For two years conservatives indulged themselves in unheard-of dogwhistle campaigns against this young African-American President while enlightened liberals pointed it out in a mild, somewhat derisive fashion but with little outrage. Now, in the aftermath of the midterm 'shellacking', a New Confederacy is rising with the assistance of the tea party and John Birchers, and it's getting enough traction in Congress to do real damage.The scary part? It's working.
Fact: We are NOT living in a post-racial society. Not on the liberal side, and not on the conservative side.
As nice as it is to think that we've transcended race now that we have a smart, well-educated mixed-race President, we haven't at all. Racial divides are bigger and nastier than ever. The right exploits them; the left tries to ignore them. But they exist. Dave and John wrote about this in their book "Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane". The chapter on Mad Hatters and March Hares describes the series of dog whistles that birthed today's Tea party. It's not news to anyone paying attention, but it carries a subliminal and destructive message to those who are not.
Will Bunch hit on the same themes in his latest book, "The Backlash", too. When I asked him directly about race as a motivating factor, he answered with this:
Race is a huge motivator. There's been a lot of talk in the early reviews about ways in which "The Backlash" is perhaps understanding of the right-wing rank and file, but I want to be clear -- racism of various stripes is a huge motivator, which I find disturbing and not excusable.
A big driver of the movement is cultural factors -- people are worried about a future in which America is a "non-white majority" nation, and media and pols are exploiting that fear. Barack Obama was the exclamation mark -- that change was here in 2008 and not in 2050 when whites are predicted to be a minority.
Race issues are doing great harm to Democrats and the progressive movement
So far I've addressed the right wing racists. But let's look at what race is doing on the left. The Atlantic reports a disturbing trend:
From every angle, the exit-poll results reveal a new color line: a consistent chasm between the attitudes of whites and minorities. The gap begins with preferences in the election.
After two years of a punishing recession, minority support for House Democrats sagged in this election to the lowest level recorded by exit polls in the past two decades, according to calculations that Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, provided to National Journal.
Despite a drop in minority voters' support for Democrats, it still averaged 73% across the board. However, white voters fled the Democratic party in droves.
Meanwhile, Republicans, with their 60 percent showing, notched the party's best congressional result among white voters in the history of modern polling. Media exit polls conducted by Edison Research and its predecessors have been tracking congressional elections for about three decades. In no previous exit poll had Republicans reached 60 percent of the white vote in House races.
There were specific reasons for the exodus, too.
First among those was Obama's performance. Exactly 75 percent of minority voters said they approved; only 22 percent said they disapproved. Among white voters, just 35 percent approved of the president's performance, while 65 percent disapproved; a head-turning 49 percent of whites said they strongly disapproved. (Those whites voted Republican last fall by a ratio of 18-to-1.)
So white voters cut and ran for the Republican party not because Obama wasn't liberal enough, but because he was perceived as too liberal for so-called liberal white voters. Why is that? Here are some answers, and they all draw upon racial divides and fears.
The racial gulf was similar when voters were asked whether they believed that Obama's policies would help the nation in the long run. By 70 percent to 22 percent, minorities said yes; by 61 percent to 34 percent, whites said no. On election night, much attention focused on the exit-poll result that showed voters divided almost exactly in half on whether Congress should repeal the comprehensive health care reform legislation that Obama signed last year or should preserve or even expand it. But that convergence obscured a profound racial contrast. The vast majority of minority voters said they wanted lawmakers to expand the health care law (54 percent) or maintain it in its current form (16 percent), while only 24 percent said they wanted Congress to repeal it. Among white voters, the sentiments were almost inverted: 56 percent said that lawmakers should repeal the law, while much smaller groups wanted them to expand it (23 percent) or leave it alone (just 16 percent).
When you hear Republicans going on about how voters litigated health care reform repeal in November, they're really saying white voters litigated health care reform repeal. And white voters are the only ones who count in their eyes. But wait, there's more:
Minorities were almost exactly twice as likely as whites to say that life would be better for the next generation than for their own; whites were considerably more likely to say that it would be more difficult. And on a question measuring bedrock beliefs about the role of government, the two racial groups again registered almost mirror-image preferences. Sixty percent of minorities said that government should be doing more to solve problems; 63 percent of whites said that government is doing too many things that would be better left to businesses and individuals.
And which white voters are they losing? Blue collar workers, in droves.
Democrats have been losing support among blue-collar white voters since the 1960s, but in this election, they hit one of their lowest points ever. In House campaigns, the exit poll found, noncollege whites preferred Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 with virtually no gender gap: White working-class women--the so-called waitress moms--gave Republicans almost exactly as many of their votes as blue-collar men did.
These blue-collar whites expressed profound resistance to Obama and his agenda. Just 30 percent of them said they approved of the president's job performance (compared with 69 percent who disapproved). Two-thirds of them said that government is doing too many things. An approximately equal number said that Obama's agenda will hurt the country over the long term. Only about one-fifth of these voters said that the stimulus had helped the economy, and 57 percent wanted to repeal the health care law--even though they are uninsured at much higher rates than whites with more advanced education.
While I'm certain that the crummy economy and Fox News had something to do with this, there is an inescapable race theme running through these numbers that cannot and should not be ignored.
The Constitution and the New Confederacy
The US Constitution will continue to be what conservatives use as their bedrock for every bad thing they do to this country. However, even for conservatives, it's an imperfect document. Conservatives want desperately to defeat the equal protection clause, the general welfare clause, and anything that promotes equality between people of color and the white (whether blue-collar or white-collar) aristocracy. The Conservative US Constitution looks remarkably like the Confederate States Constitution drawn up in 1861.
The Confederate States' Constitution is quite similar to the US Constitution, except that it contains no reference to the "general welfare" of citizens, includes a reference to the "almighty God", has some slight differences with regard to impeachment, term limits and carries a far deeper emphasis on states' rights. Some interesting language additions:
Amended Article 1 Sec. 1 Clause 1 to prohibit persons "of foreign birth" who were "not a citizen of the Confederate States" from voting "for any officer, civil or political, State or Federal."
And, of course, the explicit allowance for slave ownership:
No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress]
There are other provisions relating to slave ownership and limiting the importation of slaves to those slaves already in the Confederate states. A side-by-side comparison of the two documents reads a lot like today's Tea Party manifestos.
If today's conservatives had an opportunity to rewrite the US Constitution in their own ideal, it would look much like the constitution drafted by Southern slave states in 1861 when they seceded.
Race issues aren't going away. Will progressives address them in time?
Our big-tent Progressive/Liberal/Democratic Party movement has always been a coalition of competing interests, but race should be one we can deal with and coalesce around. I can't imagine us being less passionate about equal rights based on race than we are passionate about gay or women's rights. So why are we losing the message here?
In then-candidate Obama's March, 2008 race speech, he said this:
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.
How will we struggle against the rise of the New Confederacy? We're seeing it in action every day on the floor of the House. The Senate is yet to come. I see this time as pivotal not only politically, but historically. We either fight for equality for all while rejecting and identifying racism in our media, politics and lives, or else we're surrendering control to the power brokers who not only wish to separate us into haves and have-nots, but also by color and ethnicity until we're so fractured we're rendered ineffective.