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View Diary: Southern Racial Politics 101: Good News coming in 2014? (33 comments)

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  •  Interesting (none)
    " To be fair, some pro-war whites in the North adopted the Nixon Democrat label too.  Widespread civil unrest following the April 4 assassination of MLK added fuel to the fire of Nixon's "law and order" appeal to fearful whites in all regions of the country.  Bobby Kennedy's eloquent speech the night of April 4 cemented his support in the black community.  Whites who feared Bobby might get the Democratic nomination were driven into the arms of the GOP.  As most of us know, Bobby's assassination was two months later, but he had still done a lot to reinforce the Dems as the liberal/anti-war/pro civil rights party."

    When talking about working class whites in the late 1960s, one has to separate Southern whites and northern whites.  Both were racist to some degree, and were turned off by civil rights and the anti-war movements.  Both have some affinity to Wallace, either to him as a possible President, or more of a protest vote.  But there were major differences.
    Race was the major issue for Southern whites, there was nothing more important.  They hated liberals for their views on racial issues.  Period.  Their Democratic identification came from the civil War.
    For the blue collar whites in the North, especially the majority of them were ethnic and Catholic, it was much more complex.  They hated the anti-war movement that they thought was elitist, but many were turning against the war because so many of their kind had died in it.  The myth that working class whites supported Vietnam War to the bitter end is false.  They also were apprehensive about the giving of rights to African Americans, but were even more unnerved by the riots and other disturbances.  Racism was a periphery reason here, and their racism wasn't as strong or deep ingrained as the Southerners.  Their support of Wallace was mostly as protest against the system.  The Democratic identification came from the New Deal, it was a positive identification as opposed to a negative one(Southerners were Democrats solely because they were against the Rethugs for the Civil War.)

    Bobby Kennedy had a great deal of support among these working class whites in the North, despite the strong identification he had as a pro-civil rights and anti-war candidate.  As a Catholic who was the brother of a martyred President, he already had a great deal of affection among these groups.  As an anti-war candidate, but one who still seemed patriotic, he appealed to the deep feeling of antipathy among them.  Many of those who would consider voting or would vote for Wallace in the North were RFK supporters first.  My uncle met a Wallace campaign worker in Pittsburgh in 1968, and talked with him for a while.  Most of the discussion was centered around RFK, and the campaign worker cried while speaking about him.
    Of course RFK was hated in the Protestant South.  

    •  Agree about RFK, but not about Wallace (none)
      You're right that RFK had support among white working class Catholics and may have been able to bridge the gap that was widening within the Roosevelt coalition.  But Wallace was not just a protest vote against the system.  People forget that Wallace went North very early - shortly after his famous segregation speech in 1962. He was campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan in 1963 and 1964 to white ethnics who felt displaced by the mass of Southern blacks moving into "their" neighborhoods.  The politicians most associated with white working class conservatism, and the Republican Party, are Poindexter and Cobo of Detroit and McCarthy of Wisconsin.  The roots of this go back to FDR's Fair Employment Practice Commission in 1943 that outlawed wartime contracting to firms that discriminate. Immediately Philadelphia transit workers walked out in the Hate Strike of 1944. The Republicans paid attention and started canvassing Poles, Irish and Italians who resented the Democratic Party's view that blacks deserve good jobs and housing too. Republicans began to succeed in many Northern states playing the race card shortly after WWII. When northern Republicans openly supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 many white ethnics needed someone who spoke to their racial fears and Wallace was the man.  He was virulent, angry and proud to stand up for white supremacy. But he didn't just push the racial hot buttons. He stood up against the sexual revolution as well.  In a word, Wallace was the last wall of white male supremacy and many northern white workers were attracted to him.  As late as 1972 Wallace had great traction in the North. He won the Wisconsin Democratic primary and Michigan shortly after he was shot in May.  But wheelchair-bound Wallace just wasn't the fighter of old and the Republican Party now openly embraced the right wing culture war rhetoric that Wallace popularized in the 1960s.

      So white ethnic workers began voting Republican at the local level as early as the 1940s but remained in the Democratic camp for national elections until 1968.  George Wallace was the bridge, who provided the rhetoric for the Republican Party and the Democratic label of old for loyalty.  Though Wallace remained a Democrat, his followers in the North found it easy to jump to the Republicans for good in 1968.

      •  What I meant by protest (none)
        is that I doubt George Wallace was the first choice of many of those white ethnic groups.    The "white ethnics" primary purpose,in my opinion, of voting for Wallace was to send a message to the Democratic Party to not go so fast on the social issues.  Many of those who seriously considered Wallace in 1968 eventually switched back to Humphrey.  (Humphrey ended up carrying about 60% of the Catholic vote at the end, better than any Democrat since.) Same thing in the 1964 primaries for Wallace, if they were very serious about racism, they would have voted for Goldwater in 1964, which didn't happen.  

        With regard to ethnics voting for Rethugs at the local level, you are absolutely right, but notice, they were fellow ethnic politicians.  In Chicago, Polish voted for Ben Adamowski in heavy numbers over Daley in 1963, part of this was animosity toward blacks, but much of it was also the hope of having a Polish mayor.  Joseph McCarthy's strident anticommunism was applauded on its face by Catholics, but it certainly didn't hurt that it was an Irish Catholic making the argument.  Also McCarthy was not particularly playing on racial fears, one of the very few redeeming things about McCarthy was that he had the guts to campaign in black neighborhoods in a serious manner.

        There was another facet to the racism in the north, economic fears.  Many of the ethnics were at the lowest rungs on the economic ladder and were fearful that African Americans would take their jobs.  This view was propogated by opportunistic politicians, but it was always there.  Before the African Americans, it was Italians and Eastern Europeans, the Irish in the early 1900s were scared that these new immigrants were going to take their jobs.  Before that, there was discrimination against the Irish.  There was also the issue of ethnic pride, many wanted their neighborhood to be fully ethnic, just as it was back in their home country.  I'm not excusing any of these things at all, I'm just saying that the racism of Northern ethnics had a far different "reasoning" than the Southern racists.

        And then look at 1964, the Southern racists voted strongly for Barry Goldwater, while the northern racists voted for LBJ, just he signed a major civil rights bill.  Whatever the importance was on keeping African Americans down, it was far less important than keeping wages high.  They still hung to the idea of the New Deal and unions, and that was far more important.  Another example in 1964, in Detroit and its suburbs, where racism among ethnics was at its greatest, Dearborn congressman John Lesinski was the only Northern congressman to vote against the Civil Rights Act, hoping to capitalize on white backlash.  Due to redistricting, he was placed in the same district as John Dingell, a civil rights supporter and thus had the endorsement of the UAW.  Dingell beat Lesinski handily, showing once again that the racism was trumped by economic issues(until after 1968).

        In 1972, you are right, Wallace won Michigan and came in second in Wisconsin(to McGovern).  But by this time social issues had really moved to the forefront in a way that it hadn't by 1964, or even 1968. I would say that 1972 and 1980 were the years in the flip to the Rethugs, because McGovern was viewed as a leftie not in touch, and that Nixon had actually proved himself to be an economic moderate.  And 1980, because the Dems for the first time had failed on economic issues as well as cultural ones in the eyes of the Northern blue collar workers.  

        He was virulent, angry and proud to stand up for white supremacy. But he didn't just push the racial hot buttons. He stood up against the sexual revolution as well.  In a word, Wallace was the last wall of white male supremacy and many northern white workers were attracted to him"

        This was very true, and is what shifted northern white workers to the Rethugs in 1972 and afterwards.  But feminism and the sexual revolution weren't that big in 1968.  Bigger were the anti-war protesters and the hippies, which were seen as "unAmerican" and elitist.  The 1968 Dem convention certainly didn't help in this regard.  It didn't mean that northern white workers were pro-war on Vietnam, though.  Enough of their kids had died, and they were growing restive with the war.  Mayor Daley, for example, hated the Vietnam war on a personal level after a good friend's son had died there, and begged LBJ to find a way out.  RFK understood this phenomenon, both the anti-war movement and the pro-war hawks did not.


        •  some good points (none)
          I agree with a lot of what you have said about why Northern ethnic voters chose Wallace as the last wall of white male supremacy (although that wall still seems to be standing with GeeDub as its latest standardbearer).

          But I'm not sure what you mean by "Wallace won Michigan" because Nixon won all the states except Massachusetts in 1972.  I was at an election party and it was a very very sad experience I will never forget.

          My mom had one of those Don't Blame Me I'm from Massachusetts bumper stickers (even though we lived in DC).

          Your other good point about Humphrey being the last Dem to decisively win the Catholic vote is directly related to Roe v Wade IMO.

          We'll have to talk about the voting patterns of Northern racists another time.  Somehow the Dems seem to still be winning a handful of northern states in spite of the North's very complicated racial fears.

          Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.

          by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Nov 29, 2004 at 01:23:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Couple quick comments (none)
            "But I'm not sure what you mean by "Wallace won Michigan" because Nixon won all the states except Massachusetts in 1972."

            I meant the Dem primary.

            "We'll have to talk about the voting patterns of Northern racists another time.  Somehow the Dems seem to still be winning a handful of northern states in spite of the North's very complicated racial fears."

            For the most part the North has overcome its racial problems.  It still exists in some areas, but again just like the "white ethnics" racial fears, it is of a totally different type of racial prejudice and far less ingrained and far more correctible.  I predict that in another generation or two, we will not have to talk about the issue of racism in the north. (Much like prejudice against Irish and Italian Catholics are no longer an issue.)  I can't say the same in the South.

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