South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint travels to Honduras to endorse the military coup. Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk tells China not to believe our government's figures. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe will tell the upcoming Copenhagen climate summit that global warming is a hoax as he shadows President Obama. South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson shouts, "You lie!" at the president at a joint session of Congress. What do these events have in common? I believe the answer is that the Republican Party's 1968 "Southern Strategy" has morphed into the Southern Democratic Party's 1860 strategy - do not recognize the federal government as a legitimate institution and advocate policies reminiscent of the antebellum South.
The 1968 Republican "Southern Strategy" was a shrewd political move by Richard Nixon's people to grab blue collar and suburban white voters from the Democratic Party. These voters were fearful of busing and desegregation of residential neighborhoods. George Wallace had shown the strategy could work by running up big percentages among these voters in northern Democratic primaries. He also blamed "pointy-headed intellectuals" and government bureaucrats for government intrusion into working people's lives and homes - charges Republicans would run with for the next four decades.
However, as time went on, this original strategy played into the hands of ideological small government conservatives whose main motive was to get regulations (and taxes) out of their companies and private lives. When the anti-government campaign of Ronald Reagan succeeded, these ideologues were off and running. Taxes were lowered for the richest individuals and corporations, while government regulators softened up on business. Congress was bypassed or ignored on foreign policy. The result was massive federal deficits for military spending, the stock market crash, the savings and loan scandal and the Iran-Contra affair. Still the ideologues called for more deregulation, more tax cuts and more power for the presidency as opposed to Congress.
With the disputed election of George W. Bush in 2000, these ideas were put into practice: tax cuts for the wealthy, large corporations circumventing corporate taxes (while complaining about the rate), the theory of the unified executive where the president is the sole voice on foreign policy and war. The politicization of every department of government, spying on the American people, the refusal to testify before Congress or provide documents and vast sums of money unaccounted for became standard practice. Social programs, even including programs for veterans, were cut while every attempt was made to privatize Social Security.
As the Democratic Party became the only viable antebellum party in the South, the 21st century Republican Party moved to create a "permanent majority." Installing Karl Rove in the White House to vet every decision for its political value, having government departments participate in campaigns, allowing only Republican lobbyists, hiring news stories and fake reporters were some of the new tactics. Focusing on the bogus issue of illegal voters led to attempts to purge voter roles, laws requiring multiple IDs and other measures to restrict voter registration and actual voting.
The antebellum South was an oligarchy as was the Jim Crow South. This is exactly the type of government favored by today's Republican Party. "Trickle-down" economics so the rich can show us the way to prosperity and job creation is a mirror of the paternalistic plantation owner with his network of good ol' boys at the local courthouse. Enforcing identity laws is a mirror of the poll taxes and tests that kept blacks and poor whites from voting. One of the least known facts about the pre-Civil War South and especially the later Jim Crow South is how few poor whites voted. Racism as a sop for poor whites to feel superior while remaining powerless mirrors everything from Rush Limbaugh's "Barack the Magic Negro" number to all the racist cartoons and comments coming from Republican newspapers, commentators and state party people.
Today's Republican Party, wrapped in flags, guns and religion, represents the Old South and mountain States - a party becoming geographically isolated and begging to be called racist with one of John McCain's campaign directors saying they were campaigning in the last bastions of "real" America like the Mesabi Range and Western Pennsylvania. There is almost no Republican House representation from the northeast as well as the nation's urban areas.
It is no accident to have South Carolina's Sen. Jim Demint advocating his own foreign policy abetted by Mitch McConnell from Kentucky and South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson shouting "liar" at the president. These people, like the "birthers," don't see a legitimate government. Like most of the Republican Party, they refuse to work with Democrats - compromise is not in their vocabulary. Like today's California Republican Party, they would rather the government fail than see the Democrats achieve anything. Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested his state might secede as many of today's Republicans, like their Confederate Democratic forebears, have already ideologically seceded. Perhaps red states and blue states are becoming blue states and gray states.
Michael Hittleman is the owner/director of the Michael Hittleman Gallery - Fine Israeli Art, which was opened in 1976. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UCLA with a B.A. in Philosophy. He is an associate of the Omohundro Institute in Williamsburg, Virginia. www.michaelhittlemangallery.com