Barack Obama’s Situation Comedy, Part II

[Barack Obama’s Situation Comedy, Part I HERE]

The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed racial segregation and the 1965 Voting Rights Act outlawed discrimination in voting. As President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act he told Press Secretary Bill Moyers We have lost the South until 1976.

Lyndon Johnson did not give up on the South however. Under threat by “menacing” crowds and bomb plots by the Ku Klux Klan, Johnson’s wife – Lady Bird Johnson, toured the South. As Blumenthal writes Johnson was determined not to concede the South, but to fight for it.

Johnson proved correct in his assessment. Democrats lost the South for a generation.

In 1968 Richard Nixon cemented the Republican grip on the South with his “Southern Strategy”

James Boyd of the New York Times chronicled the Southern Strategy as expounded by 25 year old Kevin Phillips. (PDF link to “It’s All In The Charts” HERE)

Kevin Phillips and his decades old analysis of American politics has salience today.

On liberals:

Liberalism has turned away from the common people and become institutionalized into an establishment. Its spokesmen are driven around in limousines and supported by rich foundations, the television networks and publishing houses, the knowledge industry, the billion-dollar universities and the urban consulting firms which profiteer from poverty. Liberalism is dominant only in the Northeast, which is always the last bastion of a dying order of priviledge.

On “Negroes and the G.O.P.”:

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 shortshighted 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 arrangements with the local Democrats.

On the “Outer South Strategy”:

Your outer Southerners who live in the Ozark and Appalacian mountain ranges and in the Piedmont upcountry – and now in urban-suburban Florida and Texas – have always had different interests than the Negrophobe plantation owners of the Black Belt. This is a less extreme conservative group. It adheres with other Republican constituencies across the country and can be appealed to without fragmenting the coalition. When you are after political converts, start with the less extreme and wait for the extremists to come into line when their alternatives collapse.

The salience of what Phillips wrote decades ago is mostly in the failure of both Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans failed to heed the warning by Phillips against authoritarianism and racism and the Democrats failed to court Southerners in the Ozark and Appalacian mountain ranges and instead hunkered down into an increasing elitism away from the common man and woman. The Democrats became not so much “liberals” but “eggheads”.

The Democratic glory was in promoting a liberal policy of inclusion for African-Americans and later to add Women and Gay-Americans to the civil rights agenda. The Democratic failure was the contempt for non-elite whites who could have been wooed but instead were treated with veiled contempt.

Many elite Democrats, instead of seeking to understand why poor white working class voters voted for boobs such as George W. Bush preferred instead to believe that those votes were based on “ignorance” or “stupidity”. Democratic elites failed to understand that white working class voters could detect condescension with the same acuity as African-American voters could detect bigotry.

Before the 1964 Civil Rights Act the great families of the North and Northeast could field presidential candidates such as Roosevelt and Kennedy. No longer. After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Democratic nominees would either come from the South or they would lose in the general election.

In 1960 John Kennedy could contest for the nomination and win in anti-Catholic West Virgina. Kennedy understood the “oral political culture” of West Virginia.

After Lyndon Johnson, in the wake of the John Kennedy assasination became president in a landslide vote, Democrats lost the “silent majority” in 1968 to Richard Nixon. Georgia born Jimmy Carter became President in 1976 after the increasingly dictatorial Nixon was forced to resign and the successor Gerald Ford pardoned him for his crimes. By 1980 Northeasterner Ted Kennedy tried to unseat President Jimmy Carter only to lose.

Enter Bill Clinton.

In 1992, straight from the Ozarks, Bill Clinton ran for President. Bill Clinton was a Democratic winner from Arkansas. White working class voters as well as African-Americans voted for him. The Washington, D.C. establishment rejected Bill Clinton.

After 40 years of Democratic control of the congress the congressional Democrats were open to charges of corruption. Republicans led by a new rabid breed organized by Newt Gingrich stoked and inflated the corruption charges.

The Democratic congressional barons were not happy to be no longer in charge of the Democratic agenda. Democratic Senators like Sam Nunn (now an Obama supporters) allied themselves with Republicans to thwart the new President’s promise of inclusion for Gay-Americans in the nation’s armed forces.

The Democratic Senatorial barons were even angrier when Bill Clinton appointed his wife to lead on health care legislation. The majority Congressional Democratic leadership, instead of helping pass health care – helped torpedo it. Increasingly, Hillary and Bill Clinton were referred to as HillBillies. The Democratic contempt for white working class voters, especially those from the South, were personified in Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 1994, with a concerted Republican effort to paint the Democratic Party in Congress as corrupt, Democrats lost the congress. Instead of blaming themselves, Democratic barons sought to blame Bill Clinton for their losses. Indictments of Democratic congressional leaders and corruption charges against the House majority were ignored as reasons for losing the Democratic majority by the now minority Democrats.

Hillary Clinton became an object of much of the blame for the 1994 losses. Hillary pushed hard for health care reform. When health care reform did not pass the same Democratic barons who could not stomach gays in the military could not stomach strong leadership by a woman.

All the Democratic Party talk about inclusion and respect for the rights of women crumbled when the prospect of a woman in charge became a possibility.

All the Democratic Party talk about a “big tent” stops when the targets of inclusion are white working class voters.

Donna Brazile: A new Democratic coalition is younger. It is more urban, as well as suburban, and we don’t have to just rely on white blue-collar voters and Hispanics.

David Axelrod: The white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections, going back even to the Clinton years. This is not new that Democratic candidates don’t rely solely on those votes.

The Democratic Party establishment loathes Hillary Clinton. They loathe the idea of having to listen to a woman. They loathe the idea of a “hillbilly” who went to Yale but still commands the ability to attract working class white voters while still appealing to the rest of the Democratic base.

Hillary’s difficulties with African-American voters is transitory. Hillary’s newly discovered ability to elicit support from white working class voters is not transitory.

The “hillbilly” voters of West Virginia and Appalachia can support a woman for commander-in-chief. The elite egghead Democrats cannot yield to a woman’s voice.

* * *

Hillary in Kentucky:

“The only way we can have a Democrat in that White House come next January is to win in November, and we cannot win unless we can win 270 electoral votes,” she said. “Look at the map, figure out where we’re going to get those votes, and which candidate is more likely to be able to win those votes in November against John McCain. I have taken on the Republicans before and I have won.”

Many speakers tonight noted the absence of Barack Obama. Terry McBrayer, a former state party chair and superdelegate, drew some boos from Obama supporters on hand when he said he contacted a local milk company to put Obama’s picture on a milk carton.

Clinton herself noted she was the only candidate to come, saying it was important “because Kentucky always picks the president.” She later said, as she did in West Virginia earlier this week, that Democrats “for too long” have let states like this one “slip out of the Democratic column.

“Too many people felt our party didn’t speak to their values and concerns,” she said. “Well I believe if you don’t stand for hard-working middle-class Americans you don’t stand for much. And it’s now up to the Democratic Party and our eventual nominee to make that case.”