Category: Southern Strategy

The Southern Strategy breathes its last

Melinda Henneberger’s analysis is a strong version of the standard take-away analysis coming out of this week’s election.  You can still win big by appealing solely to white voters in the South (due to the kind of racial resentment Henneberger describes) and in portions of the West (because the minority population is relatively low), but you can no longer win at the national level without addressing the concerns of minority voters.  AGB

The end of a long, ugly road for the GOP’s Southern strategy

Posted by Melinda Henneberger on November 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Ann Romney said one thing during her husband’s presidential run that no one can dispute: “This is hard,” she said of the slog. (Actually being president is hard, too, as George W. Bush once noted 11 times in a single debate.)

Here’s one campaign call, though, that should never have been a head-scratcher: Running on white resentment is not a winning strategy, and the next Republican who tries it will lose, too. (more…)

Why white people like Republicans

By Alan Bean

The American electorate is more racially divided in 2012 than at any time in the recent memory.  This encourages the simple conclusion that white Americans prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama because Mitt is white.  But a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute paints a far more complex portrait of the white American voter.

As has been widely reported, white women are about equally divided between the two candidates; it’s the men who break strongly for Romney.   In 2008, Barack Obama carried a higher percentage of the white vote (41%) than any Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976.  Moreover, working class whites give Mitt Romney a favorability rating of 45% compared to Barack Obama’s 44%; among college educated whites, both men are favored by 49% of those surveyed.  If white America throws its support behind the Republican candidate in tomorrow’s election (as they assuredly will) it has little to do with a birds-of-a-feather firing of mirror neurons.

The white electorate divides sharply along five distinct fault lines: education, gender, age, geography and religion.  The Public Religion Research Institute Survey compares the white working class to college educated whites.  College educated white voters favor Romney, but by a scant 2 points; the white working class favors Romney by 13 points (48-35).

In other words, when we are talking about “the white electorate” we are primarily talking about white working class voters.  In this election, 80% of minority votes will go to the Democrat; Romney will be the overwhelming favorite of the white working class; and white college educated voters will fall somewhere in between these extremes.  Since white middle class voters comprise 36% of the voting population, their clout is difficult to exaggerate.  White college educated voters account for 21% of the electorate, black voters, 11%, and Latino voters, 13%. (For the poll under discussion 11% of white voters are neither working class or college educated).

As we have seen, white women are far more likely to favor Obama than their brothers, boy friends and husbands; and this applies just as much to the white middle class (41%-41%) as to white college educated women.  White working class males, on the other hand, will favor Romney by 27 points (57%-28%).  It should be noted, however, that working class males making less than $30,000 divide their votes evenly between Obama and Romney while working class males who have received food stamps in the past two years, favor Obama by a margin of 48% to 36%.  The authors of the study use this data to argue that the white working class, contrary to popular opinion, do not always vote against their perceived interests. (more…)

Romney appeals to zero percent of black voters

By Alan Bean

As things presently stand, Mitt Romney can count on 60% of the white vote, 33% of the Latino vote and 0% of the African American vote.

Not 5% . . . 0%.  There may be a few thousand black Republicans nationwide willing to pull the lever for the white guy, but there aren’t enough of them to constitute a single percentage point.

I would have thought that a small but measurable contingent of black voters would be with the Republican candidate.  He is the pro-life, anti-gay rights candidate, after all, and black evangelicals have a reputation for being pro-life and anti-gay rights.

And what about the small sliver of  the black electorate wealthy enough to be helped by Republican fiscal policy?   What’s with those guys?

According to the Washington Post, Republican candidates like George W. Bush and Bob Dole captured just over 10% of the black vote.  Hardly a stellar performance, but an improvement on an absolute electoral vacuum.

The lack of Latino enthusiasm for Mitt Romney is understandable.  A harsh anti-immigrant stance lay at the heart of Romney’s primary season strategy and the new Republican Party platform shifts to the right of their standard bearer.

Romney made a point of attending the NAACP conference in July where he claimed to be the candidate who would do the most for African Americans.

No one was fooled.

When the Republican candidate used his NAACP address to flay “Obamacare” it was obvious that the folks assembled before him weren’t his real audience.  Romney’s cynical handlers were hoping that the sight of their man being booed and heckled, however politely, by a room of black opinion leaders would help his standing with the white electorate.

And we’re not talking about the conservative white voters who wouldn’t vote for Obama if you held a gun to their heads.  The message was aimed at white swing voters; the folks on the fence.

This level of cynicism has characterized Republican political algebra since the notorious Southern Strategy was cobbled together in the late 1960s.  Racial resentment runs so deep in America that a solid majority of white voters can be manipulated by a thinly-veiled racial pitch.

You can’t be too gross about it, of course, no one outside a few counties in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia wants to be accused of overt, “I love the Nigra, in his place” bigotry.  But whenever Romney contrasts Obama’s entitlement nation with the personal responsibility America dear to the hearts of Republicans he’s fishing in the slough of racial resentment.

When white voters think welfare, they think black, and Romney’s handlers know it.  The bogus complaint that Obama has scaled back work requirements in the welfare-to-work system doesn’t have to be true.  To most white swing voters, sending out checks no-questions-asked is just the sort of thing a black president would do for his kind.

This is called “dog whistle” politics, the theory being that only conservative whites can hear the high-pitched whine of racial resentment.  Although, from a Republican perspective, it hardly matters, the ears of African Americans have become highly attuned to dog whistle politics over the years, and for good reason.  If you’re black, that ear-splitting siren always spells trouble.

This year the squeal is so loud and persistent that zero percent of African American voters fail to hear it.   It’s white moderates, the kind who generally vote for Democrats, who remain deaf to the whistle, and so long as that’s true the Southern Strategy marches on.

Are Texas Democrats ready to take Latinos seriously?

Latino Symposium 009
Political consultant Chuck Rocha

By Alan Bean

With every new election cycle, the Latino share of the vote in Texas rises by about 2 percent.  If this trend continues, as it almost certainly will, Latinos will eventually dictate the shape of politics in the Lone Star State.

George W. Bush took the Latino vote seriously, both as governor and president.  When Republicans reach out to Latino voters they can snare as much as 40% of the vote, enough to win easily in deep-red Texas.  This is because the white middle class is overwhelmingly Republican; only 26% of white Texans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, (his fifth worst showing with this demographic behind Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana).

I attended the event described in this Star-Telegram article with my sociologist daughter, Lydia Bean.  The day’s most telling quote didn’t make it into the paper.  Gilberto Hinojosa, the first Latino Chair of the Texas Democratic Party, told the gathering that after Ann Richards lost the governor’s race to George W. Bush in 1994, Texas Democrats pinned the blame on the defection of conservative to moderate white voters.  In consequence, it was decided that winning these people back was the key to electoral success. (more…)

Super PAC ad exploits white ignorance of black church

By Alan Bean

I frequently tell audiences how our family was virtually excommunicated from polite society when we questioned a corrupt drug bust in Tulia, Texas.  I write about this bewildering experience in my book, Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas.  In the eyes of respectable, church-going folk, we were just flat wrong.  From this mainstream perspective, our stand looked crazy, illogical, and possibly even demonic.

Moral perception involves a subtle interplay between personal experience and community narrative, the value-laden stories we grow up listening to.  The Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story is a classic example of a value-laden story; so is the story of Rosa Parks, the Black seamstress who refused to give up her seat on the bus.  Community narratives are the stories that define a culture.  If you are part of the culture, you hear the stories. 

Both personal experience and community narrative vary tremendously from culture to culture.  In Black communities, for instance, children grow up hearing stories about the need to persevere in the face of prejudice and rejection.  Personal experiences are interpreted through a narrative lens fashioned by this community narrative.  “Oh, so that’s what daddy was talking about,” we tell ourselves.

In White culture, community narrative tends to validate authority figures and the social status quo.  “Police officers are there to protect you, Johnny,” White parents tell their children, “so you shouldn’t be afraid of them.  I know that gun looks scary, but he will only use it on the bad guys.”  In general, personal experience bears out this expectation.

You hear very different stories in Black and Latino communities.  Authority figures aren’t demonized in the moral narratives that circulate in minority communities, but they are viewed with a measure of suspicion.  You don’t always call the police when something bad goes down on the street; innocent people might get hurt.  And when a family member is facing trial no one expects equal justice.  Personal experience tends to validate this community narrative.

One consequence of being excommunicated from Tulia’s respectable white community was spending a lot of time with Black and Latino residents.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in Albuquerque witnessing a debate between Asa Hutchison of the Drug Enforcement Administration and New Mexico governor Garry Johnson.  We were primarily there to talk to both sides about what was happening in Tulia.

The planes hit the Twin Towers just as we were packing for our return trip and we listened to updates on public radio all the way back to Tulia.  In the van with me were several members of Tulia’s black community, most of them associated with the Church of Christ.  They were appalled by events in Manhattan, but they weren’t surprised.  In fact, they wondered why it had taken so long.  A simple phrase was repeatedly endlessly, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

I thought of that road trip seven years later when Jeremiah’s incendiary rhetoric played a central role in the electoral campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama.  “No, no, no,” Wright roared, “Not ‘God bless America.  “God damn America.”

When I first saw the clip of Reverend Wright in full cry I was reminded of Billy Graham’s remark that if God didn’t punish America He would have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Wasn’t Jeremiah Wright saying much the same thing?

Yes and no.  When Billy Graham suggested that the wrath of God would soon fall on America he was speaking out of the moral narrative he grew up hearing in Baptist circles in North Carolina.  Like ancient Israel, America is called to be a chosen people, a city set upon a hill.  But we will only be blessed insofar as we remain faithful to our calling.  Our tolerance for lewd music, R-rated movies, gambling and general debauchery is a rejection of our Godly birthright and will inevitably lead to divine judgment.

Jeremiah Wright was thinking of a different community narrative when he delivered his infamous sermon in the wake of 9-11.  America flatters itself as a beacon of democracy, but we prop up tin pot dictators in to enhance the profits of multinational corporations even if it spells untold suffering for millions of people.  Did we think God would turn a blind eye to such cruel hypocrisy forever?

Graham and Wright applied the same Deuteronomic logic to very different facts.  One was lionized for speaking hard truths; the other was demonized as an anti-American racist.  Until you step into a Black barber shop and ask the brothers for their take. 

From the dominant White perspective (liberal and conservative) Jeremiah Wright was talking crazy.  How could anyone be so insensitive in the wake of the worst national disaster in recent memory? 

This explains why a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts plans to use the president’s historic ties to Jeremiah Wright to bring about ‘The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama’.   The assumption is that Wright’s “God Damn America” rhetoric is so extreme that White Democrats will dissociate from the president while Black America will be silenced. 

If this ad airs (and since a prototype has been leaked to the media, there is a chance it may not) Black America will not take it lying down.  Instead, attempts will be made to humanize Reverend Wright by placing his remarks in social and historical context.  

I hope the ad envisioned in the prototype never materializes; but if it does, the moral divide separating Black and White America will be more apparent than it has been since the halcyon days of the Civil Rights Movement.

‘Michelle Alexander: Jim Crow Still Exists in America’

By Melanie Wilmoth

In a recent episode of Fresh Air on NPR, Dave Davies interviews attorney and author Michelle Alexander. In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander argues that, as a result of the war on drugs, the U.S. has created a system of mass incarceration which disproportionately targets people of color.

“The war on drugs,” Alexander states, “was part of a grand Republican Party strategy, known as the Southern Strategy, of using racially coded get-tough appeals on issues of crime and welfare to appeal to poor and working-class whites, particularly in the South, who were resentful of, anxious about, threatened by many of the gains of African-Americans in the civil rights movement.”

The “wave of punitiveness” and get-tough policies that followed the declaration of the war on drugs had an incredible impact on communities of color. Although African-Americans make up about 13% of the general population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population. “In major American cities today,” Alexander points out, “more than half of working-age African-American men either are under are correctional control or are branded felons.” (more…)

Dreaming a Christian aristocracy: The evolution and meaning of Dominionism

By Alan Bean

Our twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t lend itself to careful analysis of complex social movements.  Rick Perry, the pugnacious presidential hopeful, raised eyebrows when he used a loose network of organizations associated with the New Apostolic Reformation to organize a big religious-political rally in Houston.  Interest quickened when the mainstream media learned that some of Perry’s friends were “Dominionists,” folks who want to bring secular politics (and everything else) under the dominion of God.

The questions couldn’t be avoided.  If elected, will Rick Perry pack his cabinet with Christian preachers?  Since that didn’t sound likely, the pundits too-easily assumed that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are just standard-issue conservatives with close ties to the religious right.  (more…)

Texas offers Bible classes while vocational training is slashed

By Alan Bean

According to stories published this weekend in the Texas press, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will soon be offering a four-year course in biblical studies to forty inmates.

The training isn’t intended to prepare inmates for pastoral ministry in the outside world–most of the students are serving long sentences and will be locked up for many years.  Prison officials know that gangs and God are the most popular survival mechanisms for inmates.  Gangs create grief; a focus on God encourages compliance and reduces violent behavior.  By enhancing the God-option, state officials hope to create more disciplined and less violent prisons.

If you have been reading my recent posts on Burl Cain, the evangelical warden of Louisiana’s Angola prison, you will be wondering if the fledgling Texas program is a Louisiana import.  Yes, it is.  State Senators Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) were recently introduced to the Angola program and came away impressed.

Part of me thinks likes this idea.  Having preached, sang and prayed with prisoners in the past, I know how important faith can become for people who have been stripped of everything but God.

But there are problems.  Lots of problems.

As Scott Henson points out in Grits for Breakfast, vocational programs for Texas inmates were slashed during the recent legislative session.  In effect, prison officials have diverted resources from a program geared to assist with post-release employment for a program promising to instill obedience and reduce violence.

Why can’t we have both?

Henson is also concerned that TDCJ is giving preferential treatment to the fundamentalist wing of the religious community.  It isn’t just that the new program amounts to state sanction of a single religion; it awards all the marbles to sectarian Baptists who, in recent years, have ruthlessly disenfranchised moderate churches and pastors.

Between 1980 and the mid-nineties, Southern Baptists across the South mounted a brutal purge against the denomination’s “moderate” element (there were few real “liberals” in the SBC).  I was working on a doctorate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky between 1989 and 1994. When I arrived, the faculty was little changed from the folks who taught my wife, Nancy, and me back in the 1970s.  Two years later, all four professors in the church history department had been forced out and the same dismal pattern was being replicated throughout the seminary. Then many of the conservative replacements suffered the same fate (most commonly because they believed women were worthy of ordination).

The General Baptist Convention of Texas, a conservative organization if ever there was one, was deeply troubled with these developments, especially as they played out in Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Seminary.  The ouster of the irenic Russell Dilday as seminary president created an ideological cleavage among Texas Baptists that will take at least a generation to heal.

As a result, Southwestern Seminary is no longer affiliated with the General Baptist Convention of Texas, having thrown in its lot with the fundamentalist (and highly politicized) Southern Baptists of Texas.

By throwing in its lot with radical fundamentalists without creating opportunities for other faith groups, the TDCJ is favoring folks aligned with the pro-Republican religious right. (more…)

“Perrymandered” electoral map could backfire

By Alan Bean

Once upon a time, the red-red state of Texas was Dixiecrat Blue.  That changed at the federal level a long time ago, but as late as 2004, the State House was still controlled by Democrats.  Recent elections have changed that in a big way–Republicans are now firmly in control of the Texas Legislature.  Texas has always been a politically conservative state; it just took a few decades for the Southern strategy to kick in.

One quick glance at the Texas Legislature’s “face-book” and the racial implications of this political re-orientation is immediately obvious: most Democrats are black and brown and the delegation boasts a large number of women; flip over to the Republican delegation and you see lots of white males, a few white females and the occasional conservative Latino who was elected with Anglo votes.

Meanwhile, the complexion of the Texas electorate has been rapidly changing.  The state population has been exploding in recent years and almost all the growth has come from the Latino segment of the population.  Thanks to this growth, Texas was recently awarded four additional congressional seats.  Here’s the problem; the Republican dominated Legislature is responsible for drawing up a new electoral map, but the folks responsible for creating four new seats rarely pull the red lever in the voting booth.

As this article in the National Journal indicates, the GOP initially looked to Rep. Lamar Smith for guidance.   Smith suggested that they create two strong Republican districts (to ensure continued GOP hegemony) while cobbling together two heavily Latino districts a to avoid questions about fairness and possible legal challenges.

Led by Joe Barton and Rick Perry, Texas Republicans decided to ignore Smith’s advice and play for all the marbles.  They controlled the Legislature, so they ought to be able to reconfigure the electoral lines in their favor.  This kind of thinking produced a “Perrymandered” map designed to give the Republicans four new seats while doing absolutely nothing to increase Latino political influence.  In fact, the new map was designed to frustrate Hispanic voters.  The snub was obvious and intentional.

Texas Democrats have only themselves to blame for these developments.  The party’s best bet (morally and politically) is to embrace ethnic diversity and market itself as “the party that looks like Texas.”  Unfortunately, many older Democrats are still mired in the bad old days when Jim Crow values dominated Texas politics.  What’s the use of fielding an inclusive mix of black, brown and white candidates, they reason, if conservative white voters rally around The Party of White?  The idea that white voters might reconsider their biased ways if presented with a compelling new vision is beyond the comprehension for most Anglo Democrats in Texas.

Latino Texans are frustrated.  For decades they have been exploited by Democrats and ignored by Republicans.  Texas Latinos have a hard time getting excited about the Democratic Party (why should they), but they do want their growing numbers to translate into real political influence (why shouldn’t they).   (more…)

Royal visit has me longing for home

PHOTO: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visit the Somba K'e Civic Plaza on day 6 of the Royal Couple's North American Tour, July 5 2011 in Yellowknife, Canada.By Alan Bean

I have been too busy to blog this week, but I couldn’t resist this story. You may ask what a royal tour has to do with criminal justice reform. Very little, I expect, although I am clever enough to come up with something if I had a mind to.

I am blogging about Kate and William’s royal tour because it pleases me.

For one thing, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne a few years before I was born and, though I am 58 years old, she has been the only British monarch I have known. When you grow up singing "God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen(to the tune of My Country ‘Tis of Thee) it gets into your bones (whether you like it or not).

This lovely photographic essay from the Washington Post shows the royal couple taking in a little calf roping at the Calgary Stampede and attending the Dene Games in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. I was born in Calgary in 1953 and the Bean family moved to Yellowknife three years later. I remember my dad taking my sister and I to the Calgary Stampede during a summer vacation when I was a little kid. He wouldn’t spring for cowboy boots, but I did get a cowboy hat, and I wore it to bed that night.

I remember William’s grandfather, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, creating quite a stir a generation ago when he was presented with the inevitable cowboy hat during a visit to Calgary. “Thank you very much," said the Prince. “I think I have six or seven of these now. Perhaps I’ll use this one for a planter.”

That didn’t go down well in Cow Town.

There is another story about Prince Phillip dining at Calgary’s glorious Palicer Hotel back in the mid fifties (when he was about the age William is now). According to legend, a hotel waitress, while removing Phillip’s dinner plate, whispered, “Keep your fork, Prince, we’re havin’ pie.”

I don’t get back to Canada much these days.  My parents are both long dead and my sister, Carol, spends half the year in Texas.  But everyone needs a sense of home, and places like Calgary, Edmonton and Yellowknife are about as close as I can get.  A return visit to Yellowknife after almost fifty years is high on my bucket list.

Calgary's Bow River Valley

Last year, while in Calgary for the funeral of my aunt, Iris Garner, I stopped by the old home of the now defunct Baptist Leadership Training School, an institution I attended in 1971.   It had been fully forty years since I last walked to the nearby park overlooking the gorgeous Bow River valley.  The view of the river hadn’t changed a bit, but I hardly resembled the callow youth who once looked out over the scene.  I have rarely felt more orphaned and adrift.

So I guess, in the end, these rambling thoughts do relate to this blog’s primary theme.  Everybody needs a sense of place, everybody needs to belong to a people.  Friends of Justice works in the American South, a region occupied by rooted people with a strong sense of belonging.  What happens when a proud people is made synonymous with bigotry and hate?  Issues of culpability aside, how deep does the fear, loss and resentment go?

The spirit and spirituality of mass incarceration is a plant native to the southland that has been nourished for decades by the deepest kind of alienation and outrage.  People felt as if the glorious narrative that had given them a sense of people and place had been desecrated.  The sense of loss was palpable.  This is why Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign in 1980 in Neshoba County, the place where, 16 years earlier, three civil rights leaders had been murdered.  Reagan was opposed to the civil rights movement, but he was hardly a son of the South.  His advisers knew, however, that a rich deposit of racial resentment was waiting to be mined in places like Neshoba County.  People had lost their story and they desperately wanted it back.  Reagan promised to deliver.  The promise was kept.

Sign announcing the 2011 Neshoba County Fair

I understand these emotions.  I grew up in one country and I live in another.  Calgary, Alberta and Fort Worth Texas have a lot in common, but I never really feel at home in Texas.  Nor would I feel at home if I returned to my native Canada.  Like Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”

When Tea Partiers say they want their country back they are longing for an old, old story.  They want to feel part of an exceptional, virtuous and boot-leather-tough nation where everyone shares the same values and pursues the same goals.  That kind of America never existed in reality; but it lives in memory nonetheless.  The nation people want to regain exists in the form of narrative mythology, and this story about restoring a noble, resolute and unified America is the most potent force in contemporary politics.

There is no sense decrying or endlessly deconstructing the narrative that animates our ideological opposites.  We need a narrative of our own.  We don’t need a story about the nation we once were; we need a story about the nation the better angels of our national nature have always aspired to be.  We need to start talking about a country where there is no us and them; a nation where there are no surplus, throw-away people.
We need to start talking about a nation of broken people where broken people can be redeemed.
According to reporter Jeremy van Loon, Prince William characterized Canada as that kind of country.

Prince William praised Canada’s “extraordinary potential” and the nation’s values of “freedom and compassion” at the end of a nine-day tour of the country with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.  “Canada is not just a great union of provinces and territories, it is a great union of peoples from many different backgrounds who have come together to make this a model — and a magnet — for those who value freedom, enterprise, tolerance and compassion,” he said today in Calgary.

 I’m not sure Canada, or any other country, deserves such high praise.  The prince was being complimentary.  But don’t we want to live in that kind of country?  When we tap into that desire, the movement to end mass incarceration will begin.