I’ve gotten two good, and one poor response to my most recent video post. What I’m going to try to do is respond to them.
I’ll get the poor response out of the way. My good friend Michael Bowen posted a video response. Rather than spend much time on it, I’ll leave it to my thoughtful readers to point out the problems. In the case you don’t see them, please let me know.
Bros. Nulan and Bradley have on the other hand asked extremely good questions. And Bradley has gone above and beyond. The response below is more geared to Bradley, but I think in dealing with his comments I deal with Nulan’s as well.
Bradley argues that I need more information. Of course he is right, although I believe that Harold Ford’s close loss in 2006 rather than Obama’s victory is the first datapoint.
In fact, let’s look at a sample of electoral victories that were based on the Southern Strategy. As an aside I implied that the Southern Strategy was used solely by the GOP. This isn’t true. Bill and Hilary Clinton used it in their primaries (Bill successfully in 1992, Hilary unsuccessfully in 2008) as did Al Gore (unsuccessfully in 1988).
But I’m going to look quickly at the results from a few different races over the years:
- 1988-George Bush beat Michael Dukakis soundly in the 1988 Presidential election. Bush received 426 electoral votes, Dukakis received 110. This although Dukakis was leading in the summer up until the notorious Willie Horton ad.
- 1990 Jesse Helms beats Harvey Gantt in North Carolina, taking 52.5% of the vote to Gantt’s 47.4%. The race was much closer until Helms ran the hands ad.
- 1992-Clinton doesn’t use ads but makes a series of tactical moves (including making a point of returning to Arkansas to witness the execution of a mentally retarded black man on death row) designed to establish himself as a “New Democrat”.
- 2006-Bob Corker runs against Harold Ford jr. seeking (like Gantt before him) to become the first black Senator in the South since Reconstruction. Again the polls predicted a tight race. Near the end Corker runs the Playboy ad. He ends up taking 51% of the vote while Ford gets 48%.
- 2008-John McCain runs against Barack Obama. The election was close in the summer according to polls. After Obama begins pulling away, McCain unleashes a series of ads connecting Obama to socialism and liberalism, many like this one implicitly connecting Obama to both (black) grassroots organizing and to the home mortgage crisis (a crisis conservatives attempted to pin on black homebuyers). Obama wins 365-173.
This is far from scientific. But what I am arguing is that the Southern Strategy–which can only be deemed effective if it produces victories–is dying.
If indeed the cases I’ve selected constitute a trend the “Southern Strategy vote” is becoming smaller and smaller.
Why? I believe there are a couple of reasons:
- Diminishing white votes as a percentage of the whole. The size of the white population relative to the non-white population is diminishing as we speak. Latino population growth is particularly impressive. The Southern Strategy seeks to do two things: play to white voter fears, and increase white voter turnout. One reason the Southern Strategy is dying is because the size of the white population relative to others is decreasing. Along these lines what is important isn’t so much what whites do, but rather what non-whites do. We are reproducing at higher rates, and are coming out to vote.
- White voters are less driven by racial fears.
This is actually the controversial idea. And as brother Bradley notes, more whites still voted for McCain. Now I don’t think whites voted for McCain just because Obama was black. But let’s assume they did.
But what about the whites who voted for Obama?
Some might argue that the whites that DID vote for Obama weren’t voting for Obama as much as they were so scared they didn’t want Republicans anymore. But the Southern Strategy is at its most effective when it plays to fears. Why would fearful whites vote for the black guy if the Southern Strategy was effective? How would that work exactly? Perhaps because Obama ran on a race-neutral campaign? Perhaps…but then those people must try to figure out why exactly the race-neutral campaign strategy matters now, when it didn’t matter for Gantt, Ford, or other black candidates.
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that whites are attuned to social justice claims more so than they were, although I do think it interesting that whites were willing to vote for “the socialist.” But it does mean there is much more variance in white racial attitudes here than we have previously assumed. Bradley argues that what we’re looking at is a refinement of white supremacy–sustainability through refinement. It is possible. But I’m concerned that taking this particular position is not so much the radical or the common sense response as much as it is a response that reproduces the thing critiqued. And would then ask how we would know “real” change rather than “fake” change if we saw it.