, but not because it's totally outdated. Despite the heavy chains of Bush domestic and foreign policy bungling and incompetence, the deep voter disgust with the lies, corruption, and negativity of the GOP, a failed, flawed, financial and human cost draining war, and an economy sinking faster than a lead balloon, Republican GOP presidential candidate John McCain was still competitive with President Obama for much of the 2008 presidential campaign. The only thing that prevented the election from being a total rout of McCain was the solid majority backing he got from white males in the Deep South, farm belt, and the heartland states. Nationally, McCain won a clear majority of the white vote.

The widespread popularity and voter approval of Obama in the months since the election hasn't totally changed that. A recent NYT Times/CBS Poll showed that blacks still are overwhelmingly Obama's strongest backers. The defection of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to the Democrats, the continued shooting themselves in the foot, and deconstruction of the GOP and the phenomenal success of Obama have only sharpened the political lines.

Buchanan knows that. His heavy white party quip drew the headlines, but he was careful not to knock the party for being a white man's party. Buchanan and the Southern Strategy adherents still pine away that the party can regain its fighting form of the past, and it can't do that by pandering to minorities. That's hopeless anyway given the iron grip that Obama and the Democrats have on black and minority voters. But as long as the GOP has its grip on the millions that made and kept the GOP a heavily white party, it's far from dead as a party.

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