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The enduring legacy of “Southern Strategy”

The Nation has published what promised to be the fullest context of the interview with the Republican strategist Lee Atwater. 

This is the famous interview in which Atwater confesses to how "states' rights" is but a veiled way of using racial politics to divide and conquer, and drive Southern Whites to the Republican Party.  Atwater traces opposition to the 1965 Voting Rights Act as a key to driving securing the South for Republicans.

Here is his infamous quote:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.
     Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”


Atwater was no marginal blogger.  He was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, managed Reagan’s reelection campaign in 1984, and ultimately served as and the campaign manager for George H.W. Walker’s 1988 Presidential campaign.  


Now check out the final map of the 2012 Presidential electoral college, to see how relevant the strategy of using racial politics to divide America continues to be, especially in the South and parts of the plains states.

Still, the massive demographic changes in the country, marked by the rise of Hispanics and ongoing democratic affiliation of women and urban-dwellers, is likely to spell the doom of this morally bankrupt strategy.

One is reminded of the quote by the South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: 
  


“We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long-term.”

Let us hope that the practical failure of this racist (and racial) politics will persuade us to strive for nobler ideals, more worthy of our nation.

Tags: george h.w. bush, gop, lee atwater, racial politics, racism, republican, ronald reagan, southern strategy, the south, voting rights act

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