The GOP: Home of the Pale
Fakhruddin Ahmed takes a critical look at America’s Grand Old Party
Looking at the delegates attending the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last month, it was hard to detect a non-white face. This was in sharp contrast to the Democratic National Conventional in Denver a week earlier, where a disproportionate number of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-American delegates were seen celebrating their party's nominees.
The pictures were accurate. The Republican Party, by design, has become the party of America's whites, and the Democratic Party the party of enlightened whites and everyone else.
Ironically, the Republican Party, or the Grand Old Party (GOP), was founded as an anti-slavery, abolitionist party in 1854. America's greatest president, the "inexperienced" Illinois state senator and one-term US congressman (sounds familiar?), Abraham Lincoln, was the first Republican to be elected president in 1861. Because of the Republican Party's support for the abolition of slavery under Lincoln, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly (they were usually not allowed to vote in the South) for "Lincoln's Party” the Republicans, between the Civil War and the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt began the process of prying the blacks loose from the Republican Party in the 1930s with the promise of civil and economic rights through his New Deal. The process of realignment was completed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, through the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. While signing these legislations, Lyndon Johnson famously prophesised that he was handing the South over to the Republicans.
Immediately, presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon adopted the Southern Strategy, wooing Southern whites, who until then were Democrats, with overt and covert racism. He used coded phrases, such as the need for "law and order" to deplore black rioting. Ronald Regan completed the process (he had little or no support among the blacks); now the American South is solidly Republican or "Red."
One of the major attractions of the Republican Party for the whites is that it is so white, and they want to keep it that way. Sure, there are prominent blacks in the Republican Party, such as Colin Powell and Condi Rice. But blacks say they are black in name only; they cater to white interests.
Lyndon Johnson appointed the first black, Thurgood Marshall, a stalwart of the civil rights movement who argued for the plaintiff in the landmark desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, to the Supreme Court in 1967. When Marshall retired in 1991, President George Herbert Walker Bush nominated the least qualified justice in America's history, African-American Clarence Thomas.
Justice Thomas is the most right-wing of all the current justices. A product of affirmative action, Thomas opposes it and always votes against the interests of African-Americans. So, a Republican president replaces the most liberal and pro-black African-American on the Supreme Court (Marshall) with a self-hating black who votes against black interests. This explains why blacks shun the Republican Party, which is fine by the white Republicans.
It is almost inconceivable that the Republican Party would nominate a black like Barack Obama, or a Greek-American like Michael Dukakis as their presidential nominee. From the 1850s to McCain/Palin, all the Republican presidential nominees have been White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs).
In the Republican Convention, speaker after speaker berated the Democrats as liberals "who do not have a clue," and stated that "we need a change, a change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington."
In a brilliant piece on September 9, The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert documented how liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of every change that made American society great; and how conservative Republicans opposed each and every one of those social advances.
In fact, had the conservatives had their way, America would not have been independent. The conservatives were eager to cooperate with the British monarchy as long as the monarchy allowed them to conduct business, the main (modern day) Republican passion. It was the radical liberals who engineered the American Revolution and America's independence from Britain.
It was the liberal Democrats who enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906), Social Security Act (1935), Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act (1965), Medicare and Medicaid (1965). The Republicans fought these acts tooth and nail. Lynching blacks was commonplace in the South from the 1850s to the 1950s. As liberals attempted to bring lynch mobs to book and end the practice, conservatives fought hard to keep their impunity.
Liberals gave the American women their rights, Federal student loans, Head Start, the Clean Air Act, legal services and the Food Stamp program for the poor. Republicans opposed all of those. Herbert sums up: "Liberals, your food is safer because of them, and so are your children's clothing and toys. Your work place is safer. Your ability (or that of your and your children and grandchildren's) to go to college is manifestly easier.
Two Times readers (September 12) summed it up best: "The genius of the conservative movement is its ability to ignore its past rabid opposition to reforms in our society that have proved to be successful, popular and morally just. And to act as though its obstructionism with regard to progressive change in the present is any less wrongheaded than its past positions."
"It is the policies of liberal titans like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson that pack the strength to lift countless Americans out of discrimination, danger, despair and doom."
John McCain, incidentally, opposed the legislation to make the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a Federal holiday.
The McCain campaign decided early this summer that the only way they could beat Barack Obama would be by dragging him down and engaging him in mud wrestling. Obama is uncomfortable in mudslinging, and if he attempted to retaliate they were going to, as they are doing now, accuse him of being "disrespectful" to the "war hero" McCain. "Disrespectful" is, of course, a coded racial slur: back in the day, uppity blacks were warned not to be "disrespectful" of white masters.
Sarah Palin's first TV interview with ABC's Charles Gibson on September 11 was a joke. In spite of intense coaching by the Republicans, she did not know what the Bush Doctrine (pre-emptive war) was, and revealed that Russia could be seen from an island in Alaska, and that she had her first passport last year to travel to Kuwait. She also said she would not second guess Israel if it wanted to attack Iran with America's help! Oh yes, ignorant of world affairs and home affairs she may be, she nevertheless flippantly pronounced herself perfectly ready to be president!
McCain/Palin lies are omnipresent in TV commercials. Palin lies when she says she opposed the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, when she is on record as favouring it during her gubernatorial campaign. McCain lies when he says Obama will raise taxes, when in fact Obama will lower it for 95% of Americans; and that Obama will teach kindegarteners sex before they can read, when he will not. Even when they are cited by the media for their lies, McCain/Palin ignore the media.
In his column on September 12, "Blizzard of lies," Times columnist Paul Krugman documented McCain/Palin's serial lying. He said that the McCain campaign has devised a fool-proof strategy of playing the refs. They have intimidated the "liberal media" to such an extent that the media is afraid to call McCain's lies lies. Instead, when McCain lies, the media attempts to take a neutral position such as, "the Obama campaign disputes McCain campaign's assertions," thus shifting a lie from blatant to neutral.
Fed up with John McCain's lying, Tom Friedman of The New York Times wrote on September 14: "John McCain is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency."
However, such criticism from the media and respectable columnists leave John McCain unfazed. He is confident that the whites he courts will believe his white lies over the truths uttered by a black man, Barack Obama.
Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed is a Rhodes Scholar and Daily Star columnist.