Ain’t Your Father’s Southern Strategy: Whiteness as Mass Appeal
Dr. David J. Leonard
The 2012 election, like every election before it, has been defined by race. This is America, and race always matters. Death, taxes, and race. While 2008-2012 has prompted more explicit racial assault on then candidate and ultimately President Obama, race, racism, and white supremacy defines the history of American politics. Sister Souljah, Willie Horton, anti-Muslim appeals, demonization of undocumented immigrants, “the welfare queen,” the southern strategy, and countless other examples point to the ways that race defines American political campaigns. And these are just examples since the late 1960s from national presidential campaigns.
Yet the vitriol, the explicit racial appeals, and the ubiquitous racial rhetoric has been a noteworthy outcome of the 2012 election. Adele M. Stan, in “Romney Pushed Boundaries of ‘Acceptable Racism’ to Extremes” aptly describes the campaign as a long and winding campaign of racism, one that irrespective of the outcome has had its consequences:
If asked what one thing about the 2012 campaign most impacted everyday American life, one answer stands out above all others: racism. The wink-wink racial coding Romney uses, combined with the unabashed racism of such surrogates as former Bush administration chief of staff John Sununu, adds up to quite a wash of race-baited waters over the campaign. Then add to that the steady stream of racist rhetoric that characterized the Republican presidential primary campaign, and the wash looks more like a stew set on simmer for the better part of a year.
Since the early months of 2011, our politics have been marinating in the language of racial hatred, whether in former U.S. senator Rick Santorum’s “blah people” moment, or former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s tarring of Barack Obama as “the food stamp president.”
The consequences and context of a campaign based in racism, based in a thirty-year racial assault on the civil rights movement is fully visible in AP’s recent poll, which found that both explicit and implicit racial bias against African Americans and Latinos is on the rise. According to the AP, “51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes,” which was a 3 percent rise since 2008. When examining implicit bias, “the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.” Should we be surprised?
The likes of John Sununu and Donald Trump, the sight of racist t-shirts and posters at GOP rallies and elsewhere, and the explicitly racist discourse point to the strategy of racist appeals and the consequences of such appeals. The impact of racism isn’t simply voters picking Mitt Romney because of their anti-black racism, or even the ways that the accusations against President Obama as a “food stamp president,” as “lazy” as a “socialist” and as “anti-White” resonate because of an entrenched white racial frame, but in the yearning and appeal of a white male leader. Race doesn’t just matter in why whites are voting against President Obama but also why they are voting for Mitt Romney. Tom Scocca, in “Why Do White People Think Mitt Romney Should Be President?” argues that anti-black racism, dog “whistles” and prejudice isn’t the only reason why white males are casting their vote for Romney-Ryan but because they are white and because white masculinity is associated with toughness, leadership, intelligence, and countless other racial stereotypes. “White people — white men in particular — are for Mitt Romney. White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense. Without this narrow, tribal appeal, Romney’s candidacy would simply not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him.”
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