A Revival of the Southern Strategy?

I’m going to venture a prediction. And it’s a pretty easy prediction to make in that it’s based on an unlikely hypothetical and if things branch as I suspect, I’ll never be taken to account for my prediction.

There’s been a lot of twittering on the left about the persistent racism of the Republican party and of the Southern strategy. Rick Perlstein is writing a book about it (tentatively titles Nixonland), Paul Krugman’s column last week was on it (“Politics in Black and White,” The New York Times, 24 September 2007) and the Daily Show really took candidates to task for it last night.

Every time someone goes off on this tangent, I get a little uncomfortable in that it seems like a tired liberal saw that is well into diminishing returns. Surely today’s Republican party has retired all but the last few holdouts and dead-enders. But then it is good to look back at the ol’ red and blue map of election returns by county — the urban archipelagos map — and recall just how rural, white-flight ex-urban and Southern the Republican party remains. And even the younger generation and sophisticates aren’t all that sophisticated. I have a strongly Republican-identified friend who, however much liberals may grate on her, cannot bring herself to make any Republican friends because she finds them such a despicable lot. And I should add that she is a person with a considerable threshold for creepy.

Anyway, my prediction is this: that however latent, in remission, or coded the current Republican racist streak or Southern strategy may be, if Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination, it is going to come galloping back with a vengeance.

It won’t come out all at once. The racism isn’t knee-jerk. But as the campaign wears on and the truly dire condition in which George W. Bush and Karl Rove have left the Republican party becomes apparent to the Republican nominee, the donor base, the 527s and the pundits, I expect a paroxysm of pseudo- and overt racism to pour forth. The Republican candidate will realize that the American public has soured on whatever affirmative message the Republican party has on offer and that the only way to win is to scare the pants off votes over hypothetical nominee Barack Obama. At that point the campaign will go totally negative — or at least its various minions, toadies and proxies will — the candidate must remain pristine from partisanship. I fully anticipate all those dark murmurs that were heard a while back — that Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein, that he was educated in a madrassa, that he is a angry black man (could anything be further from the truth?), that he has a chip on his shoulder against white people — to come slithering back out from the dark corners or the mind of red America.