Law and Order and the Southern Strategy

Matthew Yglesias produces a graph of homicide rate and political party and makes, I think, two killing points about the relation between the Republican “law and order” rhetoric in the 1960s through 1980s and the Southern strategy (“The Crime Issue,” The Atlantic.com, 20 November 2007):

  1. … if a move to the right was really the consequence of rising crime rates, one would expect the most conservative groups in the electorate to be those most afflicted by violent crime — low-income African-Americans. But of course that’s not how it works at all.
  2. … if the appeal of “crime” messaging was really about crime, its effectiveness should have diminished in years 1972, 1988, and to some extent 1984 when GOP leadership failed to address the issue …

This is a pretty tough indictment that the law and order issues was in fact a ruse for something else.

Point two seems especially damning in light of subsequent cultural wars and the whole “what’s the matter with Kansas” critique. Economically insecure white men could have blamed globalization-catalyzing modern day robber barons for their newfound economic peril, but instead had their anger trained by an effective political rhetoric on blacks and women. Today all that would-be class warfare is being poured instead into a culture war mold. And on neither occasion — in the 1970s and 80s on crime and today on the culture war — are Republicans at all effective. They just turn around the white flight and culture war votes into increased lower middle class white economic insecurity.

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