In denying the right to vote to criminals, even after they have been released from prison, the US is an outlier with respect to much of the world. Let alone allowing ex-cons to vote, numerous countries permit inmates to vote from prison, including Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. Among US states, only Maine and Vermont let everyone vote, including prisoners.
With America’s skyrocketing prison population, felony disenfranchisement affects an increasing fraction of the US population. While it denied suffrage to about 1 million Americans the in the early 70s, 3 million were disenfranchised by the mid-90s, and nearly 6 million are disenfranchised today. Across much of the south, upwards of 7% of the adult population cannot vote because of past convictions.
Relative to the irrevocable, lifetime disenfranchisement that the Constitution permits (for the moment), states are generally much more liberal about allowing convicted criminals to vote after they’ve completed their sentences, if not parole or probation. As usual, it’s regressive southern states who are the most unforgiving, with a few effectively disenfranchising convicted criminals forever.
Disenfranchisement disproportionately affects blacks. Across the country, about 8% of blacks, and some 13% of black men cannot vote – compared to about 2% of all other adults. Florida is the worst case of all. In 2011, its GOP governor gave the state the most extreme felony disenfranchisement law in the country. With just 6% of the US population, Florida is home to 25% of all of America’s disenfranchised. 20% of all blacks in Florida – and about 35% of all black men – cannot vote. One neednt wonder at the GOP’s zeal for felony disenfranchisement. In its absence, Florida would not be a swing state – it would be solidly democratic.
US AG Eric Holder has been pressing states to reform these outmoded laws – many of which date back to Reconstruction, a living remnant of the Jim Crow south, whose purpose was, then and now, to suppress the black vote. Felony disenfranchisement is an ugly anachronism, with no place in a modern law or governance.
The Constitutionality of Felony Disenfranchisement:
In the aftermath of the US Civil War, with southern states excluded from Congress and yet subject to military rule, northern states changed the Constitution to protect its citizens’ voting rights – somewhat. The 15th amendment, which became law in 1870, is short and simple:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
18 months previously, northern states had ratified the 14th amendment. Section 2 is a fine bit of 19th century prose:
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
It sprawlingly ties together many areas of law, including apportionment, the legal status of “Indians”, federal and state elections, voting rights and criminal disenfranchisement. That’s a good thing, because it mutually binds, one to another, numerous rights, capacities and effects, forcing courts to interpret them with respect to one another. The bad of it is that it implicitly allows for the unfettered disenfranchisement of convicted criminals. The 15th amendment meanwhile only prevents states from denying the right to vote for 3 specific reasons – leaving other bases for disenfranchisement valid, including not just crime, but gender.
There is hope. See:
n.b. The Reconstruction amendments were drafted, voted up by 2/3 majorities in both houses, and passed on to the states for ratification while southern states had no representation in Congress, were yet subject to military rule, and were effectively territories – not states – governed from Washington, D.C. Their readmission to the Union – and with it, the restoration of their Congressional delegations – was conditioned on their ratification of the these amendments.
Not all rights in the Bill of Rights are equal. Every right you have depends on your ability to go before an impartial judge to complain of your treatment at the hands of the executive; and your ability to communicate your preferences to other people, including your representatives in the legislature. If all of your other rights were lost, as long as you still had the right to speak your mind and be heard, there’d still be hope. This is why government regulation of expression is so dangerous, no matter how well-intended it may be. The right to speak your mind is the most precious right you have. Reciprocally, the government’s power to censor human expression is its most dangerous.
Many countries have laws against “hate speech.” Depending on where you are, you can be imprisoned for advocating for genocide (Canada); for insulting or disparaging someone’s race, religion, skin color or sexual orientation (Denmark, Iceland), or for denying that the Holocaust happened (France, Belgium) – just to give a few examples. In the US, all such laws would be unconstitutional – leaving Americans relatively free to spew whatever madness or hatred that strikes their fancy.
Then there’s the US Civil Rights Act. While a private citizen can put up racially offensive signs on his front lawn, or publish newsletters denigrating particular ethnic groups, in business he is NOT free to discriminate against customers or employees on the basis of race or religion. This dichotomy is justified because commerce does not get the same protection as civil and political expression. (Up until recently, the US Supreme Court understood the difference between a person and a firm; and between speaking and spending.) Some conservatives complain that this is an overreach of government power – that forcing a restaurant owner, e.g., to serve whites is a denial of his property rights, if not his right to express a particular view by a specific means.
The NFL’s Washington franchise, as a business under US law, cannot discriminate against customers or employees on the basis of race. It is not clear whether a Native American working for the firm could sue the team on the theory that its use of the term Redskins constitutes a form of harassment. For illustration, one might imagine a black supremacist starting a business that prints racially disparaging bumper-stickers. (The Field Guide defers to its readership the imagining of a few especially offensive examples.) Clearly, a white person who applies for employment in such a firm must be treated equally for hiring purposes. But once hired, could he thereafter sue the firm because production of its only product constitutes a denial of his civil rights?
The aim is to demonstrate that several liberal principles are in conflict in this set of issues. Protecting the sensibilities of minorities is important. No less important in a polyglot society is the value of toleration – ensuring individuals a maximum of latitude to live and organize their lives. But free speech – and by free we mean specifically free of government regulation – is paramount. Compared to other western democracies, the US stakes out an extreme position re the government’s power to regulate the content of speech. The Field Guide submits that the US gets it right on this issue – even if in some instances, the result is distasteful.
The Washington franchise has been stripped of its trademarks – this is entirely appropriate and was long overdue. But empowering the government to prevent the firm’s use of a racial slur as its team name; or to forbid its use of a racially inflammatory logo, would be a mistake. One must have faith that liberal values, given time enough, will be borne out – as they always have. Empowering the state to censor the speech of racists – even big racist firms – gives the cause of liberalism a small victory, at too dear a cost. It is nothing more than the majority silencing the expression of a minority it deems unworthy. Though the end may seem attractive, the means, when stripped down to its bare bones, are as ugly as ever.
Consider the best argument against the flag-burning amendment: A flag sheltered by threats to personal liberty can never be a symbol of liberty, and as such, is worthless. Likewise, when liberalism manipulates the apparatus of government to stifle expression it finds noxious, it destroys its core precepts: that the condition of individual liberty will ultimately lead our species to the best of all possible worlds; that given free exchange in the marketplace of ideas, the best ideas will ultimately prevail. Even when progress toward that end is sometimes too slow, empowering the government to pick winners and losers among ideas is itself the worst idea of all.
Note to Field Guide friends and readers: the hazy, crazy, lazy days of summer are upon us, and the Field Guide’s stalwart staff is not immune. CT has commanded a two (2(!)) week cessation of all LFG-related activities, to commence not later than sundown on Friday – encouraging all to use some vacay to nurture the liberal spirit, and if that fails, to drink till inebriation and dialogue members of the opposite (or same) sex till accession.
CT will remain at the home office to oversee the fine-tuning of our trusty LFG woodchipper – and while he’s left open the possibility of reposting hidden gems from the Field Guide’s dusky past, we will return in full freshness on Wednesday July 16th –
The NBA has revenues of more than $5 billion. Its 30 teams have a collective valuation, per Forbes, of $19 billion – though given recent sales of other sports franchises, that’s probably understated. And so when one owner got caught making racially disparaging remarks, 29 others moved swiftly to excise the canker from the league’s cajillion dollar body. While final, legal closure will likely require years in court (the kind without hoops), it is, as far as fans and players are concerned, largely settled. The league rose to the occasion and cast out a resident racist, allowing the rest to move on.
The case of Donald Sterling is interesting and heartening because it will very likely be put to rest by operation of market forces, with a racist owner dispatched from the NBA because racism is bad for business. When racism is made to go away by private actors, without recourse to the coercive power of the state, that’s a good thing, and a sign of progress.
In contrast, the case of Washington’s NFL franchise is not likely to go away any time soon. Washington has been using a racial slur as its team name since 1933. As far back as 1968, the National Congress of American Indians condemned the team’s use of Redskins; scores of other Native American tribes and organizations have subsequently followed suit – just in case the point had been missed by Washington’s ownership, which was infamous for being among the most racist in professional sports. (In 1962, threatened with eviction from their home stadium by the federal government, they became the last pro football team to integrate – while playing in a city that was more than 50% black.)
Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office revoked Washington’s team trademarks, deeming the Redskins name and image to be racially disparaging, and thus not entitled to trademark protection. This is the second time that the USPTO has issued such a decision. They did so first in 1999 – a decision that was later reversed.
There can be no serious debate as to whether “Redskins” is a racial slur, Dictionaries are unanimous. Decades of usage may have had a desensitizing effect – but try to Imagine yourself addressing a roomful of Native Americans as Redskins, and any remaining doubt will vanish. A harder question is the proper role of the state in adjudicating, if not remedying, the situation.
Consider that between Sterling’s comments and Washington’s name, the latter case is far more egregious, persisting now for more than 80 years, validated day in and day out by the league, its players and fans; in the mouths of sponsors, announcers and members of the press. The reason the matter persists is simply that Native Americans are not economically significant enough for NFL ownership, its players or fanbase to rethink current practice. Most people dont care – and Native Americans lack the political or economic capital to force them to reconsider.
While Sterling’s comments merited a severe rebuke, the size and swiftness of the response was driven not by the size of the insult, but by the amount of money at stake. Or, as stated above, it was not resolved by justice but by commerce. In Washington’s case, commerce may not be enough to make its ill-conceived team name go away – and justice may not have an answer either.
While trademark revocation is appropriate, it will have some undesirable effects if it stands. Clearly, it will hit the team in the wallet, which was petitioners’ objective. But Washington, with an estimated worth of $1.7 billion, may find the name valuable enough to keep, even in the absence of trademark protection. More perversely, anyone will be able to manufacture and sell merchandise with the Redskins name and logo, without having to get permission or pay licensing fees. According to basic economic theory, this will lead to a significant INCREASE in the supply of Redskins-branded items, and a drop in price. In other words, with its trademark protection revoked, use of the Redskins name and logo on commercial merchandise should become MORE widespread than ever.
Beyond revoking the trademark, it’s not clear what the government can or should do. Liberals must tread carefully in areas involving freedom of expression, including so-called hate speech – of which this matter is a sub-species. The Field Guide will take the issue up when we return on Friday.
Hailed as the most important Supreme Court case of the 20th century, Brown v. the Board of Education on its diamond anniversary is no more than a gorgeous corpse. Brown today prevents state and local governments from hanging a “colored only” sign on the schoolhouse door – unfortunately it allows them to do everything they need to do to produce precisely the same outcome, without need for the sign. Eviscerated by subsequent decisions, Brown’s awesome potential is unrealized, and unlikely to ever be, doing nothing for an increasing fraction of students who attend legally segregated schools across the US. The nation should end its sardonic celebration of Brown’s 60th, and be rededicated to the task of desegregation.
Brown invalidated the Jim Crow establishment of parallel white and colored schools, repudiating the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine with its overruling of Plessy v Ferguson (1896). Brown was truly a giant leap forward for the US, predating the Civil Rights Act by a decade. So it was for the Warren Court: ever on the vanguard, dragging a reluctant nation into modernity. But Earl Warren, the chief justice, author and architect of Brown‘s 9-0 decision, retired in 1969. Nixon replaced him and 3 other justices, setting the stage for Brown‘s demise.
While every schoolkid learns the historical significance of Brown, few are taught Millken v. Bradley, which in 1974 cut Brown off at the knees. Board of Ed. of Oklahoma City v. Dowell was a conservative Court’s 1991 coup de grace,* rendering Brown a nullity.
Milliken is a quintessentially cynical conservative decision, in which 5 justices feign ignorance to the most basic facts in order to arrive at an indefensible decision. Milliken‘s majority observed that neighborhoods can become segregated by socio-economic factors. School districts in such neighborhoods, they explain, can as a consequence become segregated without any action on the part of the government. And thus may poor black neighborhoods beget poor black schools, and rich white neighborhoods beget rich white schools – and Brown, those 5 conservatives pronounced, has nothing to say about that. “Segregation is dead – long live segregation, y’all,” – their holding might well have been
Justice William O. Douglas takes Milliken‘s shiftless majority to task in a dissent that expounds the obvious: where school district lines are drawn and whether they get redrawn; where schools are erected; where municipal lines begin and end; where public housing projects are put up; and nearly every factor that integrates or segregates a given community’s public schools is determined by the government. The government’s decision to countenance racially segregated schools, rather than working to integrate them, is precisely that: a government decision. The Milliken majority acknowledges that where Detroit meets its suburbs there’s a line in the dirt, and the black kids on one side get routed into poor black schools, while white kids on the other side get routed into well-funded white schools. At this point the majority pretends to not grasp the obvious fact that the government chooses where that line is drawn, and whether it is redrawn to integrate schools, as Brown commands, or left alone.
5 conservative justices finished Brown off in its 1991 Oklahoma City decision. Oklahoma has among the most egregious records on segregation. The cordoning off of black kids into black-only schools was written into the state constitution from the day Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907. Despite Brown, the Civil Rights Act, and an 11 year federal court battle, Oklahoma City schools were still segregated in 1972. Finally a new plan was implemented – and it worked: in 1977, a federal judge declared Oklahoma City schools to be integrated – 23 years after Brown!
But just 8 years later, Oklahoma City enacted a different plan to allocate students – and by 1989, its schools were segregated again. When plaintiffs sought to reopen the federal case that ended 70 years of Oklahoma City school segregation, 5 conservatives on the Supreme Court slammed shut the courthouse door. Never mind those 70 years, this conservative majority argued, asking us to believe that this more recent variety of segregation is the permissible Milliken kind, driven by economic decisions by private citizens. A mere 10 years of desegregation in the preceding 80 had miraculously turned Oklahoma into Massachusetts. Segregation is dead – long live segregation.
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who argued Brown before the Court in 1954, took on the Oklahoma City majority in his pointed dissent. The effect of Oklahoma City is to allow miscreant school districts – who were once subject to a desegregation order, and who subsequently satisfied that order by integrating – to backslide into segregation again by “private economic decisions” – and then when they get sued, they can hide behind Milliken, throw up their hands, and claim that this “new” segregation is not the result of government action. Long live segregation, y’all!
Milliken made sure that Brown could not apply outside of the south, allowing states like New York and California to have some of the most segregated school systems today. Oklahoma City next gave southern school districts the opportunity to be treated like New York and California – they need only desegregate for a few years, after which they can return to segregated business as usual.
Yeah I know it sucks – sorry to be the bearer of bad news – but Brown, in many respects now does more harm than good. Ironically, Plessy v. Ferguson might produce better results today, since it requires EQUAL to go along with separate. Brown, twisted from its original meaning by 40 years of conservative jurisprudence, is now the facilitator and protector of a system of separate and unequal schools across the country.
* CT kindly requests that all world citizens, francophonic or otherwise, enunciate the final c in “coup de grace.” Failure to do so results in “coup de gras”, which – though it may be poetically construed as a drink on Fat Tuesday, or, more farfetched, a judo move involving the buttocks – is unbearably grotesque in ears of a certain stripe. Grazi-yay a todo.
Who has the most racially segregated schools in the US? According to a new report out of UCLA, that distinction falls on New York State. The roots of New York’s segregation go back to a 1974 Supreme Court decision that isnt as infamous as it should be. In Milliken v. Bradley, 5 justices decided that there were really 2 kinds of school segregation. New York’s, as you might guess, is the legal kind – though both kinds suck separately, equally and spectacularly.
The illegal kind of segregation happens when a school board official sits down at a map, and with evil intent sketches out school districts that keep blacks with blacks and whites with whites. This is “de jure” segregation. After review, a Federal Judge will send the miscreant back to his map, with instructions that he sketch out nicely-integrated school districts. He does, the Judge signs off, and life goes on, desegregated.
Years pass and some neighborhoods do better than others. Affluent people buy into better school districts. Poor people get displaced by higher property values, and get pushed into inferior school districts. Since there’s a wide disparity in the US between incomes of whites, blacks and hispanics – and persistent discrimination among landlords, realtors, and other private parties – the result is a return to racially segregated schools. And since schools across the US tend to be locally funded, you dont just get segregated public schools – you get poor minority kids in underfunded schools, and middle-class white kids in well-funded schools.
The kicker comes when the next-generation public school board official gets his arsenio hauled into Federal Court – only to receive a pat on the head. Because y’see this kind of segregation, which just kinda sorta happened (wink wink), is called “de facto” segregation – and it’s been legal as pie since 1974. Under Milliken, a Federal Judge cant force state officials to throw out the old districting map simply because it results in segregated schools. If there were no evil intent when the districts were drawn, the state can kick back and enjoy its aparteid-by-omission. While school board officials arent allowed to create segregated districts with their pencils – they arent required to undo them with their erasers.
The Milliken case came out of Detroit, where poor, black, city school districts abutted affluent, white, suburban school districts. “Milliken” was himself the governor of Michigan – sued by Detroit residents who objected to the state’s school-districting scheme because, by following existing municipal boundaries, it resulted in deeply segregated schools. The plaintiffs argued that the distinction between “Detroit” and “Suburb” was just a line in the dirt – that the state was required to cure racial segregation, or run afoul of Brown v. the Board of Education‘s holding that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The lower court agreed with plaintiffs, and ordered that city and suburban districts be integrated across the city line.
The Supreme Court disagreed. Chief Justice Burger wrote, “The target of the Brown holding was clear and forthright: the elimination of state-mandated or deliberately maintained dual school systems with certain schools for Negro pupils and others for white pupils.” (Emphasis supplied.) Burger conveniently overlooked another passage from Brown: “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race… deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.” The modifiers “state-mandated” and “deliberately maintained” arent there. The distinction between “de jure” and “de facto” segregation isnt there. Under Brown, there was just one kind of segregation: the illegal kind.
Milliken went beyond merely undercutting Brown – it managed to undercut the most infamous case in US history, Plessy v Ferguson, which in 1896 validated the doctrine of separate-but-equal. Milliken succeeded in validating separate-but-UNEQUAL – a step backward from, and more regressive than the Jim Crow South.
In Milliken, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower federal court, which would have required the state to seek an “area-wide” plan to cure segregation, rather than relying on a “city-wide” plan. The lower court’s eminently sensible solution to the segregation problem would have moved some city kids into schools in the suburbs, and some suburban kids into schools in the city. The distances were modest – this “area-wide” plan generally had kids traveling shorter distances than the “city-wde” plan. But the Supreme Court decided there was no problem at all, because “There were no findings that the differing racial composition between schools in the city and in the outlying suburbs was caused by official activity of any sort.” Thus the holding of Millken is “Segregation Happens” (with a shrug). Hey, wuddyagonnado….
Justice William O. Douglas – the same guy who gave every American a right to privacy back in 1965 – wrote a brilliant dissent, which we can only hope will become law one day. Douglas is among the most gifted writers the Court ever had, with an exceptional talent for nailing down knotty issues in a few tight paragraphs. You dont have to be a lawyer to enjoy Douglas at his best – though suffering through a few of Kennedy’s or O’Connor’s mangled texts helps speed the appreciation. A link to his full dissent is given below, and it’s worth reading in its entirety. Unable to improve on his eloquence, Douglas closes here, his thoughts as apropos of 1974 Detroit as they are of 2014 New York:
“Today’s decision… means that there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause though the schools are segregated by race and though the black schools are not only “separate” but “inferior.” So far as equal protection is concerned, we are now in a dramatic retreat from the 7-to-1 decision in 1896 that blacks could be segregated in public facilities, provided they received equal treatment.
“There is, so far as the school cases go, no constitutional difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Each school board performs state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes when it draws the lines that confine it to a given area, when it builds schools at particular sites, or when it allocates students. The creation of the school districts in Metropolitan Detroit either maintained existing segregation or caused additional segregation. Restrictive covenants maintained by state action or inaction build black ghettos. It is state action when public funds are dispensed by housing agencies to build racial ghettos. Where a community is racially mixed and school authorities segregate schools, or assign black teachers to black schools or close schools in fringe areas and build new schools in black areas and in more distant white areas, the State creates and nurtures a segregated school system just as surely as did those States involved in Brown v. Board of Education when they maintained dual school systems.
“The issue is not whether there should be racial balance, but whether the State’s use of various devices that end up with black schools and white schools brought the Equal Protection Clause into effect. Given the State’s control over the educational system in Michigan, the fact that the black schools are in one district and the white schools are in another is not controlling — either constitutionally or equitably…. It is conceivable that ghettos develop on their own, without any hint of state action. But since Michigan, by one device or another, has, over the years, created black school districts and white school districts, the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations.”
Douglas’s dissent: http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/418/717/case.html#757 (you have to scroll down a little bit – it begins just below “MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting”)
full text of Milliken: http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/418/717/
full text of Brown: http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/347/483/case.html
bonus material: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griswold_v._Connecticut
Immediately after winning the 1980 GOP presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan went to Philadelphia, Mississippi and gave a speech on “States’ Rights.” It was a curious venue for a curious subject. In the same southern town just 16 years previously, 3 civil rights activists were murdered by the local police department, the county sheriff and the KKK. “States’ Rights” had a special meaning: it stood for opposition to the civil rights movement. It would be like giving a pro-guns speech in Columbine today – a massacre which happened 15 years ago.
Reagan advisor Lee Atwater said in a 1981 interview, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you cant say ‘nigger’…. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing, states’ rights’ and all that stuff…. You’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
Conservatism among poor whites was and is fundamentally about racism. The GOP, not by accident, but BY DESIGN, is a party for whites only. Though they feinted toward inclusiveness during the 90s, their Tea Party wing – birthers and all – still doesnt care enough about winning the White House to strike a deal on immigration reform – a necessary first step toward taking a fraction of the Hispanic vote – without which they have little chance of winning a national election.
LBJ knew that the Civil Rights Act would drive white southerners to the GOP. The so-called “solid south” had been wobbling since the 1940s, when Strom Thurmond formed the “States’ Rights” party, whose single policy goal was maintaining segregation. He took 4 southern states in the 1948 presidential election. Coming just 4 months after passage of the Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Presidential election saw 5 southern states go to the GOP, whose candidate, Sen. Barry Goldwater, voted and campaigned against the Act. With his home state, they were the only states he won. The same 5 states went to George Wallace in 1968, again running only on segregation. Wallace remains the most successful third-party presidential candidate of the past 100 years. Racism, and nothing else, was all it took to win the white southern vote. And still is.
One of Nixon’s advisers dubbed it “the southern strategy” – stripping the white southern vote from the DNC though appeals to racism. Remarkably, one facet of the southern strategy explicitly included pushing southern blacks into the Democratic Party, to lower that party’s stature in the eyes of racists. As a Nixon adviser put it, “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 arrangement with the local Democrats.”
Success breeds success – Nixon’s “southern strategy” has grown to define GOP electioneering and politics, as increasingly virulent strains of conservatism have taken over the GOP – a once-great party with a strong liberal tradition. Since Reagan, GOP candidates have competed in general elections on Goldwater’s conservative policy positions, using Nixon’s electioneering strategy. The quadrennial GOP presidential candidate’s visit to the outrageously racist Bob Jones University (which forbids interracial dating) only ended after Bush Duh went in 2000, after which BJU unilaterally decided to withdraw from politics.
The language the GOP uses has evolved – where before we had “states’ rights” and “busing”, we now hear about “the takers”, “the 47%”, “illegals” – and then there are the birthers. The common element is belief in an “enemy within,” against whom a nation unifies in animus. Patriotism – nominally defined as love of country – is routinely expressed as hatred of particular people within it.
The birthers – crazies who suggest that Obama was born in Indonesia or Kenya – are NOT fringe elements within the GOP – they are mainstream. Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Newt GIngrich – all GOP national candidates – have made remarks sympathetic to or supportive of them.
And that’s how we got here – with many poor, white Americans supporting a political party that opposes there own financial interests. Among 46 million Americans in poverty, more than 30 million are white. Red states are themselves net recipients of federal dollars – receiving far more in federal support than they pay in federal taxes. Increasing the size of government almost invariably means that rich, liberal states will pay more; while poor, conservative states will receive more – and yet red-staters are against “big government.”
Almost 10 years ago, Thomas Frank took a crack at this issue with his book “What’s the Matter with Kansas.” His conclusion was that conservatives pulled a bait-n-switch on poor whites: luring them with demagoguery on cultural issues (abortion, death penalty, gay marriage, flag burning, etc.), in the hope that they wouldnt notice their regressive stand on fiscal issues (reducing taxes on passive income, slashing social insurance). There’s a lot of truth in his analysis – though Frank, a decent Kansan himself, was a bit too genteel in his conclusions.
In a Russian fairy tale, a genie appears to a peasant and says he will grant him any wish – on the condition that whatever he receives, his neighbor will receive double. After thinking it over for a minute, the peasant replies “kill one of my cows.” Poor whites have long taken pride that they’re somewhat less poor than poor blacks. They remain content with losing, as long as they think those other folks will lose more.