Democrats and Racism
You probably know how I much I dig Tom Schaller, and his most recently discussion with the FDL gang just shows how much cool, class and intellect he's got. I can hardly believe such a lucid mind is employed by the Academe /I keed, I keed/.
His key point is pretty simple: racist people in the South are the reason Republicans have locked it up in recent years, and no amount of pandering to them will make them vote Democratic. Obviously not all Southerners are racist, but so long as there are enough of them in Southern states to form a voting bloc, the South will remain Republican.
The discussion over there hit all the important points about strategy, so I won't repeat them here. But I had a couple of questions that I didn't get to ask, having been on the phone when it took place. What do you think: are the DLC and a large group of the Democratic consulting class racist?
Because really, that's the only reason I can think of, to explain the strategy certain Democrats keep pushing. Tom points out some fascinating details from the Harold Ford debacle:
let me say something about harold ford, since jane mentioned him.
i was repulsed by his campaign, and in many ways i think it ratifies the point iâ€™ve tried to make (but digby makes much better for me, in her opening essay) about the risks of corrupting oneself in the interest of winning elections. ford ran the ideal DLC campaignâ€“he spoke about the power of his jesus; did an ad in church pews; wore a hunting cap on election day; thundered against the NJ gay ruling and piled on John Kerry. and maybe that tightened things in TN. but at what cost?
the most inexcusable moment was when chris matthews asked him if the â€œhey haroldâ€ ad was racist. he said â€œno.â€ twice. so here was a black man, knowing full well if he said the truth, that calling it racist might, um, risk losing the votes of some folks who donâ€™t want to take lectures about racism from him (or anyone else), choosing not to speak truth. he was willing to sell out blacks and the truth to gain white votes. disgusting.
I confess I rejoiced to see Ford lose, what an Uncle Tom he turned out to be. Or a fool, I'm not sure which is a better label. But clearly, Ford was the DLC darling, and as Tom points out, he ran a classic DLC style campaign, and this time around, paid the price. But someone who was advising him actually thought that he could win over racists, which is not only stupid, but suspicious. What possible motivation could a strategist have, to convince a Black man that his best hope for victory is to sell out his own kind?
There is a notion that there is no kind of racist like the self-hating kind, and I'm starting to wonder if the DLC is in fact not made up of racists who secretly want Republican-style segregation of power and their self-hating lapdogs. You know who I'm talking about. I guess there is still a Democratic power clique in DC who'd rather lose elections than admit nonwhites to the circles of power. Think on it.
Two other points come to mind. One is that we should all give thanks to the Deity of Your Choice, because the Republicans proved this year they are Deeply Stupid. Bonilla is the best example. There was a time, and a way, in which Republicans could've siphoned off conservative/religious minority voters, appealing to their dislike of gays and atheists/secularity. Instead, the Republican party demonized Latinos and fucked over Black churches trying to get in on the faith-based initiative slush fund. As Tom and others have been pointing out, today's Republican party is dangerously dependant on a slim majority in the South, a majority of aging and increasingly irrelevant racists who are more and more out of touch with the culture and society of modern times. They haven't helped themselves by getting a lot of Southern white folks in the military killed in Iraq for no appreciable results, either. For once, the Republicans proved they couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, and failed to play a shell game with the groups that could've given them the elections. For which I am heartily glad.
The other point I want to make has to do with the other end of the political spectrum. What lesson can we learn from the Republican over-reliance upon racist Southern whites? Simply, that identifying "new markets" of voters must always be a priority. Almost half the country doesn't bother to vote. That's called "opportunity" in business speak.
My brother in law is a Republican, pro-business, conservative in his values, Christian. He didn't vote for Bush in 04, because unlike Bush he is a real Christian, and was disgusted by Bush's lies. In 06, he voted straight ticket Democratic, explaining that his only desire was to "throw the bums out" of OH. He also has and MBA, and we once had a discussion about why capitalism is a force for social and racial good.
His logic was very simple. Big corporations have saturated all the easy markets, there is literally no place to stuff another Wal-Mart or Target in most suburbs and places where upper and middle class (and thus mostly white) shoppers live. Therefore, large corporations, who must always grow to survive, will eventually colonize urban ghettos and rural regions, bringing jobs, wealth and larger tax bases to those areas, and equalizing the middle class in racial terms.
Now, leaving aside the objections to this idea I know many of you will have, I want to apply this logic to the electorate. Schaller suggests, indeed, more or less proves, that Democrats will continue to lose if they follow the Ford strategy. Both at the Congressional and Presidential level, the strategy should be to form a coalition of everyone to whom racism is uncool- Northern progressives, Western centrists, Midwestern populists, costal elites, etc. He's not saying, "forget the South," so much as "do the Math." Works for me. But I want to add to this another group that seems constantly overlooked: nonvoters. Shouldn't Democrats be asking why these people aren't voting, and what messages they need to hear to become voters?
Again, using the business model, what makes more sense: fighting over a tiny "center" of voters who are very difficult to guarantee will vote for you and which requires twisting your message so badly it turns off your base, or going for 5% of a huge population of people who currently don't have a political allegiance at all? I keep reading that when you look at the numbers, the last six years have produced a reenergized progressive bloc. More young voters, more pro-immigration voters, anti-war voters, people worried about the Constitution or the economy. Goodness knows I keep meeting people who tell me they only recently got serious about politics. Bush tends to scare intelligent people like that. Doesn't it make sense for Democrats to take Schaller's advice and just give up on the "moderate conservative" bloc, and instead reach out to a naturally progressive crowd that for too long, hasn't chosen to vote because no one is actually addressing their issues?
As a "business plan," this seems to me both more promising and frankly, "cheaper" in terms of political capital. But if it doesn't happen, it will be because the heart of the power structure of the Democrat party is, essentially, racist.