Bobby Jindal and the 'Southern Strategy'

A narrative has been constructed by Democrats and their media allies castigating Republicans as purveyors of a racist "Southern strategy" to explain the transition of the South from solidly Democrat to solidly Republican. If a tree can be judged by its fruit, this narrative is backwards.

Bobby Jindal, a second generation Indian-American, is going to be the new Republican Governor of Louisiana.  Although governors who are black have been elected in Virginia and Massachusetts, this election marks the first time the support of white Southern voters has propelled a non-white governor into office.  Jindal's election is evidence that the much-reviled Republican "Southern Strategy" has actually produced one of the greatest advances for civil rights in the history of the United States.

In 1872-73, almost one hundred thirty five years before Bobby Jindal, a black Union Army Captain, P. B. S. Pinchback, served for 35 days as Governor of Louisiana.  He was not elected, rising to the office after his predecessor had been impeached, but Pinchback and his Reconstruction-era Republican colleagues ruled over the South with the support of freed slaves and so-called ‘carpetbaggers'.  By the time Reconstruction was defeated as part of a dirty deal to settle the 1876 Presidential elections, Democrats had organized white Southerners to build what became known as the "Jim Crow" system of segregation. 

Black Republicans were disenfranchised, the carpetbaggers were driven out and Southern whites -- the Democrat Party base -- re-took political power.  The Democrats enforced their Jim Crow system through the Ku Klux Klan.  Segregation was not simply a policy of government, it was a policy carried out personally by millions of Southern whites.  The Republican Party simply did not exist in many Southern counties.  From 1876 until 1964, Republican presidential candidates won only a handful of electoral votes from the South.

During the Presidential election campaigns of 1964, 1968, and 1972 this all changed.  Civil Rights laws were enacted in 1964 and 1965 (albeit with a higher percentage of Republican than Democrat congressional support).  Leftists sealed their takeover at the Democrats' 1968 Chicago convention.  Segregation-minded Southern whites felt abandoned by the national party which had represented them not only through 90 years of Jim Crow, but also through the Democrat founding of the Confederacy and Democrat defense of slavery prior to secession.  Segregationists staged a last-ditch effort to re-take their party with the 1972 George Wallace Presidential campaign, but to no avail.  Their days as part of the Democrat "solid South" were over.

Spotting political opportunity, Richard Nixon's 1968 Presidential campaign made a concerted effort to win over Southern voters.  It paid off.  Goldwater had only scratched the surface in 1964 carrying five southern statesNixon in 1968 carried six with another five going to the segregationist Wallace-Lemay ticket of the American Independent Party.  By 1972, Republicans swept all 15 Southern states.  Excepting Carter's 1976 southern win, the South has been strong GOP Presidential territory ever since.

Liberals have excoriated Republicans for the ‘southern strategy.'  Republican Linwood Holton employed a strategy of winning black votes to win election in 1970 as the first GOP governor of Virginia since Reconstruction.  Holton in 2002 called the southern strategy "not only morally bankrupt but short-sighted."  A Google search for the exact phrase "racist southern strategy" brings up 1,130 links.  By 2005, Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman was apologizing for the southern strategy saying some Republicans were "trying to benefit politically from racial polarization."

In a 1970 New York Times interview, Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips was blunt in describing the strategy he perfected,
"From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."
Segregation under 90 years of Democrat rule was the ultimate big government exercise -- controlling where individuals ate, slept and even where they used the toilet.  White southerners were expected to enforce Jim Crow.  But forty-three years after Goldwater, southern whites have been transformed into small government, low tax, "leave me alone" voters.  De jure segregation is dead, killed in part by the fact that for the first time in American history, southern whites now follow a political leadership which is not based on physically enforcing the color bar. 

Black representation in Congress has never been larger -- exactly as Phillips said would be necessary to make sure southern white Democrats don't "backslide".  By "trying to benefit politically from racial polarization" Republicans have defeated 200 years of pro-slavery and then pro-segregation Democrat politics.  In order "to benefit politically from racial polarization" Republicans have worked to maximize black congressional representation by creating black-majority congressional districts.  These efforts transform the Democratic Party, keep segregationist Democrat politicians neutered, and drive southern whites away from the Democrat organizations.  The Republicans in 43 years have produced results that are precisely opposite the Democrats' results from their nearly 200 years of "trying to benefit politically from racial polarization."   

Racial hatred does not arise spontaneously.  It is cultivated by political leaders seeking to use it for their own purposes.  The divorce of white Southerners from the political leaders who kept them dependent on Democrats to continue segregation has changed an ugly socio-political dynamic dating back to the foundations of the United States.  This does not mean that racism has been eliminated-far from it.  But Bobby Jindal's election is the latest evidence of the transformation -- in a single generation -- of what had been the voting block of reaction and racism through all preceding American history. The Republican southern strategy has produced one of the greatest victories ever won for the cause of civil rights in America.    

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