Southern Sophistry

“Southern man better keep your head/don’t forget what your good book says”
Southern Man, Neil Young

The Republican Party, I am told, has been hijacked by extremists. The old party, those Rockefeller Republicans with their fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, and sense of noblesse oblige have  been relegated to the dustbin of history. Interlopers have charged in and run roughshod over the heart of the party, if you are to believe the few remaining moderate Republicans and GOP apologists. That is all news to me.

It seems to me those poor, besieged old guard of the party left the door wide open. Forty years ago Harry S Dent Sr. helped design the party’s Southern Strategy, using coded and sometimes not so coded racism and fear of big government to gain in roads with white voters upset by the changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement and The Great Society. This strategy saw them gain more political power than the party had possessed since before The New Deal and eventually led to the election of Ronald Reagan.

Very few of these people actually believed one word of what they were selling. Lee Atwater, one of Dent’s proteges and later mentor to Karl Rove, was famous for boasting about doing and saying whatever it takes to win. These men making their way into elected office on the strength of The Strategy knew that a free and equal society with a strong safety net was the best way to maintain a stable and prosperous society. They all believed in Keynsian economics but only publicly acknowledged those parts that meant a boosting of the military-industrial complex and the country’s global status. When speaking to their new base, Keynse’s theories were foolish and helped those people.

This is why for over twenty years the welfare state, expanded by FDR and later boosted by LBJ, stayed relatively intact. It wasn’t until the Republican Revolution of ’94, when a group of Republicans who came of political age during the beginnings of The Strategy decided they needed to make good on some of those promises in order to win more votes. A government surplus created by an economic boom lent credibility to their bad ideas, for however short a period, and now we are where we are today.

Today we have a Republican Party comprised of “rising stars” of Generation X GOPers: the Paul Ryans and Michelle Bachmanns. People my age, or just a little older, who came of age, period, under the Southern Strategy. These people do not view these policy points as a winning strategy in the ballot box, they view them as ideas to be defended to one’s last breath. They are a Frankenstein’s Monster created by short sighted, greedy, old men who are now afraid of them. Unwilling to accept their mistake, to back down, for fear of looking soft or, worse, liberal, they continue to feed the beast, and the beast keeps wanting more.

No, this did not happen to the GOP, they did it to themselves. They sold themselves out and now their angry children are going to sell the rest of us out.


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