I am taking part in the Ethnic Presidency Blog Blitz. The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House is the latest book from sydicated columnist and political analyst Earl Hutchinson. Earl has been a frequent guest on Hannity and Colmes, The O’Reilly Factor, The Big Story, EXTRA, and numerous CNN News and Talk Shows. He was a regular commentator on CNBC’s The Dennis Miller Show.
Earl has been a guest on the Today Show, Dateline, The Lehrer Hour, and BET News, America’s Black Forum. He is a frequent commentator for the American Urban Broadcast Network and Ed Gordon’s News and Notes on NPR. He is also a featured columnist for www.BlackNews.com, www.BlackAmericaWeb.com, and www.Alternet.org.
Earl is associate editor of New America Media. His op-ed columns appear in the Baltimore Sun,L.A. Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Christian Science Monitor, and other major newspapers.
The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House is an explosive look at how racial and ethnic conflict has openly and covertly played a crucial role the past three decades in influencing, shaping and ultimately deciding who bags the world’s biggest political prize, the White House. It tells how racial politics will play an even bigger role in the 2008 presidential election and future elections.
It examines Obamamania, the Hillary and Bill factor, the soaring Latino vote, the silent but potent Asian-American vote, the immigration wars, the GOP’s love-hate relationship with Black and Latino America, and Bush’s effort to recast the GOP from a clubby, ole white guys party to a party of racial diversity.
The following are three separate excerpts from Chapter 6 - Reagan, Race, and His Imitators:
Ronald Reagan could have been standing at the podium of his own library in Simi Valley, California during the first GOP presidential contender’s debate in May 2007 plugging himself as the best GOP candidate to capture the White House in 2008. The ten presidential candidates bellowed out his name nineteen times. They elbowed each other aside to smother themselves in his mantle. Their Reagan love fest was not solely a calculated political ploy to play on the name of the man millions still hold in reverential awe. It was a matter of practical politics.
Reaganism is still very much alive and kicking in American politics. The then top GOP contenders Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, as well as the other six who stood on the podium at the Reagan library that May evening, owed their political life to him. The same could be said for later entrant Fred Thompson who wasn’t at the debate. He announced his candidacy months after the debate.
The Reagan revolution didn’t merely return America to a world in which God, patriotism, rugged individualism, militant anti-communism, and family values ruled supreme. Reagan, far more adroitly, than former President Richard Nixon a decade before him parlayed the forgotten American sentiment and a sanitized image of the past into a powerful conservative ideological movement. Race was a never-far-from-the-surface subtext to that movement.
In the immediate decade after the collapse of the 1960s civil rights movement and Nixon’s White House ascension which further fueled racial anger and accelerated the shift, white Southerners had joined with blue-collar ethnics who were fed up with bussing, affirmative action, and crime to desert the Democratic Party in even bigger numbers than during Nixon’s campaigns.
Reagan rode the crest of his Neshoba speech and in his early years in the White House appealed to their fear that society was spinning out of control and that the Democrats did not have the answers. He stoked their fervent hope that a telegenic, conservative Republican could fulfill Nixon and Goldwater’s promise to restore law and order, clamp down on permissiveness and restore prosperity.
Reagan upped Goldwater and Nixon’s ante. His first task was to eliminate the remnants of the Great Society programs rejected by many whites as government handouts to blacks. He didn't totally succeed. But he further eroded public enthusiasm for massive spending on social and education programs. During Reagan's first four years federal expenditures on education and training, social services, public works, civilian research and development dropped.
Reagan fixated Middle Americans on the government as pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant and especially pro-welfare and pro-rights of criminals. He painted government as a destructive, bloated, inefficient white elephant, weighting down the backs of Americans. He claimed that government entitlement programs that benefited the poor were a crushing drain on the budget. The Reagan imitators played hard on these themes and vowed to cut taxes and tighten the reins even more on federal spending in their debates in 2007.
Even though the Reagan revolution masked its racial appeals in code words, and subtle messages, race continued to lurk close to the surface, and from time to time it exploded to the surface.
Reagan’s frontal attack on big government, social programs and civil rights further insured Republican wins in national elections and tightened the Republican Party’s cast iron-grip on the South. Bush in 2000 and again in 2004 benefited mightily from Reagan’s Southern and forgotten man strategy. In both presidential elections, he hauled in the electoral votes of the Old Confederate states, and the Border States with the exception of Maryland and its disproportionate number of black voters, and secured the granite like backing of America’s heartland.
Civil rights, civil liberties, women’s groups, and liberal Democrats still regard the Reagan years as the most disastrous in modern times for civil rights and social programs and that didn't change even as the nation lionized Reagan after his death in June 2004. GOP conservatives revel in the era and aura of their beloved icon. They should. His Southern Strategy, forgotten man pitch, and happy style of politics, put Republican presidents squarely in the national driver’s seat.
John McCain’s stay the course talk on Iraq, terrorism, taxes and curbing federal spending were pages straight from Reagan’s playbook aimed at shoring up any wavering GOP backing in the white South. They invoked Reagan’s patented God, country, and patriotic themes in debates through 2007. The Reagan imitators hoped that Reagan’s legacy will do the same for them.