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Monday, September 24, 2007

Paul Krugman: Politics in Black and White

Paul Krugman discusses a topic that gets far too little attention, racial politics:

Politics in Black and White, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last Thursday there was a huge march in Jena, La., to protest the harsh and unequal treatment of six black students arrested in the beating of a white classmate. ... Many press accounts of the march have a tone of amazement. Scenes like those in Jena, the stories seemed to imply, belonged in the 1960s, not the 21st century. ...

But the reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away... And race remains one of the defining factors in modern American politics.

Consider voting in last year’s Congressional elections. Republicans ... received a “thumping,” with almost every major demographic group turning against them. The one big exception was Southern whites, 62 percent of whom voted Republican in House races.

And yes, Southern white exceptionalism is about race, much more than it is about moral values, religion, support for the military or other explanations sometimes offered. ... Republican politicians ... understand quite well that the G.O.P.’s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites... Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.

Thus Ronald Reagan ... started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. In 2000, Mr. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, famed at the time for its ban on interracial dating.

And all four leading Republican candidates for the 2008 nomination have turned down an invitation to a debate on minority issues scheduled to air on PBS this week.

Yet ... it would be wrong to suggest that the nation has made no progress. Racism, though not gone, is greatly diminished: ... we are truly becoming a more tolerant, open society.

And the cynicism of the “Southern strategy” introduced by Richard Nixon, which delivered decades of political victories to Republicans, is now starting to look like a trap for the G.O.P. ...

Republican ... contenders have snubbed not just blacks — who ... probably won’t vote for a Republican in significant numbers no matter what — but Hispanics. In July, all the major contenders refused invitations to address the National Council of La Raza, which Mr. Bush addressed in 2000. Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, had to cancel a debate ... because only John McCain was willing to come.

If this sounds like a good way to ensure defeat in future elections, that’s because it is: Hispanics are a rapidly growing force in the electorate.

But to get the Republican nomination, a candidate must appeal to the base — and the base consists, in large part, of Southern whites who carry over to immigrants the same racial attitudes that brought them into the Republican fold to begin with. As a result, you have the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, pragmatists on immigration issues when they actually had to govern in diverse states, trying to reinvent themselves as defenders of Fortress America.

And both Hispanics and Asians, another growing force in the electorate, are getting the message. Last year they voted overwhelmingly Democratic, by 69 percent and 62 percent respectively.

In other words, it looks as if the Republican Party is about to start paying a price for its history of exploiting racial antagonism. If that happens, it will be deeply ironic. But it will also be poetic justice.

Update: "Bubba isn't Who You Think"

Paul Krugman with an update to today's column:

Bubba Isn’t Who You Think, by Paul Krugman: ...I thought I’d mention an important point about Southern white voting...: namely, the poor whites are not the issue.

In fact, if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country. You can see this both in Larry Bartels’s “What’s the matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (pdf), Figure 3, and in a comprehensive study of red state-blue state differences by Gelman et al (pdf). It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican. Can I get away with saying that rich white trash are the problem? Probably not. ...

Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago. But in rich states like New Jersey or Connecticut, the relationship is weak; even the very well off tend to be only slightly more Republican than working-class voters. In the poorer South, however, the relationship is very strong indeed.

This is why it’s true both that rich voters tend to be Republican, and that rich states tend to be Democratic.

Gelman et al have a nice way of putting this:

If we had to pick a “typical Republican voter,” he or she would be an upper-income resident of a poor state, and the “typical Democratic voter” would conversely be a lower-income resident of a rich state. But these are more subtle concepts, not directly readable off the red-blue map—and, in any case, we would argue that given the diversity among supporters of either party, choosing typical members is misleading.

 

    Posted by on Monday, September 24, 2007 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (93)

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