Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic makes a very good point on the flip side of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments as they pertain to the expiration of the Southern Strategy’s effectiveness.
More to the point, as tactics aimed at suppressing black citizenship become more abstract, they also have the side-effect of enveloping non-blacks. Atwater’s point that the policies of the Southern Strategy hurt blacks more than whites is well taken. But some whites were hurt too. This is different than the explicit racism of slavery and segregation. During slavery white Southerners never worried about disenfranchising blacks. After slavery they needed poll taxes and the force of white terrorism. After white terrorism was routed and the poll tax outlawed, they targeted the voting process itself. But at each level what you see is more non-black people being swept into the pool of victims and the pool expanding.
You can paint a similar history of the welfare state, which was first secured by assuring racist white Democrats that the pariah of black America would be cut out of it. When such machinations became untenable, the strategy became to claim the welfare state mainly benefited blacks. And as that has become untenable, the strategy has become to target the welfare state itself, with no obvious mention of color. At each interval the ostensible pariah grows, until one in two Americans are members of the pariah class.
In all this you can see the insidious and lovely foresight of integration which, at its root, posits an end to whiteness as any kind of organizing political force. I would not say we are there. But when the party of white populism finds itself writing off half the country, we are really close.
It’s ironic and amusing to think that the utter failure of Republican policy will have contributed to the loss of one of their most reliable campaign tactics of the last half century. That is the Southern Strategy.
Republicans have swept so many people into “the pool,” both through increasingly incendiary rhetoric and policy failure, that their dog-whistles now invariably extend to half the country.
According to the 2010 census, only 12.6 percent of the country is African American and 72 percent are white. If you’re writing off 47 percent of the country, you’re writing off a lot of white people. In fact, the majority of the people you’re writing off are white.
The Republican party is now caught in a position where they will have to decide whether it’s explicitly okay for some people to benefit from social programs and not others, or if they’re going to oppose social benefits entirely.
Conservative bloggers are very clearly leaning towards the latter, but establishment Republicans know you can’t win elections while demonizing half of your constituency. That’s why the establishment is now running in the opposite direction of Mitt Romney’s comments. They’re concerned about their continued existence.