Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Racist or opportunist
This is a somewhat old story that I missed the first time around. Fortunately, Kos brings it up again at his nifty new site, thus giving me the opening I need.

Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican Party, is running for governor of Mississippi. Two weeks ago, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger ran a story on Barbour’s embracing of the neo-Confederate cause.
Some of Republican gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour's campaign material features the state flag and its Confederate battle emblem, a symbol many black voters find offensive…

Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring said the party conducted a poll recently in which voters were asked their position on the state flag. He said the question was used to find potential supporters.

"We think the people voted on that issue, spoke on that issue, and we have no plans to make it an issue," he said. However, he said, "it's legitimate to find out how people voted on the flag issue. It helps you determine who your voters are and how you identified them."

Kos follows the last line with his own conclusion: “In other words, let's find the racists because they're our supporters.” Now, I’m the last one to defend a Republican when he is saying something stupid, but I think even Kos gives Barbour too much credit.

Racism, while repugnant to most of us, is still a principle. Barbour’s market testing of his racism is completely unprincipled. To say Barbour is a racist and wants to find his fellow racists underestimates the amorality of the modern Republican Party. If mere racism was his goal, all he would need to do would be state his position and let the recessive genes flock to his standard. The point of market testing the issue is to see whether a position sells, whether or not the candid ate believes it.

Barbour’s people know liberals and Negros (or whatever he calls them, probably not that) are not going to vote for him. He cedes these constituencies to the Democrats. The point of market testing neo-Confederate battle flag nonsense is to see if he can gain votes from normally nonvoting radicals without alienating the Republican rank and file. They pander to the extremist right while counting on the moderates to be loyal enough not to vote Democrat. This has been the strategy of a faction of the Republican Party that has grown from a fringe in 1964 to dominate the strategy-determining heights of the party since about 1994.

What was once unsaid, communicated to the extremists with a wink and a nod, is now openly proclaimed. This is the party of George Bush, Trent Lott, and Tom DeLay. This is not the party of Lincoln Chaffee or Olympia Snowe, but it counts on their unresisting assent to conduct its reactionary business. As long as humane Republicans would rather win than be right, the extremists will continue to dominate. Only when principled Republicans say “enough” and repudiate unacceptable candidates or leave the party will the Republican Party regain its soul and rejoin the mainstream of American life.

As always, I’m not holding my breath.

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