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The American Right, Atwater, and the Southern Strategy

President Obama’s re-election has made some people on the right go absolutely crazy. Right-wing websites and listservs are replete with cries of “America RIP”, and gosh-darn it, these people are such strong tea party patriots that they’re resorting to the most patriotic thing they can think of, now that they’ve lost a competitive race in a democratic election. 

They want to secede from the Union

European-style socialism is even encroaching this weekend on our motorsports, as Formula 1 races in Texas; Texas this weekend. (Rooting for Alonso is a safe bet).  But for those of you who may still be surprised by the outcome of the election – an outcome that only surprised people who had rejected mathematics, science, statistical probability, and evidenceyou can now be well distracted by a scandal involving the military, sex, and an abuse of the surveillance state we’ve grown and expanded since a bunch of Saudis on tourist visas blew up 3,000 Americans. 

The overreaction in the fascist corner of the national Republican Party’s shrinking, overwhelmingly white tent, is a temper tantrum of a party in crisis.

Remember Dick Morris?  The former Clinton aide, prostitute toe-licker, and Fox News “analyst” famously predicted on October 31, 2012 that Mitt Romney was really ahead and would win the election in a “landslide”. Right away, the Morris Law;  “whatever Dick Morris says is the exact opposite of reality” couldn’t have been more starkly on display. 


The idea that people watch a “news” channel that employs this fraud named “Dick Morris” is astonishing. The fact that he’s employed at all is amazing. But never fear, Dick Morris didn’t predict a Romney landslide because he’s wrong about everything, you guys. 

No, Dick Morris predicted the Romney landslide because he was lying. It was, as they say, math he made up as a Republican to make the Romney people feel better about themselves. He was the Republican Stu Smalley. Feelings. 

Sean [Hannity, naturally], I hope people aren’t mad at me about it… I spoke about what I believed and I think that there was a period of time when the Romney campaign was falling apart, people were not optimistic, nobody thought there was a chance of victory and I felt that it was my duty at that point to go out and say what I said. And at the time that I said it, I believe I was right.

I’m glad Republicans watching their confirmation bias station have people like Dick Morris to lie to them to make them all feel better about themselves. If the opposition wants to keep itself in an ignorant bubble of dumb Limbaugh talking point regurgitation, the Democratic Party will continue to win elections by merely promoting policies based on ideas and fact. 

As a final note, in the last week we’ve witnessed an utter implosion of the Karl Rove myth. As it turns out, “Bush’s brain” wasn’t, and if he was the wonk in that bunch, it’s no wonder the country was the victim of such utter governmental malpractice for eight long years. Some are calling the grassroots Republican outrage at Rove a “civil war”. Just over 1% of the money Rove’s “American Crossroads” SuperPAC spent during the last election cycle went to actually win a race. The people who contributed to that worse-than-a-Ponzi scheme are none too pleased. If something is going poorly for Karl Rove, this is good for America. 

But Rove is a piker; an illegitimate heir to the Republican strategy to win the South and demagogue against the “other” was best explained by Ronald Reagan’s own evil genius, Lee Atwater. 

Atwater is famous for having outlined the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” which that party has used since the 70s to sound racist dog-whistles and win in the conservative South – a South which had rejected Republicans ever since the Civil War. Lincoln, you’ll recall, was a Republican. The Southern Strategy exists even today, as people blame Obama’s victory on minorities “takers” who “want stuff”. Read more here, but the infamous Atwater quote goes as follows

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

The Nation explains that, for years Republicans have bristled at that quote, hoping/claiming that it was made up. For the first time in history, the 42-minute audio of the Atwater interview from which that passage is pulled, is now online and available for you to hear. It has been found by the same fellow who earlier posted Romney’s 47% quip – James Carter IV.  

As the Republican Party searches for ways to re-invent itself, and as it complains about its electoral failure with non-white, non-male voters, it might want to consider not systematically spreading hate against those groups through its dog-whistle racism and its talk about “legitimate rape”. When the Republican Party becomes a post-Atwater entity, the country will hopefully be better off. 


  • Jim_Holstun

    Carter IV does it again–thanks for the quote. One of the most successful practitioners of the Southern Strategy was Bill Clinton, whose Welfare Reform act was a Republican’s wet dream. 

  • paulmorgan01

    two of the most troubling character issues that cling to the Clintons ~ willingly associating with Dick Morris & Steve Pigeon!

  • paulmorgan01

     apropos of the Lee Atwater quote, and the ongoing, pernicious efforts to disenfranchise the African American, ethnic, and poor vote in this country:

    “It’s not a war on drugs, don’t ever think it’s a war on drugs – it’s a war
    on the blacks.  It started as a war the
    blacks, it’s now spread to Hispanics and poor whites, but it was started on as
    a war on the blacks. It was designed to take that energy that was coming out of
    the civil rights movement, and destroy it.”

    ~ David Simon

    creator of “The Wire”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/08/following-up-on-the-wire-al-jazeeras-harrowing-report-on-baltimore/261474/#.UDgjUXbdkMg.facebook

  • jameshorn

    atwater- evil?, he did his best.  genius?, hardly.  The southern strategy was writ when the Civil Rights Act was signed by President Johnson: “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come.”, according to Bill Moyers

  • clay_blasdel

    The Republicans didn’t mis-read the polls leading up to election day.  They read them correctly and saw Romney/Ryan failing.  The Lutz/Rove strategy that, given enough advertising,  you could sell the voting public a pig in a polk, wasn’t working.  Despite  poor salesmanship by the President, more and more Americans weren’t buying Romney’s trickle-down theories.  “Why should we give millionaires more tax cuts?” And they realized that Romney’s so-called economic plan (“trust me”) wasn’t a plan at all. And they didn’t trust a guy who refused to show his taxes. And they found out about Ryan’s plan to kill Medicare and Medicaid. And they slowly discovered that Obamacare was a good deal for most.  And that Romney wrote off  47% of Americans. (more likely 99.9% , i.e. all the non-billionaires)

    So in the days before the election, the GOP was forced to adopt a last minute SHTF strategy :  Call yourself a big winner with momentum- to persuade the undecided voters to side for the winner. 

    Now, as the GOP/T/Stupid Party  is taking a severe and well deserved beating in the media,  they have a severe need to CHANGE THE SUBJECT. So they keep beating the drum on Bengazi and Petraeus.  Create a national security crisis where none exists.   Call for secession. Do anything.

  • Colin Eager

    The “Southern Strategy” is really a misnomer.  It’s impossible to explain the post-68 rightward shift of the  country by talking about the south, since the numbers just don’t add up.  You have to explain why large numbers of folks all over the country moved to the right, too.  “The politics of suburban secession” is a better way of putting it.  Even as old fashioned southern style racism was being stigmatized, it was being replaced with a new, seemingly colorblind version that was headquartered in suburbs all throughout the country.  The right isn’t isolated in the South and in danger of becoming irrelevant to the rest of the country — it’s alive and well in places like Amherst. 

    • starrrbuck

      seemingly colorblind

      1.  Is it ever not racist to have “rightward” viewpoints on fiscal and/or social issues, or is it always inherently racist?

      2. Can leftward-shifted people ever be at all racist even if they deny it, or would that be a misnomer because if they aren’t colorblind then they aren’t truly part of the left?

      • BlackRockLifer

        The right made their own bed, there is a long history of overt racism. The far right continues that tradition, the center right uses veiled language and dog whistles, the moderates are complicit in their silence. The right is suspect because they have and continue to exploit fear and division simply for political gain.

      • http://www.buffalopundit.com/ Alan Bedenko

        I’m not making generalizations. I’m specifically saying that the Republican Party has made it part of its strategy in the American South to stoke the fires of racism and fear without coming right out and saying it. Atwater agrees.

      • starrrbuck

        That time I had clicked the correct Reply, and my questions were asking Colin about his comment.

        But speaking of generalizing as racism, it looks like Colin’s and Lifer’s comments above are also doing that about people who decide to live in suburbs.

      • BlackRockLifer

        I was careful to say “much of suburbia”, not all but if you believe racism is not alive and well in the burbs then you aren’t paying attention.  My father choose to stay in the city after WWII, my uncles moved to various suburbs.  I grew up regularly visiting my cousins and was always struck by the uninformed ignorance that seemed to be prevalent in the suburbs. They hated black people they never met, they also feared the city in general and had a general attitude of contempt for the poor and less fortunate. That was 40 years ago, fast forward to today and little has changed. Their children (now adults) continue a kindler gentler form of racism, they aren’t as crude and rude but still fear people of color, the city, and lean conservative in their politics. Like I said, the foundation was built on racism, the choice to self isolate makes it difficult to expand their horizens and embrace diversity.

      • starrrbuck

        In the same way, couldn’t you apply that “much of” about quite a few city residents?  
        – for example, areas such as South Buffalo, Lovejoy, Kaisertown, Babcock, First Ward, and others?

        Is your implication that white people are more likely to be racist if living in Amherst or Clarence than if in the city?  If so, based on what real reason?  It would seem like quite an insulting smear if there’s nothing objective to show it’s true.

    • BlackRockLifer

      White flight laid the foundation for much of surburbia and continues to influence the attitudes there to this day. Racism is now softer and less blatant but just as harmful and has evolved into a wider overall classism to include poor whites. The right is right at home in the suburbs where race and class division can masquerade as part of conservative “values”.