Clinton versus Obama: Southern Strategy Redux

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

My observation of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s recent campaign and ultimate victory over Sen. Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary reminded me of an ugly tradition that has guided American politics for the last 40 years.

What was striking to me about Clinton’s campaign in Pennsylvania was that she was able to appeal to working class, blue-collar whites by painting Obama as an elitist who didn’t understand their issues and basically characterized him as the Black candidate.

One of Clinton’s most fervent supporters—Pennsylvania governor—Ed Rendell really made it clear when he said working class whites in the state outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would never vote for a Black man as president. The Clinton campaign seized upon that and the results of the election indicated that she won a substantial number of working class whites.

For the remainder of this campaign, Clinton will use that time honored strategy—made famous by Republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan—copied by the Democratic Leadership Council—The Southern Strategy—playing upon the fears and prejudices of white working class in both the North and the South. It has been the ultimate trump card that the Republicans have used to keep itself in power for all these years and now it is being used by a Democratic candidate for president to save her struggling campaign.

As Lee Atwater, who ran George H.W. Bush’s campaign, used the specter of the Willie Horton ad as a way scaring Southern whites and working class whites in the North and Midwest into seeing Michael Dukakis as a candidate too liberal for America, the Clinton campaign is using Obama’s old pastor Jeremiah White and his controversial commentary that condemned America for its racism at home and abroad as a way of telling white voters they should be very afraid of putting a Black man in the White House.

Oddly enough, it has been the Democratic Party’s failure over the last 40 years to make its poor and working class white constituents understand that the gains that African-Americans received through the Civil Rights Act and through programs like welfare (which actually benefited poor whites) and Affirmative Action did not come at their expense.

Additionally, the Democratic Party over the last 40-years failed to clearly make their working class white constituents understand that African-Americans have the same issues that they have in terms of the economy, affordable housing and education.

For example, when corporations shipped jobs overseas in the 1980s, Black and white workers were screwed in the process. White workers—poor and middle class still supported the Republican Party even when they acted against their own interests. Republican advocacy of “traditional” values became a code word for protecting the interests of Southern and working class whites. That is the sad legacy of the Southern Strategy.

With Clinton’s campaign trying to play catch up to Obama in the delegate count, the old Southern Strategy laced with the assumption that whites will not vote for a Black candidate over a Republican candidate in a national election is her last hope.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, he made the remark that he had delivered the South to the Republicans for years to come. The man who created the Great Society was partially correct—he didn’t see forsee working class and poor whites in the North would also abandon a Democratic Party they thought put the interests of African-Americans ahead of so-called “hardworking” whites.

In 1968, Richard Nixon appealed to those fears of whites in the industrial North and the South against the backdrop of riots in the cities, Vietnam War protests and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He won a narrow election in 1968 over Hubert H. Humphrey, getting most of his support from Southern whites and Northern working class, blue collar whites-who thought the Democratic Party’s advocacy for improving the lot of African-Americans, through programs such as Affirmative Action, busing, and welfare would come at their expense.

Throughout the 1968 campaign, Nixon used code words like “law and order,” “government interference” and “states rights” to win working class whites and Southerners, who felt that the Democratic Party had abandoned their interest by tying itself to civil rights.

Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” would ultimately serve as the blue print for building what is now a solid Republican base in the South. Ronald Reagan (George H.W. Bush after him) seized upon this in the 1980s winning blue-collars working class whites in the Northeast who became popularly known as “Reagan Democrats.”

In the 1980s under Reagan and Bush, characterizations of the “Black welfare queen and the infamous Willie Horton ad further exploited the fears of whites and kept the White House in the hands of Republicans. Even as blue-collar jobs in the North and the South were moving overseas and small white family-owned farms were being foreclosed on and gobbled up by big corporations in the Midwest, working class and poor whites saw the Republican Party as the protector of their rights and values.

As the Republicans and the Right painted the Democratic Party as the haven for Black advancement at white expense, radical feminists, whacko environmentalists, gay activists, peaceniks, the Democrats adopted a strategy to win back those white voters both in the North and the South.

And that’s where Al From and the Democratic Leadership Council come in. It was formed in 1985 to move the Democratic Party from its traditional base of African-Americans, women and environmentalists to a more centrist or outright conservative stance. Some people have called them, “Republican Light.”

As the Democratic candidate for president and member of the DLC, Bill Clinton boldly declared his independence from the so-called liberal base or what is perceived to be the Jesse Jackson/African-American wing when he sharply criticized rapper Sistah Souljah for remarks she made after the Rodney King riots in 1992.

Many observers and pundits felt that Clinton had done a good job of putting the Jesse Jackson crowd in their place. It was as if he was saying  “don’t worry Southerners and working class ethnic whites in the North, hey I got your back and I’m one of you.”

So instead of trying to beat the Republicans by showing that white and Black workers have a whole lot  more in common, the Democrats joined the Republicans by playing the same game of pandering to white voters fears.

If you don’t believe me, look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Obama, especially in Pennsylvania. It tells you everything you need to know.

2 thoughts on “Clinton versus Obama: Southern Strategy Redux

  1. Pingback: test » Blog Archive » Clinton versus Obama: Southern Strategy Redux

  2. ODE TO OBAMA (Fifth Ed.)
    by Publius II

    There once was a man named Obama
    His life began with drama
    An African Muslim father
    And an eccentric white mama

    Obama’s white grandparents
    They gave him a charmed life
    Raised on the beaches of Hawaii
    Far from ghetto strife

    He went to private schools
    Fourteen thousand dollars a year
    Working-class white folks
    They were nowhere near

    He attended Columbia
    Then Harvard Law
    A very soft and liberal upbringing
    Something Americans eventually saw

    He then went to Chicago
    Nation of Islam, Farrakhan, Black Panthers and Jackson
    The only friends he made
    All from the extreme left-wing faction

    He joined a radical church
    His Pastor downright insane
    Blacks and whites, he said
    Think with different parts of their brain

    His church praised a man named Cone
    With hateful opinions he was filled
    He said white people were “the devil”
    And Gods who love whites must be killed

    Obama first ran for State Senate
    With permission from Chicago’s Marxist King
    A domestic terrorist named Ayers
    Obama kissed his ring

    When he was a mere State Legislator
    He gave a speech against the War
    As such, he wasn’t responsible for voting
    A typical political whore

    He wrote a book called “Dreams From My Father”
    From start to finish a racist rant
    After people finally read it
    They later said: “Obama, no we can’t”

    He wrote how he rejected his mother’s race
    And that Malcolm X was a hero
    People had a clear warning
    Obama was a dangerous zero

    He was then elected to the U.S. Senate
    Obama’s ego grew very bold
    He barely served a year
    I will run for President was the story he told

    He said he’d end the War
    But in Congress his party already had control
    He had about as much success
    As when he tried to bowl

    He spent millions to stage rallies
    The crowds would yell and cheer
    But then it all fizzled after he said
    Typical white folks cling to religion, guns and beer

    His wife said America was mean
    She was never really proud
    Her Black Separatist thesis at Princeton
    Became a campaign cloud

    People said he was a Muslim
    His supporters scoffed and jeered
    Then his Black Liberation Church was exposed
    And Obama’s ugly head was reared

    He tried to recover in a speech on race
    The radical left-wing media offered raves
    But he said white folks had an “untrained ear”
    And abolitionists in Pennsylvania turned over in their graves

    He claimed to be a uniter
    He would bring people together all at once
    But after his speech in Philadelphia
    He proved to be a demographic dunce

    He tried once more to persuade whites
    But his bowling was a mess
    He rolled a 37
    Like a 5-year-old girl in a dress

    He then played basketball
    He drove the ball to the rack
    But when all was said and done
    He looked like an old man having a heart attack

    He said damn those white voters
    Their Mutual Funds I will tax
    I’ll double the capital gains rate
    And deliver yet another smack

    He wouldn’t cover his heart
    As the National Anthem played
    It’s a meaningless gesture he said
    But Americans felt betrayed

    He wouldn’t wear a flag pin
    It was against his One World view
    It doesn’t matter he said
    And the American people stewed

    He first called terrorist Ayers his friend
    Then said this man he didn’t really know
    More deceit and cover-ups
    Obama’s lies began to grow

    Farrakhan, Jackson and Sharpton
    Three of Obama’s greatest fans
    He tried hiding them in the closet
    So not to further offend the white man

    Then came his anti-American Pastor
    Obama’s mentor for 20 years
    He preened, shucked and jived
    White people rose up and sneered

    He opposed cutting the gas tax
    He said it wasn’t a winner
    $40 is all it would save, he said
    A weekly budget for a working family’s dinner

    NBC and the New York Times
    They tried each day to save Obama’s campaign
    But real Americans said “FU”
    And Obama spiraled down the drain

    The radical left-wing Democrats
    A Presidential race lost once again
    Is it really a surprise
    They’ve lost 7 of the last 10?

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