“Some black political leaders think Democratic candidates who distanced themselves from President Barack Obama sapped enthusiasm among African-Americans in states where they anchor the party's base,” writes Bill Barrow of the Associated Press.
He cited Sen. Kay Hagan’s narrow defeat in North Carolina, Michelle Nunn’s near-landslide loss in Georgia, and the plight of Mary Landrieu, who faces a tough runoff election in Louisiana next month.
In Kentucky, Democratic hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes also fled from the president. Sen. Mitch McConnell handily defeated her.
Barrow added that a larger turnout among African Americans by itself wouldn’t have added up to Democratic triumphs in Georgia or Louisiana because 3 out of 4 white Georgians voted against Nunn and more than 4 out of 5 Louisiana whites voted against Landrieu.
Grimes likely would have come up short, too. But I’ve heard some Kentucky Democrats wonder if Grimes depressed the African America turnout to some extent by keeping the president at arm’s length and especially by refusing to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
In any event, Linda Wilkins-Daniels, an officer in the North Carolina Democratic Party's Black Caucus, told Barrow that Democratic candidates missed an opportunity to use the president to tell a success story and to make political hay off differences with Republicans on issues like the minimum wage, financial regulation, student loans and health care.
"Unemployment is down, gas prices have dropped below $3 a gallon, the stock market is higher than it's ever been, they've cut the deficit, and the health care law is helping people, no matter what Republicans say," Wilkins-Daniels said. "If a Republican president had that record, their candidates wouldn't shut up about it.”
Though Kynect, the Bluegrass State’s adaptation of the Affordable Care Act, has been a big success -- more than 413,000 Kentuckians have received health insurance under the program – Grimes hesitated to embrace it at first. When she finally did, the Democrat commonly called the program "Kynect," not "Obamacare," Zach Carter and Jason Cherkis wrote in Huffington Post.
Jeanie Embry of Paducah, a member of the McCracken County Democratic executive committee, agrees that her party has many positives that Democratic candidates should have accentuated. “Instead, a lot of Democrats continue to think and talk like Republicans and run from progressive ideas that set the party apart from the Republicans.”
Added Embry, president of the Alben Barkley Democratic Women’s Club of Paducah: “As usual, the Republicans staged and defined the narrative. Why didn’t Democratic candidates tout all the accomplishments over the past six years? Even that bastion of conservative thought, Forbes, rated President Obama a better president than Ronald Reagan for growth, investing, and the economy.”
At any rate, Barrow’s story, like almost every such election post mortem piece, failed to address the larger question: why do so many white people vote Republican, especially in Dixie and in border states like Kentucky?
Before the election, Landrieu said that “the South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans. It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader. It's not always been a good place for women to present ourselves.”
John Hennen, a history professor at Morehead, Ky., State University, was impressed with Landrieu’s forthrightness. “In addition to long-internalized suspicions many whites have about blacks, especially a powerful African American such as a president, is the fact that Obama's self-identity is more tied into his blackness than his whiteness. White supremacists just cannot accept that -- someone choosing to be black.”
Embry said that the election proved that “Nixon's 'Southern Strategy' is still alive and well particularly in Southern states, including Kentucky.”
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow also referred to the “Southern Strategy” in a recent column about the election. He quoted Kevin Phillips, Nixon’s political strategist, who confided to The New York Times Magazine in 1970: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
Blow wrote, “That’s right: Republicans wanted the Democrats’ ‘Negrophobes.’”
In another column, Blow recalled what one of his brothers told him about being transferred to Mississippi along with a white co-worker:
“He and the co-worker were shopping for homes at the same time. The co-worker was aghast at what he saw as redlining on the part of the real estate agent, who never explicitly mentioned race. When the co-worker had inquired about a neighborhood that included black homeowners, the agent responded, ‘You don’t want to live there. That’s where the Democrats live.’ The co-worker was convinced that ‘Democrats’ was code for ‘black.’”
“Race has been a factor in how this president, and even the Democratic Party since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has been viewed,” said Brian Clardy, a history professor at Murray, Ky., State University.
"Anyone who believes there is not a racial component to Barack Obama's unpopularity in Kentucky is not looking at things through a realistic lens," said David Ramey of Murray, who chairs the Calloway County Democratic party. "Clearly, there are some policy differences in some areas, but there is still a significant part of the population that was raised in a different era and, unfortunately, they are uncomfortable with an African American president."
Of course, Republicans hotly deny any suggestion that even the most vicious attacks on the president from their side are at all racially-motivated or amount to pandering to white prejudice.
I’m not for a minute saying every white person who voted against Obama is a racist. The president wouldn’t either.
But there is no denying the Republicans have largely become what the Democrats used to be: the white folks’ party.
Historically, the GOP of “Lincoln and Liberty,” based in the North, was the party of federal civil rights activism: the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery; the 14th Amendment which made the newly freed slaves citizens; and the 15th Amendment which extended the franchise to African American men.
Rooted in the South, the Democrats were the party of civil rights obstructionism.
Southern Democrats cried “states’ rights!” meaning the right of states to have slavery and later to force African Americans into second-class citizenship status by segregating them from white society and by denying them the vote.
As a result, most African Americans who could vote supported Republicans, which is why Southern Democratic state legislatures passed laws denying them the ballot.
In the 1960s, northern and western Democrats in Congress – led by a President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, and helped by moderate and liberal Republicans beyond Dixie – passed landmark civil rights bills designed to overturn Dixie’s Jim Crow segregation and voter suppression laws. Consequently, many African Americans switched to the Democrats – a shift that began as a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-fighting New Deal programs in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the ‘60s, the white South started turning Republican Red, though it took border state Kentucky a while longer.
Today, it’s the Republicans – and not just Southern ones -- who yell “states’ rights!,” eschew federal civil rights activism and pass state laws coldly calculated to curb minority voting.
The change in the country’s two big parties is notably reflected in the Legislative Report Cards issued by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights group.
Time was, most Republicans received As and Bs and a lot of Democrats flunked, especially those from the old Confederate states.
But on the current report card, every GOP senator got an F, except Susan Collins of Maine. Her grade was a D.
On the other hand, most Democratic senators got As. There were six Bs and a D that went to Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Bottom line: Race is the elephant in the living room and not just in Dixie, and much of the supposedly liberal media chooses to ignore it or make little of it. At the same time, the Republicans plainly see the pachyderm and campaign accordingly among conservative white people. Chris Matthews of MNBC calls it “dog whistle politics.”
Dog Whistle Politics is also the title of a book by Ian Haney Lopez. “…Think about a term like ‘welfare queen’ [Ronald Reagan] or ‘food stamp president’ [Newt Gingrich], the author, a legal scholar, suggested to Bill Moyers on the host’s PBS TV show, Moyers & Company.
“On one level, like a dog whistle, it's silent. Silent about race. It seems race-neutral. But on another, it also has a shrill blast, like a dog whistle, that can be heard by certain folks. And what the blast is a warning about race and a warning, in particular about threatening minorities.”
In a long article he wrote about McConnell earlier this year, Politico’s Jason Zingerle quoted a Kentucky Republican strategist: “We are still a racist state, I hate to admit it. Anything you can connect to Barack Obama is a winning thing for us.”
McConnell and like-minded Republicans do nothing to disabuse conservative white folks of the notion that our Hawaii-born, Christian, Democratic president is a Kenyan-born, Muslim and a Socialist (any real Socialist will tell you in no uncertain terms that the president and his party are not Socialist.)
At a campaign stop in a nearly all-white western Kentucky county, McConnell claimed Obama was leading a “jihad” against coal. The senator unquestionably understood that the all-white crowd would hear his dog whistle.
To his credit, the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Joseph Gerth called McConnell’s hand. Gerth wrote that McConnell had linked “jihad” to Obama before.
Added Gerth: “It's also not the first time that McConnell has raised eyebrows when it comes to messaging about Obama and religion.
“In 2010, on NBC's ‘Meet the Press,’ host David Gregory asked McConnell if he believed Obama is a Christian. Instead of a simple, ‘Yes,’ here's what McConnell said at the time:
“‘The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word.’
“At the time, Mike Allen, of Politico, accused McConnell of ‘dog-whistle’ politics — that is, coding a message so the general audience hears one message but a smaller group hears something different, often sinister.”
McConnell knew that most Americans, maybe even most liberals, think “jihad” is an Arabic word that means Muslim holy war. It “means struggling or striving,” according to the Islamic Supreme Council of America. “Al-harb” is Arabic for war.
At any rate, Embry, a co-founder of the Bluegrass Rural political action committee (www.bluegrass-rural.com) is fond of quoting LBJ’s response to racist signs whites waved at him while he was campaigning for vice president in Tennessee in 1960: “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.”
Overtly race-baiting 19th century white supremacist Southern Democratic politicians, most of them well-heeled, created that scam to gull poor whites into voting for them during slavery and Jim Crow times. Late 20th and early 21st century conservative Republicans resurrected the old con job but with coded pandering to white prejudice.
“…The idea that I'm trying to get across here is, racism has evolved,” Lopez also told Moyers. “Or, in particular, public racism has evolved. The way in which racism, the way in which racial divisions are stoked in public discourse has changed. And now it operates on two levels. On one level, it allows plausible deniability. This isn't really about race, it's just about welfare. Just about food stamps. And on another, there's a subtext, an underground message which can be piercingly loud, and that is: minorities are threatening us.
“And so when people dog whistle about criminals, welfare cheats, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, ostensibly they’re talking about culture, behavior, religion, but underneath are these old stereotypes of degraded minorities, but also, and this is important, implicitly of whites who are trustworthy, hard-working, decent.”