The Future of American Politics

I see that PBS – TV’s Bill Moyer’s Journal is scheduled to air an interview with Kevin Phillips this coming Friday evening, November 7.  

From an advertisement that’s now circulating ("The Future of American Politics"), Moyers will be asking Phillips whether "Barack Obama’s victory mean[s] a new and permanent political alignment in American politics," and in what ways Phillips believes "America has changed since Phillips penned The Emerging Republican Majority 40 years ago."   

As Edward Herman and I made considerable use of Phillips’ 1969 book in an analysis of racial politics in the United States that we published in the September issue of Monthly Review ("Jeremiah Wright in the Propaganda System"), and in particular, the notion of the "Southern Strategy" as argued by Phillips in his book and practiced innumerable times by Republican Party campaigns ever since Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968, let me share a few observations about the "Southern Strategy" with you.

First, here’s how we treated Kevin Phillips’ discussion of the "Southern Strategy" in our analysis:

As Kevin Phillips, a key adviser to Nixon’s successful 1968 campaign, explained the "Southern Strategy," the more the "national Democratic Party [became] the Negro party throughout most of the South," the more this fact "push[ed] whites into the alternative major party structure — that of the GOP." Beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision against "separate but equal" in Brown v. Board of Education, and carried across the South by the civil rights movement, the federal government’s pressures to desegregate southern schools, and culminating in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of 1964-65 under Lyndon Johnson, Republican campaigns seized upon these institutional changes to reap the political backlash among white, traditionally Democratic voters, whose defections to Republican candidates would prove decisive in several elections going forward. The "Democratic identification with the Negro social and economic revolution precipitated [the Republican] party’s best gains," Phillips explained. "Negro-Democratic mutual identification was a major source of Democratic loss…in many sections of the nation."  [The Emerging Republican Majority, second edition (New York: Anchor Books, 1970), 286-87, 32, 468.]

Well.  In my opinion, one extremely interesting question is whether the election of a black American, Barack Obama, to the White House gives us good reason to believe that the deeply-rooted racist and reactionary forces in this country that Phillips (among countless others) was writing about 40 years ago are finally on the run?  In other words, to play on something from Mark Weisbrot earlier today, has our "
long journey into darkness…finally come to an end"?  ("After Four Decades, Finally, the Beginning of the End," Truthout, November 6.) 


In 2008, the Democrat Barack Obama received something like 52.5% of the votes cast, compared to 46.2% for the Republican John McCain.  (See the relevant BBC and CNN webpages.) 

Okay. — Given this outcome, is it really safe to infer a national repudiation of the old Southern Strategy, and similar race-related approaches to politics in the States?  

Not in my opinion.

For starters, not the least among the factors that weighed most heavily in this presidential election I suspect was that the Republican Party approached November 2008 almost as if it believed losing the White House was a fait accompli, and it probably suffered from a sinking feeling along these lines beginning as early as November 2006.  

Beyond this, John McCain was an utterly uninspiring candidate, and clearly did not fit well with the so-called Republican base — the same Religious Right (under various denominations) that he himself had repudiated back in 2000, during the Republican primaries.  

Beyond this, there is the immensely significant growth in the Hispanic population in the States, coupled with the relative decline in the percentage of the white-European population. — In other words: Sheer demographic forces are shifting the voting public away from its composition back in the day of Phillips’ book.

Last, also immensely significant, striking as it did in the immediate aftermath of the two national conventions (August 25-28 for the Democrats; and September 1-4 for the Republicans), was the greatly heightened public awareness of the deep financial and economic problems plaguing the U.S. and global system,
beginning with the U.S. Government takeover of the residential mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the weekend of September 6-7, and the cascade of even grimmer news that followed these takeovers almost uninterruptedly for weeks-on-end. – 

In short, looking at the raw outcome of the 2008 presidential election (53% to 46%), and taking these several factors into consideration, there is no reason to conclude that the resort to anti-black racism by a political party which itself in 2008 is essentially all-white in its membership and white-nationalist in its animating spirit, design, and platform, will soon go the way of Hoover Towns and Hoover blankets — never to return.  To hold otherwise, I believe, is much worse than Pollyannaish.  It is to live in a state of denial that is dangerous and unacceptable.  (See, e.g., the
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ important report, Blacks & the 2008 Republican National Convention (August, 2008), as well as its August 29 Press Release.)

However, there is something else starring us in the face — and we better not blink.

Whether 40 years ago, or 28, or 16, or 8, or 4, or going forward, we dare not forget the  precariousness of the U.S. and global economy (see the UN General Assembly’s new Interactive Panel on the Global Financial Crisis), the dominance of the U.S. military-industrial complex within the management of the U.S. economy (see "The U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending," Monthly Review, October, 2008), the presence of fascist tendencies in this country that date at least as far back as the 1930s (indeed, the "looming shadow of fascism" looms larger today than it has in 70 years), and several other important factors, which can be summed-up as the out-of-control-character of a system that nobody seems able to fully understand.  Let alone humanize.

The Obama administration will have one shot and one shot only (i.e., January 2009 – October 2012) to address these monumental problems.  If it proves unwilling or unable to tackle anything fundamentally unjust and deteriorating about life in the United States, then by November 2012, if not already by November 2010, the "late Weimar Germany" – characteristics that were evident on the McCain-Palin campaign trail (and among crowds coming to and leaving their rallies, hair-raising incidents were commonplace) will be mere shadows of what we are bound to encounter.  

The upshot will be that by 2012, "late Weimar" will have been superseded by very, very late Weimar, and the Republican Party’s campaign and the disgruntled crowds of overwhelmingly white Americans that it seeks to mobilize will be beyond Weimar.

The blame will be directed at the alleged failures of the first black President in U.S. history.  "Never again" will be the cry.  Just you watch.

It is never too early to start preparing ourselves for this eventuality.

Remember: "It" can happen here.

"Cashing the Obama Check," Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report, November 5, 2008
The Obama ’08 Phenomenon: What Have We Learned?" Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, November 5, 2008
Morning in Obamerica: Change, Change, Change?" Ishmael Reed, Black Agenda Report, November 5, 2008
Caribbean Region Sees Sympathetic Ally in Obama," Peter Richards, Inter Press Service, November 5, 2008
After Obama win, goodbye to Cuban embargo?" Bernd Debusmann, Reuters, November 5, 2008
America’s Struggle in Context," Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout, November 5, 2008
Ten steps to a new world," Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu, November 6, 2008
"A Great Day, Nine Years, Three or Four Centuries," Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch, November 6, 2008 
A Mandate for Spreading the Wealth," Norman Solomon, Truthout, November 6, 2008
After Four Decades, Finally, the Beginning of the End," Mark Weisbrot, Truthout, November 6, 2008
Taking a world view of Obama’s election," Chris O’Brien, Washington Times, November 6, 2008
What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been," Bill Ayers, In These Times, November 7, 2008
"All over but the lying," Jamison Foser, Media Matters for America, November 7, 2008
Obama Inspires Hope in India, Pakistan," J. Sri Raman, Truthout, November 7, 2008
"Obama has to pay for eight years of Bush’s delusions," R
obert Fisk, The Independent (U.K.), November 8, 2008 
75 Years Later, a Nation Hopes for Another F.D.R.," Joe Nocera, New York Times, November 8, 2008
Obama Shows Us Where We’re Headed, Where We’ve Been," Michael Winship, Truthout, November 8, 2008
It Still Felt Good the Morning After," Frank Rich, New York Times, November 9, 2008   
"Conned Again?" Paul Craig Roberts, CounterPunch, November 10, 2008 
Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights," Marjorie Cohn, Truthout, November 10, 2008

"Obama Mania?" Michael Albert, ZNet, November 6, 2008

Bill Moyers’ Journal, PBS – TV, November 7, 2008.  (For the segment with Kevin Phillips.)

"Appearance And Reality In The Relaunch Of Brand America," Media Lens, November 13, 2008

Wanna Bet about the Next Four Years?" ZNet, November 3, 2008
The Future of American Politics," ZNet, November 6, 2008



Update (November 6):

"Put simply, Barack Obama just ran the most successful moderate Republican presidential campaign since Dwight Eisenhower."

– Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan, speaking at the National Press Club, in Washington, DC, November 6, 2008.  (For a short video-clip showing Duncan utter this sentence, see here.   It begins around the 1:32 mark.)

Update (November 9): Hopefully, material such as I’ve collected immediately below will spur a recovery from the Obamamania that has struck-down an unnerving percentage of left and liberal Americans over the past 22 months or so — though for some of the really serious cases, from at least as far back as late July 2004 (i.e., the Keynote speech in Boston), if not farther. – You notice how, even before all the ballots have been counted, and the Old Boss officially steps down, a comprehensive and near-systematic lowering of expectations gets underway in this country?  But especially in any realm of possible policymaking that deals with human-welfare and social-good - type issues.  So much so, in fact, that it’s like an automatic reflex of the national political institutions.  The media just as much as the victorious party just as much as frickin’ Wall Street, the bankers, and Fortune 500.

"Military sees Obama as key to victory in Afghanistan," Doug Saunders, Toronto Globe and Mail, November 4, 2008
New Economic Ills Will Force Winner’s Hand," Bob Davis et al., Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2008 
"Next Administration Shows Signs It Will Seek Middle Ground With Business on Thorny Issues," Elizabeth Williamson, Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2008 
"New Debt Could Hamstring Obama," Jon Hilsenrath, Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2008
"The Obama Agenda," Paul Krugman, New York Times, November 7, 2008
Obama Team Weighs What To Take On in First Months," Peter Baker, New York Times, November 9, 2008 

Update (December 28):

"The GOP’s White Supremacy," Paul Jenkins, Huffington Post, December 28, 2008
"The Future of American Politics," David Peterson, ZNet, November 6, 2008 

"Bigger Than Bush," Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 1, 2009


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