As Racism Dies, So Does the GOP

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    Bob Fertik
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When Barack Obama won the Democratic Party nomination and the general election campaign began, there were really only two questions: (1) was Barack Obama "ready" to be President, and (2) was white America ready to elect a "black" (i.e. off-white) man.

Obama answered the first question himself through his thoughtful and "Presidential" campaign, which contrasted sharply and decisively with McCain's cheap, nasty, dishonest, and erratic campaign.

But the second question could only be answered by the American people. And the answer is in: white America is ready to elect a black man.

We can see this clearly in the national polls, where Obama leads overall by 8%, and is doing better among whites than John Kerry. But we can also see it in key state polls where racism remains strong. Virginia, once home to the Confederacy, elected a black Governor (Doug Wilder) in 1989; it will now elect a black President. North Carolina, once home to Jesse Helms, is likely to follow suit. Today I am particularly inspired by Obama's 10-point lead Indiana, which was one of the last holdouts of the KKK. 

Does that mean racism in America is dead? Of course not. But it means racism is dying. Obama's decisive lead means a minority of white Americans now judge a black person "unfit" based exclusively on the color of their skin - and that minority is getting smaller every day. It's hard to believe, but it's happening right before our very eyes. And even more than Obama himself, this transformation in the American character is truly inspiring and cause for Hope with a capital H.

And as racism dies, so does the GOP. In 1968, Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" transformed the Party of Lincoln into the Party of George Wallace, and rode to victory twice. In 1980, Ronald Reagan put "dogwhistle" racism at the very center of the Republican Party when he launched his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi, whose only claim to fame was the triple-murder of young civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner - and every white racist (and every black) got the message, even if Republicans officially deny. Similarly, Reagan's attacks on "Welfare Queens" were an attack on poor black families - and every white racist (and every black) got the message. Like Nixon, Reagan also rode racism to victory twice.

When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 as a strong supporter of civil rights, Republicans were enraged and went to war against him the very first day after the election. This racist rage fueled the rise of Rush Limbaugh and rightwing hate talk radio, which in turn fueled Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution of 1994, officially known as the "year of the angry white man." That racist-driven hate lasted 6 full years and fueled Clinton's impeachment, which kept Clinton off the campaign trail in 2000 and let George W. Bush get close enough to steal the election in Florida.

Oddly, Bush avoided overt and even covert (dogwhistle) racism. One key turning point for his 2000 campaign was when he kissed Oprah Winfrey and surprised many of his opponents. After stealing the election, he appointed Colin Powell and Condi Rice to the most powerful posts blacks have ever held. Of course Bush refused to speak to the NAACP, used rightwing tax policies to transfer wealth from working-class blacks to rich whites, and sent blacks off to die in Iraq - but he never used racist rhetoric. It took Hurricane Katrina and the Superdome to expose Bush's hidden policy of massive neglect for America's poor blacks - and Kanye West to sum it up on national TV by simply saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Racism is the blood that has nourished the Republican Party vampire for 40 years. Without a fresh supply of racist blood, the Republican Party cannot survive, and we're seeing the results in the current election. When McCain goes down to defeat, along with every Republican running in a swing district or state (and many that are just plain Red), we will watch the GOP die.

Update 1: Natasha Chart brilliantly describes the death throes of the GOP as the inmates take over the asylum. Incredibly, the best Republican team is already out on the field, including McCain and Palin; their bench is empty.

Update 2: Josh Marshall has an epiphany that the dying McCain campaign is reliving the wretched Republican rise to power in reverse:

As the McCain campaign staggers toward its conclusion, with electoral columns and pediments standing since 1966 buckling under their weight, the party seems to be cycling back through its history of character assassination, McCarthyism and wedge politics flimflam, only now with an desperate and parodic impotence taking the place of punishing rhetorical violence.

Southern strategy race-baiting, check! Hyper 9/11ist 'the Dems are terrorists' character assassination, check! Rep. Michelle Bachmann's neo-McCarthyite manifesto and call for a new HUAC, check! 'The Democrats want to bring socialism to America', check! Who lost Georgia? Aspirational neo-Cold Warism, check! Mix these in with a general stew of 70s-90s soft-on-crime, Dems are pedophile weirdo-freak-loser wedge politics and we've basically got the full ground covered...

has the GOP bag of tricks simply lost political traction and resonance or does the audacious slime that is so bracing and outrageous from the politically powerful simply seem pitiful from the hapless and impotent? For me the two trends are too deeply woven together to distinguish.