Arkansas became Alabama and Mississippi last Tuesday in political inclination with the ascension of a Republican legislative majority. It may not prove in time as thorough a transformation as in other parts of Dixie, but evidence to the contrary is not encouraging.
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What’s a little depressing to me is that the articles about prevailing sentiments in the Deep South now include us by implication. No longer can we say, “Thank God for Arkansas.”
For example, Steven Hahn’s op-ed in the New York Times. You can argue you all you wish about what’s in the heart of the people who constitute the majority here and elsewhere in the South, but it’s hard to argue with the outcome, despite President Obama’s ability to build a winning rainbow coalition nationwide:
For close to the surface lies a political racism that harks back 150 years to the time of Reconstruction, when African-Americans won citizenship rights. Black men also won the right to vote and contested for power where they had previously been enslaved.
… By the early 20th century the message was clear: black people did not belong in American political society and had no business wielding power over white people.
… The truth is that in the post-Civil War South few whites ever voted for black officeseekers, and the legacy of their refusal remains with us in a variety of forms. The depiction of Mr. Obama as a Kenyan, an Indonesian, an African tribal chief, a foreign Muslim — in other words, as a man fundamentally ineligible to be our president — is perhaps the most searing. Tellingly, it is a charge never brought against any of his predecessors.
But the coordinated efforts across the country to intimidate and suppress the votes of racial and ethnic minorities are far more consequential. Hostile officials regularly deploy the language of “fraud” and “corruption” to justify their efforts much as their counterparts at the end of the 19th century did to fully disenfranchise black voters.
Although our present-day tactics are state-issued IDs, state-mandated harassment of immigrants and voter-roll purges, these are not a far cry from the poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements and discretionary power of local registrars that composed the political racism of a century ago. That’s not even counting the hours-long lines many minority voters confronted.
If this doesn’t makes you think uncomfortably of Arkansas and what the Republican majority promises already in the way of vote suppression, it should.
The divide here is not only about race, of course. Philosophy underpins it as well. Republicans in Arkansas – when not mounting legislative races against the specter of Obama – were running against his health care program and vowing to stand in every hospital door in Arkansas to prevent its implementation. Social Darwinism yesterday, today and forever.
The New York Times here urges Republican resisters to get on board and take responsibility for running health insurance exchanges in the states. That has already proved a vain hope in Arkansas. Ignorance is too great. I was excoriated on social media yesterday for endorsing Obamacare by a small businessman who says it will be the death of his business even though his business is too small to be covered by the mandate. Faith-based opposition yet again.
It’s hopeless to employ facts. Try telling Republicans, for example, that Ronald Reagan once made a bold step in favor of regulatory moves addressing depletion of the ozone layer. Reagan decided the cost of not doing so outweighed the benefits of lack of government intervention, Cass Sunstein writes. There they went again – facts over faith. That’s so Reagan era and so over for the modern GOP.
Even Republican columnist Ross Douthat thinks the Republican problems extend beyond demographic divides.
But Republicans are also losing because today’s economic landscape is very different than in the days of Ronald Reagan’s landslides. The problems that middle-class Americans faced in the late 1970s are not the problems of today. Health care now takes a bigger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks. Wage stagnation is a bigger threat to blue-collar workers than inflation. Middle-income parents worry more about the cost of college than the crime rate. Americans are more likely to fret about Washington’s coziness with big business than about big government alone.
…What the party really needs, much more than a better identity-politics pitch, is an economic message that would appeal across demographic lines — reaching both downscale white voters turned off by Romney’s Bain Capital background and upwardly mobile Latino voters who don’t relate to the current G.O.P. fixation on upper-bracket tax cuts.
Don’t tell that to Arkansas Republicans. The soak-the-poor and oppress-the-minority strategy is working just fine here, cheered even by people it harms. Look away Dixieland.