Wow. Dan Gross wonders what planet Christopher Caldwell is on:
Silly Season, by Dan Gross: I think the FT op-ed page needs some new editorial talent, if only to save the usually intelligent Christopher Caldwell from himself. On Saturday, in a column on African-Americans and the Republican party Caldwell wrote the following ($ required):
Polls show that black Americans are more conservative than their fellow citizens on such matters as gay marriage, school vouchers and religious involvement in public life – but far less inclined to support conservative Republicans. So there have always been Republican strategists who think the party could profit from courting them. Bill Brock, the Republican National Committee chairman in the late 1970s, tried to get the party to focus on the safety of urban neighbourhoods. Lee Atwater, the blues-playing RNC chairman under Bush père, held similar views. Their successor at the RNC, Ken Mehlman, has been travelling the country, speaking to dozens of black groups. He has even apologised for the way his party made use of whites’ fears in the first decades of racial desegregation. This autumn, Republicans will run black candidates for high-profile offices including the Ohio and Pennsylvania governorships.
So Lee Atwater thought the Republican party could profit by appealing to black voters? It's difficult to square that with, um, the truth and the historical record. In fact, Atwater was a highly successful race-baiter. There's this gem from a Bob Herbert column last year:
Listen to the late Lee Atwater in a 1981 interview explaining the evolution of the G.O.P.'s Southern strategy:
You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'
Atwater, who would manage George H. W. Bush's successful run for the presidency in 1988 (the Willie Horton campaign) and then serve as national party chairman, was talking with Alexander P. Lamis, a political-science professor at Case Western Reserve University. Mr. Lamis quoted Atwater in the book "Southern Politics in the 1990's."
Is it possible that Caldwell really believes that Lee Atwater spent his political career trying to convince black voters to vote for the GOP? Or could it be that Caldwell is entirely ignorant of the way in which the Republican party, with Atwater's assistance, managed to capture the hearts and minds of white southern voters by repeatedly and relentlessly playing racial politics?
I look forward to Caldwell's next column, in which he cites Joe McCarthy as one of many in a long line of Republican politicians who labored to convince Socialists to vote for the GOP.
With the Willie Horton campaign, where did Caldwell get the idea that Atwater wanted "to get the party to focus on the safety of urban neighbourhoods" as a means of courting blacks to vote for the GOP? Remember, Atwater is the guy who told GOP officials, "By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name." In the same article from 2000, Salon notes:
...the Horton ad soon became notorious for, in the words of Annenberg School of Communications Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson, creating "a black face for crime."
With Senator Bill Bradley accusing President Bush of:
...using "the Willie Horton ad to divide white and black voters and appeal to fear."