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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

That elephant is still in the room

A few months back, I wrote about the Republican Party's use of race as a wedge issue in presidential elections, a trend that had been foreseen by Lyndon Johnson after signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

A conservative Republican from Arizona was running for president that year and lost, badly. But he became the first Republican to win the South, a fact that laid the foundations of a "Southern Strategy" that came of age in brutal fashion under Richard Nixon.

At its core, the strategy was to use race as the ultimate wedge in American society -- part of the shameful legacy of Nixon and the party that has strayed a long, long way since its birth as the party of Abraham Lincoln.

With the first African-American man poised to capture the nomination of a major political party, it's rearing its ugly head again -- exploited by the likely Democratic also-ran who said what every so-called expert has been thinking:
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," [Sen. Hillary Clinton] she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
Certainly race has been key factor in coverage of the outbursts of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The hateful sayings of white conservative religious "leaders" such as John Hagee -- not to mention the smarmy quotes over the years by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson -- have been dismissed far more easily than Wright's over-the-top rants.

Race is also still clearly on the minds of Southern state voters who participated in Clinton's late-season shellacking of Obama in West Virginia.
The number of white Democratic voters who said race had influenced their choices on Tuesday was among the highest recorded in voter surveys in the nomination fight. Two in 10 white West Virginia voters said race was an important factor in their votes. More than 8 in 10 who said it factored in their votes backed Mrs. Clinton, according to exit polls.
But is it really that simple?

On the same night in a congressional district in Mississippi, a battleground state in the nation's race war, a Democrat, albeit a conservative one, won a traditionally Republican congressional seat -- even when the GOP tried to hang Barack Obama around his neck like an anchor.

That followed by 10 days a similar party shift in Louisiana. And in a campaign without racial overtones, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat went Democratic earlier this spring.

So what's the stronger feeling in this nation -- anti-black or anti-Republican?

There's obviously been a deep-seated duality in a nation that declared that all men are created equal while prohibiting women from the vote and allowing blacks to be owned as human chattel. We have slowly but surely overcome most of those dark angels.

But this Democratic primary, pitting an African-American man against a woman, has really brought home all the contradictions. Two important parts of the Democratic coalition are battling each other over who is more aggrieved.

In short, it should be Karl Rove's dream. The man who perfected the Nixon Southern Strategy -- and who now takes the airwaves as a conservative pundit -- must be feeling pretty chipper. Right?

Not so fast. Call me naive, but I believe when the Democratic family argument ends (mercifully) in the next few weeks, it will not be something the GOP savors.

Despite all the current divisions between black and white, men and women there remains a deeper chasm -- created by Turd Blossom in the name of his ex-boss Boy Blunder -- the divide over everything else in this nation. That fact will unite feuding Democrats.

It's hard to ignore the fact that four-fifths of the American people feel this country is heading in the wrong direction. But this is not 1988, when a campaign based on flag (or flag pins) and race and the use of liberal as an epithet worked because our country had a popular retiring president and relative prosperity.

That year we had a Bush seeking a third term for a popular Republican president named Reagan. This time around we have an Arizona senator seeking the third term of a different Bush, one destined to go down as the most unpopular president in history.

We have a war without end, crippling gasoline prices and an economy in trouble with the Republican candidate on the wrong side of those issues.

West Virginia is typical of many of the state's facing these problems -- but they really didn't have a chance to vote the issues here. Except for the gasoline tax, there's no real substantive difference between Clinton and Obama.

So West Virginia voters had some fun at Democrats' expense. Call it the traditional buyer's remorse stage of the campaign.

Mississippi and Louisiana are the real bellwethers of the Southern Strategy of 2008.

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