By Jason Sattler

How The Right Talks About Race, Even When They’re Not Talking About Race

July 28, 2013 3:09 pm Category: Memo Pad, Memo Share, Politics 10 Comments A+ / A-

In 1982, Republican operative Lee Atwater gave an interview to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University, in which he explained how the so-called “Southern Strategy” of focusing on race had become much more subtle by the 1980s.

Atwater, who apologized to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of his tactics before his early death in 1991, put it like this:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Some conservatives questioned whether the controversial words credited to Atwater were ever truly spoken by the man who helped George H.W. Bush win the presidency using tactics like the so-called “Willie Horton” ad. After the racially charged 2012 campaign — in which the Romney campaign used racial dogwhistles including insinuating that the president was trying to “take the work out of welfare” — James Carter IV, the son of the former president and the researcher who unearthed the “47 Percent” tape, convinced Lamis’ widow to release the audio above.

Atwater was in his own way echoing what President Lyndon B. Johnson once told his press secretary, Bill Moyers.

”I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” the president said. “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”

In this summer of the George Zimmerman trial, Detroit going bankrupt and Republicans demanding huge cuts to food stamps, it’s clear that these old narratives are still embedded in our politics. And in the post-birther era, race is no longer, as Atwater said in 1982, “on the back burner.”

While the right wants to focus on black culture and “black-on-black” crime, they refuse to acknowledge that “white-on-white” crime is statistically nearly as common and happens much more often, as white people, who are the vast majority of the population, commit the vast majority of violent crimes in this country.

Negative aspersions on so-called “food stamps,” like Ronald Reagan’s old “welfare queens,” often carry a racial connotation. But government assistance in this country is actually used by ethnic groups pretty much in proportion to their share of the population:

African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of the poor, receive 14 percent of government benefits, close to their 12 percent population share.

White non-Hispanics, who make up 42 percent of the poor, receive 69 percent of government benefits – again, much closer to their 64 percent population share.

But these statistics fade into the background as Trayvon Martin instantly becomes a thug when he puts up his hood in the rain.

800px-George_h_w_bush_lee_atwater_jam

Lee Atwater jams with George H.W. Bush.

How The Right Talks About Race, Even When They’re Not Talking About Race Reviewed by on . In 1982, Republican operative Lee Atwater gave an interview to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University, in which he explained In 1982, Republican operative Lee Atwater gave an interview to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University, in which he explained Rating:

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  • Lynda Groom

    The GOP would be better served if they stayed as far away from the subject as possible. That includes even when they are trying to not talk about race. We are witnessing the last hurrah of the party of old white men decaying before our eyes. Total decay may take another decade or so, but the process apparently can’t be stopped. The country certainly needs at least two opposite parties, so some other branch will have to step up to the plate. It won’t be the baggers, but what?????

    • spazaru

      I really wish I agreed with you Lynda, but the fact is the GOP controls 31 governorships and many states are under complete Republican control in their legislature as well. I don’t see the GOP getting weaker at all in a lot of the country. Again, I hope you’re right. I don’t look forward to living in a corporatist theocracy.

      • Lynda Groom

        You are of course correct. The GOP does indeed control a great many state houses and their legislatures. I live in Northern California, and in our state the GOP is on life support and becoming less and less relevant each and every day. I may indeed have been projecting that view upon the nation as a whole.

        • disqus_LcxpBv2uzz

          Darrell Issa continues to embarrass rational thinkers, and unless and until the sane voters in California turn him and his ilk out, the GOP is not truly on life support. ( I know, I know, parts of SoCal are right-wing enclaves; parts of northern San Diego county are reminiscent of the rural south).

          • spazaru

            I live in Issa’s district. I don’t know anyone who admits to voting for him, but he gets re-elected easily every time. Northern SD county is so populated now I don’t think any of it is like the rural south anymore (I’m from the south), plus Issa’s district includes the coast now. Still, obviously we’ve got a long way to go in our choice of representatives.

  • idamag

    I was surprised and dismayed to hear so many on the right condoning murder and laws that allow murder to take place. Okay, so the right wants to put minorities in their place and the left doesn’t. Even though I do not believe in political parties and agree with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Adams that parties will cause division and chaos, I am starting to lean left as there is too much hate on the right.

    • charleo1

      Of course, I think that’s great! You’re starting to lean Left. Come on in!
      Hurry though, the place is filling up fast. And I want you to get a good
      seat!

      • maximillyun

        LOL

  • Jim Myers

    I remember Lee Atwater gleefully creating slanderous lies about political opponents. He knew he was bulletproof, as long as the lies were politically motivated.

    When he learned he was dying, he had a sudden realization of the severe damage he had inflicted on those he opposed, and their families.

    He tried to “right” the wrongs of his past, but the damage he had caused was much greater than he could correct in the little time he had left.

    His preachings fell on deaf ears.

    If everyone, Democrat, Republican, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, Black or White would have that epiphany early in their lives, this would be a much better world.

  • Donna Green

    Please, John Henry can’t believe you actually said that or most importantly believe it.

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