Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Race Card

Gerard Alexander is an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He’s upset that Democrats continually skewer Republicans as racists:
There is power in the accusation of racism against conservatives, one that liberals understand well. In an April 2008 post on Journolist, a private online community for liberal journalists, academics and activists, one writer proposed a way to distract conservatives from the campaign controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor. "If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they've put upon us," Spencer Ackerman wrote. "Instead, take one of them -- Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares -- and call them racists."

America now tilts conservatives against not just blacks but also Hispanics, Muslims and anyone else outside a nostalgic and monochromatic description of the American way of life. The narrative usually begins with Barry Goldwater opposing provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and with Richard Nixon scheming to win the presidency through a "Southern strategy" -- appealing to the racial prejudice of working-class whites in the South . . .As Dan Carter, George Wallace's biographer, put it, "The Wallace music played on" in "Barry Goldwater's vote against the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, in Richard Nixon's subtle manipulation of the busing issue, in Ronald Reagan's genial demolition of affirmative action, in George Bush's use of the Willie Horton ads, and in Newt Gingrich's demonization of welfare mothers."

To Alexander, such a reading of the conservative movement relies on these false assumptions: 1) Republicans depended on white Southerners to become competitive in the 1960s; 2) Republican presidents from Nixon forward gave bigoted voters the policies they wanted; 3) the modern conservative policy agenda is racially motivated, and; 4) conservative positions on controversies such as the Arizona law asking police to check for proof of legal status and opposition to the proposed Ground Zero mosque are new forms of white-heartland bigotry.

Alexander presents the issue as if pandering to white bigots wasn’t integral to the Republicans’ “Southern strategy,” when it most certainly was. Democrats were on the short end of this strategy for decades, breaking a 40-year Republican domination of the White House from 1968 to 2008 only when they nominated Southern candidates—Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. With Obama in 2008, they were finally able to beat Republicans at their own game, assembling a majority coalition of minorities, unmarried women, white liberals, and young people who hate white racism enough to play the race card with glee, and power a black Northern liberal Democrat into the White House.

The truth is race today helps the Democrats, not the Republicans. The Race Card is a Democratic play, and it works.

Here’s how: 1) playing the race card helps hold all minorities, even those doing well under the present system, close to Democrats; 2) unmarried women who suffered (or whose mothers suffered) during the male-dominated Republican era have great sympathy for female and male non-whites; 3) white liberals and young, college-educated whites gain moral strength by separating themselves from white bigots (Republicans), and standing alongside their brothers and sisters of color.

To me, politics based on race was wrong when Republicans practiced it, and it’s wrong in its current, Democratic version. But that’s because my vision of merit-based government favors a decentralized economy with millions of little decision-makers, with government only providing the framework for them to succeed. Government based on the race card is by contrast big, growing, now gigantic, supposedly benevolently and constantly acting on behalf of otherwise-discriminated-against minorities.

The trouble with race is that it gets in the way of merit, whether it’s used to push minorities down, or to pull them up. The trouble with government is that it doesn’t honor merit. If it did, it would get out of the way of those who create jobs and wealth. It would stop playing the race card.

Government + race = bad outcome.

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