Racism: The Republican Party's anchor

2013-06-19 10:57
People from the Texas delegation say the Pledge of Allegiance during the second day of the 2012 Republican National Convention. (File, AFP)

People from the Texas delegation say the Pledge of Allegiance during the second day of the 2012 Republican National Convention. (File, AFP)

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Chicago - While you will often hear the accusation of Republican racism countered with "But Abraham Lincoln was a Republican" (which is quite correct), often alongside virtual empirical argument that southern Democrats were, quite simply, the most politically racist demographic the USA has ever seen, there remains a large disconnect between Republicans and minorities, as things stand.
It's a parallel with South Africa: We know that the tag of racism attached to a political party is very difficult to shake off. The Democratic Alliance, in particular, deals with this battle daily, largely because racist white people do vote for it. That is not proof whatsoever that the DA is a racist party, nor that any sort of significant number of its supporters directly agree with racism in any form. But it does indicate that racist white folks are attracted to a specific party (the Freedom Front notwithstanding). This happens everywhere.
The aforementioned defences against racism of Republicans are correct, but, in the modern day, only by omission. Both Southern whites and black people were part of Democratic President Franklin D Roosevelt's coalition of voters, which won four straight elections (from 1932 until he died in 1945, and his vice-President Harry Truman took over). Truman began breaking down the infrastructural barriers black people faced then, and set up the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which was created to investigate the state of civil rights within the USA, and protect them. At the Democratic National Convention in 1948 (where Truman was picked as his party's presidential nominee), the party added civil rights to its political platform, with future presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey claiming, "The time [has] now arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights." In case you were wondering how this went down, the whole Democratic delegation from the segregated southern state of Mississippi stormed out, followed by a fat portion of those from neighbouring – and politically aligned – Alabama.
This caused a split in the Democratic Party over the next few decades, culminating in the civil rights jamboree during the tenure of President Lyndon B Johnson (after the umming and aahing of his famous predecessor John F Kennedy, who, as a senator, voted against a 1955 civil rights bill under the Eisenhower administration), and then the eight years of the Republican Richard Nixon administration. Nixon employed a successful electoral strategy to pick up disaffected Democrats who rejected Johnson's civil rights laws, and so began the move of southern whites to Republicans, while confirming black voters as a Democratic staple.

Whiter and older by the election

And so ends the nutshell, broad-brushed history of how white racists in the USA vote for Republicans. It's not to say Republicans are, by nature, a racist party (in fact you could easily argue that the pure party ideology is anything but), but the brand is increasingly becoming whiter and older by every election, and some candidates are forced to pander to the extreme whims of such an electorate to be elected (historically this also wasn't solely a Republican requirement – Democratic Mayor Richard J Daley of Chicago in the 1960s was an expert at courting the votes of white people who hated the idea of desegregation, but at the same time he was wrapping up the votes of black people).
Although the last Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was, quite frankly, a weak presidential candidate, one of the reasons he lost was because of the appeal he crafted to a shrinking sector of the electorate, while alienating the rest. "Self-deportation," he cried when asked about illegal immigrants: In other words, make the brown people as miserable as possible here in America so they go back to their shitty lot in life. He was joined during the primaries by candidate Newt Gingrich who alluded to Spanish being a language of "the ghetto". British paper The Telegraph reported last year that a Romney aid said President Obama couldn't fully understand the shared "Anglo-Saxon" heritage shared by the USA and Britain. And Romney then told everyone he lost the election because of the gifts Obama gave to minorities.
It's not, therefore, surprising that Republicans currently find themselves struggling among voters who aren't white. While the party is trying to fix its messaging and platforms to become more attractive to now decisive groups of the national electorate, it is being held back by individuals who are seemingly doing their best to drive them away.
Donald Young, one of the most senior Republicans in the House of Representatives, in March said to a radio station in Alaska, "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes." "Wetbacks" is an offensive term used to describe immigrants who entered the USA over its southern border by crossing the Rio Grande river. The state House of Representatives leader in Oklahoma, a Republican called Dennis Johnson, said, "They might try to Jew me down on a price, that's fine. You know what? That's free market as well."

Unbeatable Democrats looking plausible

The children of Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Representative Joe Heck have got their fathers into hot water lately (all uncovered by Buzzfeed). Flake Junior used the word "faggot" to describe someone who stole his bicycle, and used the name "n1ggerkiller" during a game, while also calling someone a Jew for stealing a joke. His comments on Youtube feature similar, and oft-used slurs.

Joe Heck's son went even further, claiming a Latino NFL player (who was born in California, nogal) could "hop the border faster than he can throw the ball". He claimed one of the debate moderators of last year's election, Martha Raddatz, wasn't good enough and should have been replaced by a man, and claimed Romney "raped" Obama during another of the debates. He added that Obama was good at "spear-chucking" because it's the "sports they do in his home country".

While neither father is directly being held accountable for what their sons say – although whether that's fair is certainly a debatable point – adjusting and refining communication and political platforms is going to do very little for Republicans if this sort of news keeps making the headlines. Whether or not Flake and Heck believe such nonsense (there is no direct evidence they do), their kids' offensive language is all over their doorstep. There are valid arguments about the newsworthiness of the children's Twitter feeds, but the fact is the sons of two Republicans in government were outrageously awful to those fighting to end discrimination against themselves. And this came mere weeks after Republican representatives mouthed off about wetbacks and Jews. Which came months after Romney and Gingrich.
Reform the immigration system however you like, but until this sort of thing stops, the impending unbeatable Democratic coalition is looking more and more plausible.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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