Tag Archives: Democrats

Follow The Money: Racism and the Fundraising Congress

30 Apr

I believe that where there is a political problem in America, you can usually trace that problem to racism. Wanna try me? How about the corrupting influence of money in politics? It means corporations control Congress, right? And because there’s so much money in politics, getting into Congress nowadays is often not much more than a job interview for a lucrative future gig as a lobbyist for big business. Representatives don’t even want to govern. They just want to win big for their potential future employers. And in 2008, when an unregulated, out of control financial sector crashed our economy, all that political money and greed played a huge role.

But what does this have to do with race?  Bear with me a minute and read on.

In Republic Lost, Harvard Law Prof Lawrence Lessig tells an interesting story.  From 1933 to 1995, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. In the early part of those years, Democrats gave us the New Deal. They also gave us Social Security, among a host of other programs, the legacies of which we mostly take for granted. Meanwhile, Republicans were the minority party of the rich. They played a powerful role, but mainly as a counter-weight to Democratic liberalism.

But then came President Johnson. He sacrificed himself politically to the project of getting the Democratic Party behind Civil Rights. This started a racist backlash among a key demographic in the Democratic base – white Southerners. To racially conservative white Southern Democrats, many of whose ancestors turned Democrat because Lincoln the “liberator” was a Republican, Civil Rights was a deal breaker.

Evidence that racism could get culturally conservative white Southerners to switch parties gave wealthy corporate interests hope that the GOP might once again become the majority party, even after screwing things up so royally leading up to the Great Crash of 1929. They began investing unprecedented millions into political campaigns aimed at turning economically liberal but racially conservative white Southern Democrats into Republicans.

By 1995, Republicans took the House. Along the way, millions more were invested in eliminating campaign finance restrictions and deregulating corporations. In order to be competitive, Democrats jumped into the money game as well. Once both sides were bought, important regulations on the financial sector like the Glass-Steagall Act, intended to never again allow something like the market crash of 1929 to recur, were repealed (under Bill Clinton, BTW).

To give you some sense of the scale of the change, in 1974, the total of all Congressional campaign expenditures was $77 million. By 2010, it was $1.8 billion.  Between 1995 and 2010, control of Congress changed as many times as it had in the previous 45 years.  During this period, what Lessig refers to as “the fundraising Congress,” was born, wherein leadership is determined by one’s ability to raise campaign cash.

Racism was the fissure in the Democratic coalition that led Republicans to hope that they could rule again, and racist messaging was the wedge Republicans used to turn that fissure into a divide so wide it would split the Democratic coalition that led the U.S. out of the Great Depression. This split caused elites to view conservative campaign contributions as potentially lucrative investments. The success of those investments is what positioned them to deregulate finance, and lack of regulation and oversight is what, in large part, led to the crisis we now find ourselves in – a crisis that has messed up the current financial status of those formerly Democratic, now Republican, poor white southerners for generations to come.

So, why care about race?  I lost a house and my savings to the crash of 2008. What’s your story?

Why I Rooted For Mitt, Or Rick Santorum Is A Danger…Still

23 Apr

Hallelujah! Rick Santorum is finally out of the Republican primary race! What, you didn’t think I would feel that way?

I’ve been listening to liberal media pundits talk about the unlikely prospect of Rick Santorum winning the Republican presidential nomination as if it would be a “gift” to Democrats all season. Some liberals have even turned out Democrats to vote for Santorum in open primaries. And now, some of them are talking like they’re actually a little sad that he dropped out, boohooing over how good it was for Democrats to have him in the race.

I say they’re nuts. As conservative and elitist as Mitt Romney is, he’s not a right winger. He may be pandering to the right wing, but he doesn’t belong to that movement. He’s neither a theocrat nor a libertarian, and, while it is true that Mormons once believed that Black people are cursed by God, Romney is not an ideological white supremacist.

As much as I disagree with Mitt Romney, I do not by any means consider Santorum a “gift.” Misogyny, and racial fear and loathing are powerful motivators.  In the end, I’m not at all certain Santorum would have lost (which we should keep in mind since he seems to be hoping for another chance in 2016).

But if that’s not enough to get you feeling grateful that all we got was Mr. Etch-A-Sketch, allow me to tell you a little story about Barry Goldwater, aka Mr. Conservative, and the impact he had on all of us by running for president and not just losing, but getting his ass handed to him.

Johnson’s ass-kicking of Barry Goldwater in 1964 appeared to signal the end of racial conservatism in national politics. Sadly, it ended up being a new beginning. With Goldwater’s campaign lists of highly motivated anti-civil rights voters serving as a resource, and his strategy of appealing to racism to win white Southern votes as a template, libertarian economic elites began to build the Republican’s Southern Strategy.

Goldwater exposed the power of racism as a political tool by running against Civil Rights and winning big among white Southern voters, including Democrats who jumped the fence in order to support him. He ran on a platform of turning Social Security into a voluntary program, and eliminating farm subsidies among other schemes that were very unpopular in the South, much as limiting access to birth control is a very unpopular position today. But, because he ran against Civil Rights, he won Southern votes, even from white people for whom the programs he promised to destroy were the most popular.

Goldwater’s strategy turned race into a partisan issue. In 1962, a national poll asked which party would more likely ensure Blacks got fair treatment in housing and employment.  22.7% answered Democrat compared to 21.3% who said Republican. 55.9% said there was no difference. By late 1964, another poll showed that 60% of those questioned said Democrats were more likely to ensure fairness and 7% said Republicans, with only 33% seeing no difference. Such was the suddenness and force of the backlash strategy.

In the 1950s, poor white Southerners were the third most liberal voters on issues of government intervention for full-employment, education, and affordable health care, right behind Blacks and Jews. By the early 70s, they did a values flip. When it came to poverty alleviation programs, they went from being liberals to being statistically indistinguishable from wealthy white Northerners, the traditional base of the GOP. Given the ongoing poverty of the South, this move was akin to poor white Southerners cutting off their toes for want of smaller shoes.

The Republicans, smelling blood, went about breaking the class basis of the New Deal Coalition by appealing to racism. In a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the South, GOP voter rolls shot up from 49% to 76% in Birmingham, Alabama’s poorest white communities between 1960 and 1964. In Macon, Georgia, it went from 36% to 71%. Atlanta went from 36% to 58%, and so on.

The GOP was able to affect this shift by linking federal intervention on economic issues with federal intervention on civil rights. By 1980, Ronald Reagan’s anti-government platform would begin a revolution in our political culture about federal intervention in general.

The current Tea Party protest language against government spending started out as coded language designed to build opposition to Civil Rights. Anymore, most aren’t even conscious of it. They just use the language and achieve the effect of mobilizing race sensitive whites who, themselves, often don’t understand they are responding to calls to racism: it’s just part of the political culture now.

So you think Rick Santorum is a gift to Democrats? Consider the legacy of Barry Goldwater and think again.

BTW: Credit is due to Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall for some of the stats above. I’m not sure I agree with all of the political conclusions they draw, but they do good research!

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