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Monday, 7 April 2008
A Look Inside The Ethnic Presidency
Topic: Blog Tours

Today we will explore the Table of Contents and Introduction to Earl Hutchinson's The Ethnic Presidency. 



It was both a glorious and daunting moment for President Lyndon Baines Johnson in June 1964. Following months of bitter Congressional floor fights, fire eating speeches, and threats of a Congressional walk-out by Southern Democrats, Johnson got what he jawboned, prodded, pleaded and cajoled Congress for weeks to do. It passed the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. The bill marked the official end of legal segregation in America. It also spelled the end of the near century long political dominance of the Democrats in the South. Johnson, the ever pragmatic politician that he was, knew his civil rights victory came with a steep price.

The price was that race would play a colossal role both overtly and covertly in massaging and shaping American politics for years to come. In a memorable and visionary quote that would ring true for the coming decades, Johnson told an aide after he signed the bill, "I think we delivered the South to the Republican Party for your lifetime and mine." In the five decades before Johnson's smash victory over Republican presidential candidate Goldwater in November 1964, the Democrats had carried Southern states more than 90 percent of the time in presidential elections. After his election, and for the next three decades, it was almost the exact opposite. They lost the South more than 70 percent of the time.

Johnson need look no further than his own landslide election victory in November 1964 for proof of the dramatic reversal of political fortunes for the Democrats in the South. Of the six states that Goldwater won, five were in the South. In Mississippi the vote against Johnson was even more lopsided than his national wipe-out of Goldwater. The GOP candidate got seven times more votes than Johnson in the state as late as 1964. They were all white votes. Most blacks were still barred from the polls in the state. They were also GOP votes. In reality they were white protest votes. The protest was against Johnson's tout of civil rights. Race mattered a lot to white Mississippians and other white Southerners. In fact, it appeared that it was the only thing they cared about.

Johnson was undaunted by the rise of the GOP and the racial polarization that figured so heavily in that surge. He continued to push Congress on civil rights. It passed the voting rights act in 1965, and, stirred in part by the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., passed another civil rights bill in 1968. He prodded Congress to earmark millions of dollars to fight a war on poverty. Many Southern whites and conservatives saw it as a massive government giveaway of their tax dollars to subsidize undeserving poor blacks and Latinos.

The rage of white Southerners and conservatives over the perceived giveaway to the poor, the expansion of government bureaucracy, the urban riots that rocked America's big cities and black militant protests prompted an even bigger exodus of whites to the GOP in the late 1960s. Nixon, and later Reagan and Bush Sr. masterfully tweaked, honed, and fine-tuned a public weariness over civil rights concessions, righteous indignation over big government, and rampant government spending on social programs, into a coherent political strategy to attack the Democrats. That further shaped and defined the national political debate.

They also coined well-crafted code words, euphemisms, smear attacks on special interests, and the Democrats. That transformed the GOP into the emerging GOP majority. The Democrats were clueless at how to counter the GOP racial endgame. They fought back with a weak and hapless defense of government social programs, lapsed into silence, or tried vainly to mimic the GOP on racial matters. That played into the GOP's hands and further guaranteed its political dominance for the decade of the 1980s.

Clinton read the political leafs and figured out that to beat the GOP he'd have to rip big pages from their playbook. He openly admitted that he had to lop off a big segment of the suburban middle-class to win. Clinton deftly repackaged Nixon's angry and alienated forgotten Americans who were always a euphemism for white workers, ethnics, and the middle-class, into the abandoned middle-class. He twisted Nixon's cry for law and order into a demand for thousands more cops, tougher laws, and an expanded death penalty. Clinton transformed Reagan's blister of welfare queens into a call to mend a broken welfare system. He redefined Regan's trickle down economics into a call for a third path on economic restructuring and fiscal conservatism.

Yet despite the naked co-opt of the GOP's best political lines, he was still a Democrat and there were stylistic differences in how Democrats and Republicans approached their constituencies and who their constituencies were. In the case of the Democrats they still had to pay lip service to civil rights and social programs. Clinton parlayed his gift for gab, personal charm and infectious charisma, not to mention the ravenous hunger of blacks to get a Democrat back in the White House after the Reagan and Bush years, into a political swoon for him among blacks. His political one-upmanship of the GOP earned him the eternal hatred of Republicans who perceived that he was beating them at their own game.

By the end of the Clinton White House years in 1992, Bush Jr. realized that racial issues, subtle and overt, were still a powerful, defining force in American politics. The Southern Strategy was still the GOP's political ace in winning the White House. But the changing ethnic demographics in America, along with more blacks expressing anger and disgust at abortion, gay marriage, and crime, as well as the surge in Latino voters opened up fresh political possibilities for the GOP.

The GOP could even have it both ways. They could employ the Southern Strategy to maintain the firm backing of Southern white males. At the same time, they could court blacks and Latinos. They'd make their standard religious and moral values appeal to Southern whites and conservatives while subtly playing on their unease and fear over welfare, crime, affirmative action, and black political control. It could flip the political card and make the same religious and moral values pitch to conservative blacks and Latinos, as well as pump small business, homeownership and promise to increase the number of black and Latino appointments. This would marginally increase its black and Latino support.

The GOP further outflanked the Democrats by punching emotional hot buttons with code words, and terms, and by turning personal vilification into a political fine art. The Democrats finally wised up and realized they could no longer waltz through losing election after losing election ignoring the potency and volatility of race and ethnicity.

In June 2007 the top Democratic presidential contenders did something that Democratic candidates hadn't done for years, they came out swinging on racial matters. The occasion was the presidential debate at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The flashpoint issue was the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow five to four ruling that tossed aside racial integration plans in play in the Seattle and Louisville school districts. The candidates thundered that the decision rolled backed the Supreme Court's Brown 1954 school integration decision and was a dangerous retreat to racial isolationism. In attacking the court decision, the Democrats had come full circle. Four decades earlier, Southern Democrats savagely berated the High Court for the Brown decision. For the next decade, they mounted massive court and street resistance to integration. The irony was that Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren, the architect of the Brown decision, was a Republican appointed by a Republican president.

That twist of history was now long forgotten at the Howard University debate. Top Democrats were in a sense liberated from their party's racist past and could freely talk about race and poverty. The subjects might not yet dominate the national political debate, but they were no longer taboo subjects.
The Democrats didn't stop there. When the GOP presidential candidates all ducked invitations to speak at the NAACP, National Urban League, National Council of La Raza and National Association of Latino Elected Officials conventions during the spring and summer of 2007, the Democratic National Committee pounced on them. They issued outraged press statements. They charged that since the GOP ignored blacks and Latinos, they in turn should ignore the GOP come Election Day 2008.

The GOP candidates ignored the Democratic taunt. They had returned to the pre-Bush GOP game plan of saying and doing as little about civil rights and race as possible, while shoring up their traditional conservative and Southern voter base. It made little difference whether Democrats deliberately played up race and ethnic politics, and the Republicans deliberately downplayed both. In 2008, they emerged as the always volatile issues that could decide the race to the White House.

These are the remaining chapter headings in The Ethnic Presidency.

Introduction 1
Chapter 1 - Obama and the X Factor of Race
Chapter 2 - The Hillary and Obama Roadshow
Chapter 3 - Edwards Made Poverty No Longer a Dirty Word in The Democrat's Mouths
Chapter 4 - Between Worlds: President Richardson or Latino President Richardson?
Chapter 5 - Democrats Take the Black Vote off the Plantation
Chapter 6 - Reagan, Race, and His Would Imitators
Chapter 7 - Inclusion is Still the GOP's Dilemma
Chapter 8 - Republicans Rethink Race--Momentarily
Chapter 9 - The GOP's Immigration Wall
Chapter 10 - Presidential Candidates Discover the Model Minority
Chapter 11 - Blacks Helped Elect Bush
Chapter 12 - Latinos Helped Elect Bush Too
A Postscript

For much more information about Earl Hutchinson and how the information in The Ethnic Presidency will affect every American, visit -


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