« Previous Story | Front Page | Next Story »


We Need a Healthy GOP!

By Margy Stewart
Analysis | November 16, 2012

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - We need a strong Republican Party!

Our democracy works best when rival parties are fountains of vigorous new ideas and when--to change metaphors--they serve as watchdogs for each other. No party has a monopoly on the truth or on corruption, either. We need more checks and balances, not fewer!

But if it is to return to health, the national Republican Party needs to shed some toxins. It needs to take a page from the book of its many local elected officials who never got into the national craziness in the first place.

But the national party is another story. Craziness is a polite term for what it got into.

The worst poison in the national Republican Party is its long-standing "Southern Strategy," developed in 1968 after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts guaranteed southern Blacks the right to vote. The strategy involved inviting segregationist Southerners to leave the Democratic Party and join the Republicans. In return, the once-honorable party of Dwight David Eisenhower adopted the old segregationist practice of race-baiting. This strategy meant writing off the Black vote--but as Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips told the New York Times in 1970, the Republicans didn't want the Black vote; they wanted the votes of racist whites. Phillips said, "From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that....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."

Well, that's where the votes were.

In the next decade, Republican strategist Lee Atwater, a member of the Reagan administration and chairman of the Republican National Committee under the first President Bush, further refined the Southern Strategy. As manager of Republican campaigns, he devised ever more ingenious ways to appeal to racists in the North as well as the South. He told an interviewer in 1981 how the Southern Strategy had evolved from crude racism to coded language. Atwater said, "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'N---,' 'N---,' 'N---.' By 1968 you can't say 'n---.' That hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights....cutting taxes. All these things you're talking about are totally economic things [but] a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it."

Atwater knew how to manipulate that subconscious racism; soon, coded appeals to other prejudices became part of the Republican playbook as well. These tactics helped win elections, and few Republicans spoke out against them. Kansas's Bob Dole was an exception, however. When Atwater tried to gay-bait Speaker of the House Tom Foley, Senator Dole upbraided him, saying, "This is not politics. This is garbage." And Presidential candidate John McCain publicly reproached a racist supporter and rejected campaign proposals for racist ads.

But despite such principled opposition, the Southern Strategy continues today. In the past, it gave us Atwater's Willie Horton ads and Reagan's "welfare queens"; this year, it gave us Gingrich's "food-stamp President" and Romney's counterfactual Obama-ended-welfare-work-requirements ad. Even more disappointingly, it gave us Romney's post-election charge that Obama used "gifts" to purchase the votes of Blacks and Latinos, among other groups. I don't know whether Romney was speaking his own view in his conference calls with wealthy donors (without realizing reporters were also on the line), or whether he was simply telling his bankrollers what they wanted to hear. Either way, his words sickeningly confirmed the suspicion that an influential part of the Republican Party continues to opt for the scapegoating of minorities rather than insisting upon respect for all.

Terminally ill with cancer, Lee Atwater apologized publicly for using tactics that brought out the worst in the American electorate. Shortly before his death, he wrote, "My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood."

Now the national Republican Party may be dying, too. Will it, like Atwater, repudiate the Southern Strategy? If so, that purgative might turn out to be just the cure that allows the GOP to rise up from its deathbed, renewed, refreshed and more relevant than ever. Purged of its poison, the Republican Party might find that a certain number of people of all ethnicities respond to its message of small government and self-reliance.

Right after the election, my husband told me, "The Republicans sold their soul to the Devil of the Southern Strategy. Now they have to find their way back to the crossroads and try to get out of the deal."

Citizens of all parties and no party should fervently hope that the national Republican Party does find its way back to that crossroads. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this time it unhesitatingly turns its back on the Devil of racist innuendo? Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a renewed GOP boldly, purposefully, strike out on a different path?


Post your own comment here


Do you want to read more? You've only just scratched the surface at the Kansas Free Press. We have so much more to read! Nearly all of the pieces published here are timeless and relevant, regardless of when the articles were first published. To discover more, please take a look at our Table of Contents or go back to our Front Page.


Our sponsors help us stay online to serve you. Thank you for doing your part! By using the specific links below (clicking through from our site) to start any of your online shopping, you are making a tremendous difference. By using the shopping links provided on a Kansas Free Press page, you are directly helping to support the Kansas Free Press:



About This Page

This page contains just one story published on November 16, 2012. The one written previous to this is titled "The Mural of John Brown" and the story published right after this one is "We Need a Healthier Society"

Our most current stories are always updated on our Front Page.

Other Archives

Interested in other topics? You may wish to poke around in our Table of Contents to find other sections and archives.

Do you want to explore pieces written by specific authors? You can find archives for KFP writers by reviewing our complete Directory of Authors and Writers here.

Recently Featured Stories

My Response As a Kansan to Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti has come on board The Nation magazine to fill in for Katha Pollitt as the feminist columnist while Pollitt is on leave to write a book. I've found reading Valenti's columns thought-provoking and insightful. She often takes …
Of Angels and God's Dogs

There might be a whole group of us out there--people who value our relationships with animals on a par with our ties to people. "Get over it--it was just a dog" does not resonate with us. Our society places …
Of Angels and God's Dogs

There might be a whole group of us out there--people who value our relationships with animals on a par with our ties to people. "Get over it--it was just a dog" does not resonate with us. Our society places …
Roots of the n-word

While N-word dialogue has slackened following Saline County Commissioner Gile's use of it recently, the word still has great power. So, let's look inward at the N-word. To reach a much deeper path to understanding, simply go to Ad …
Corporate Tax Reform

Basehor, Kans.--For an interesting twist on the corporate tax debate, look at Alan Sloan's opinion in the April 29 issue of Fortune Magazine. In all of the froth about corporate taxation, neither proponents of tax reduction, nor corporate critics, …

News and Opinion





Get Connected

See our FB page!
Subscribe for free!
[Feeds & Readers...]
Follow Kansas Free Press on Twitter, too!
Make Kansas Free Press your home page!

Journalists, sign in.

We're reader supported!

Whenever you use the specific links below to begin any of your online shopping, a portion of your sale goes directly towards the support of this site.

Tech Depot - An Office Depot Co.


Our sponsors help us stay online to serve you. Thank you for doing your part! By using the specific links above (clicking through from our site) to start any of your online shopping, you are making a tremendous difference. By using the shopping links provided on a Kansas Free Press page, you are directly helping to support the Kansas Free Press.

Thank you for your help!

Notices & Policies

All of our Kansas Free Press journalists are delighted that you are here. We all hope that you come here often, sign in and leave us comments, and become an active part of our community. Welcome!

Our writers are credentialed after referral to, and approval by, the editor/publisher of KansasFreePress.com. If you are interested in writing with us, please feel free to let us know here. We are always looking for Kansans who want to write about Kansas!

All authors here retain their own copyrights for their original written works, original photographs and art works. They welcome others to copy, reference or quote from the content of their stories, provided that the reprints include obvious author and website attribution and links to the original page, in accordance with this publication's Creative Commons License.

Our editor primarily reviews stories for spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting and is not liable or responsible for the opinions expressed by individual authors. The opinions and accuracy of information in the individual stories on this site are the sole responsibility of each of the individual authors. For complete site policies, including privacy, see our Frequently Asked Questions. This site is designed, maintained, and owned by its publisher, Everyday Citizen Media. The Kansas Free Press, KansasFreePress.com, and Kansas Free Press are trademarked names.

© Copyright, 2008-2012, all rights reserved, unless otherwise specified, first by the respective author, and then by KFP's publisher and owner for any otherwise unreserved and all other content.