You could probably spend your whole life arguing with Paul Krugman but every once in a while the great Nobel Prize Winner comes up with a doozy that can’t be ignored. (He won the prize for international trade, not political analysis.)
Last week Krugman announced the Republicans have become a permanent minority and it’s their own fault. The reason is that the only issue Republicans have going for them is race:
Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.
Does that surprise you? Did you know that in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviets, welfare reform, budget deficits, international trade, immigration, Islamic terrorism and financial meltdowns, all we’ve really been talking about is race? (It you want to find a race-obsessed tribe you could do no better than to look among Krugman’s editorial-page staff at the New York Times, but that’s another story.)
How to deal this argument? Here’s one approach. The other day I came across a bio of Larry McDonald, the five-term Georgia Congressman who died aboard KAL Flight 007 when it was shot down by the Soviets in 1983. Here’s what Wikipedia says about him:
Larry McDonald was known for his conservative views, even by Southern standards. [O]ne study named him the second most right-wing member of either chamber since 1937. He . . considered [Communism] an international conspiracy…a view later echoed in the words of President Ronald Reagan who called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire”. In another sense, McDonald [was] a precursor of the Reagan supply-side revolution….An admirer of Austrian economics, he was an advocate of tight monetary policy [and] a passionate advocate of laissez-faire or market based policies.
His staunch conservative views on social issues attracted controversy. For instance, McDonald is noted for using amendments to stop government aid to homosexuals. He also advocated the use of a non-approved drug Laetrile to treat patients in advanced stages of cancer.
Now here’s something else interesting about McDonald. He was a Democrat. In fact in 1983 just about every Congressman from Virginia to Texas — the boundaries of what was once called “The Old Confederacy” — was Democratic. On economic, social and foreign policy issues they were probably the most conservative constituency in the country. Yet all of them voted with the Democratic Party and had been doing so for over 100 years. Why? The explanation comes in one word — r-a-c-e.
The “Solid South,” which gave the Democratic Party its most reliable base from the last half of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century was there for one reason — because the Democrats had fiercely defended the Confederacy during the Civil War. After 1865, the Democrats were the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” — meaning the anti-prohibitionists, the city immigrants, and the former Confederacy. The Solid South gave Woodrow Wilson the Presidency. (Wilson, originally from Virginia, was virulently anti-Negro.) It formed the biggest electoral bloc of the Roosevelt Coalition and gave the Democrats control of the House of Representatives for half a century from 1954 to 1994. All this was payback for the Democrats supporting the South during the Civil War. Most Democratic governance during the 20th century would not have been possible except for this historic anomaly.
What happened in 1994 was that — under the guidance of historically conscious Congressmen such as Newt Gingrich and Phil Gramm — white Southerners finally forgot their Civil War allegiances and joined their natural constituency in the Republican Party. As Gingrich said at the time, “the Civil War is finally over.”
White Southerners differ little in their political preferences from the residents of Idaho or Alaska. They are rural and small-town conservatives — which is why Sarah Palin played so well there. The only thing that makes them different is that they live amidst a vast African-American population that votes heavily Democratic. This makes Southern politics highly competitive. Blacks hold many elective offices in the contemporary South and Presidential elections can be breathlessly close, as it was in Georgia last year. The only wild card in this alignment is that blacks tend to be socially conservative and are not always willing to follow their liberal brethren on issues like gay marriage and paying obeisance to the ACLU. Still, all this is a great improvement from the days when the South was a one-party region with Southern Democrats keeping African Americans off the voter rolls.
A few years back, trial lawyers began suing insurance companies and other large corporations for supposedly supporting slavery by once doing business in the antebellum South. I wrote several articles suggesting they sue the one American institution that had benefited most from its support of slavery — the Democratic Party. The trial lawyers, being the deepest pockets in the Democratic Party, could pay the bills. No one took me up on it, however, and I am willing to let bygones be bygones. The same is not likely for Krugman and company.
The main political division in the country is now urban versus rural, with educated suburban voters playing a swing vote in the middle. Race has nothing to do with it — except perhaps that African Americans vote 90 percent Democratic, the most lopsided commitment by any major ethnic constituency. Still, all this is not likely to prevent people like Krugman from beating their chests in self-congratulations and declaring anyone who votes differently from them a racist.