By Bob Cesca: Yesterday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Chris Matthews was utterly relentless against Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus regarding Mitt Romney’s unapologetic and obvious use of the Southern Strategy. Although Matthews didn’t use the specific name of the strategy he called the recent and repeated use of racial dog-whistles what they are: the race card.
For several weeks now, Romney’s campaign has been pushing a complete and total lie about the president’s record on welfare reform. In the absence of any legitimate criticism of the president’s actions (actions that were repeatedly requested by Republican governors including Mitt Romney, and in no way interferes with welfare-to-work requirements), the only remaining explanation for the ongoing perpetuation of this proven lie is to inject the “welfare” dog-whistle into the minds of white, conservative Southerners who are prone to hold the racist notion that unemployed free-loading black people who don’t pay taxes are lined up for their Obama Checks, while hard-working white tax payers are footing the bill. Romney achieves the same goal when he mentions the president’s “birth certificate.” He reinforces the lie that the president is foreign — his African name and allegedly murky background prove that he’s not a real American. Like them.
In the video, however, Priebus (of course), Mika, Joe and NBC Anchor Emeritus Tom Brokaw disputed the fact that Romney’s remarks and ads were racial. Meanwhile, Mika winced and seemed nervously concerned about the exchange as if she’s not really the co-host of — shocker! — a political show in which people debate politics and often become passionate about an issue or observation. A column for another day.
Nevertheless, this “who… us?” reply from the Republicans whenever they’re called on their racial politics is only slightly worse than members of the press who believe they’re too serious to entertain the idea that one of the two major political parties in America is exploiting the racist hatred, fear and resentment of certain conservative voters. Equal to Mika’s shocked disdain for actual political debate was Brokaw’s haste to dismiss Chris Matthews’ charges against Priebus and Romney. Anyone disputing what Matthews said ought to be ashamed of themselves for denying the clear reality of what the Romney campaign is doing. “Serious” journalists and commentators ramming their over-sized noggins into the sand as if they’re incapable of hearing anything that might paint half the nation with an unflattering brush. Tom, Mika and Joe thought this was just an awkward joke? The “welfare” ads and the birth certificate crack were incontrovertibly racial. Haven’t these people followed a Republican campaign before? They’ve been doing this for 40 years!
I see this all the time — even from otherwise smart liberals. There’s an almost involuntary need to accept the Republicans as fair actors who simply disagree with us on the issues. I hear people say they’re hesitant to not just point out Republican race-baiting, but reluctant to accept the Southern Strategy as an actual thing, as if its just a figment of paternalistic liberal paranoia. I’ve had to write this multiple times, but yes. Of course it exists.
The Southern Strategy is an actual Republican political tactic. It’s distantly related to the Southern “fire-eaters” of the pre-Civil War era who warned pro-slavery voters that Abraham Lincoln would free the slaves, arm them in rebellion against whites and foster “miscegenation” and all other forms of racial fearmongering. During the Nixon era, Republican strategists like Pat Buchanan figured they could use the Democratic Civil Rights Act to solidify the Southern vote. They proceeded to incite anti-black resentment among white voters by using carefully worded ideas that, when delivered correctly, triggered racial fear and animosity. The Strategy worked and the South shifted from being predominantly Democratic to lopsidedly Republican.
It was so successful that Republicans from Jesse Helms to Lee Atwater and George H.W. Bush to Karl Rove to, yes, Mitt Romney have employed it in one way or another. The goal is to win at all costs, after all. Hence Romney’s serial lying. And now, it’s the Southern Strategy in full force.
The press and fair-minded Americans alike would do well to accept the reality of how the Republicans try to win elections. So at the risk of repeating myself, let me spell this out because simply pointing to “race baiting” or “racism” or all of the other variations of these terms has desensitized us and stripped the Strategy of its meaning.
To be clear, Romney and the GOP are exploiting the darkest instincts of certain Americans for political gain. In other words, by triggering anti-black resentment with dog-whistles like “birth certificate” and “welfare,” he’s motivating a particular demographic of white voters to support him because they, on some level, resent/fear/hate a black president (or, in the past, pro-civil rights Democrats). This makes Romney an enabler of racist tendencies, regardless of whether he was joking or just doing it as part of the political “game.” For this, he ought to be discredited and disqualified from being a fair, reasonable, modern presidential candidate.