1860, 2008, and not accepting the legitimacy of an elected president

by John MacBeath Watkins

I used to think that no, the Republican reaction to President Obama isn't about race, because look at how they reacted to Bill Clinton. Then, via Paul Krugman, I read this portion of Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union speech:

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”
 Cool, of course, had not yet gained its "hip" connotations, and a modern speaker would say, "that's cold."

But the striking thing here is that the slave states (and slave territories) would not accept the legitimacy of the election of a Republican president, because the Republican Party stood for the abolition of slavery. The parties have changed places since then. With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act under Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats became the party of civil rights and, with Nixon's Southern strategy, the Republican Party became the party of Jesse Helms, no longer that of Abraham Lincoln. As the Republican Party came to be increasingly captured by the Old South, a group of activist Republicans came to see the election of Democrats as illegitimate, just as it once had seen the election of Republicans as illegitimate. Under the New Deal, Democrats had retained the South with their silence on matters of race. Under the Great Society, that pact was broken, and as Johnson foresaw, the Democrats were destined to lose the South.

In either case, Lincoln or Obama, it's the man who did not represent the South that the party representing the South cannot accept as legitimate. And though the Republican Party is not only about representing the South and its history, that's where this question of legitimacy gets its fuel, and it is attitudes toward race that unite important parts of the Republican Party.

Certainly there is no natural alliance between Evangelical Christians and libertarians. Where do they meet? Well, Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act on libertarian grounds -- no government should regulate who a business had to serve, in his view, not because of race but because of the property rights of the business owner. Evangelical churches got a boost when many of them started "White academies," sometimes called segregation academies, where Whites could avoid the integration of schools.

President Carter understood well that these schools were using their tax-free status to continue segregation. During his administration, the IRS started looking into the tax-exempt status of these organizations. By the standards of some parents, he did too little, and they sued the IRS (unsuccessfully.)

Race has always been a complex subject in America, and there's plenty of racism in the North. Having lived in both North and South, however, I'd offer the opinion that there is more open racism in the South, as well as more interaction between the races.

Via Sensory Overload, here are a couple of maps:

And from Wikipedia, a map of the electoral college results in the 1860 election (Republicans are in pink, Southern Democrats green.):

I am constantly amazed at how slowly culture can change. The second and third maps show how completely the parties have changed places, the first and second show the extent to which the states and territories where slavery was legal match up with current Republican voting patterns.

Of course, there's a great deal more to the Republican Party than these patterns. Many cultural conservatives aren't racist, and I know this because my extended family has quite a few cultural conservatives in it. I'd say most libertarians are not motivated by racism either -- it's not a philosophy about race, after all. But picture a Venn diagram of these two movements (pardon the crudity, I did it by hand):

Most of the philosophical territory occupied by L (libertarian) and E (Evangelical) lies outside their intersection. We may picture the outer box as the entire Republican Party (although there would be a lot more bubbles to describe the entire Republican party.) R (racism) lies entirely within the intersection between L and E, and certainly doesn't define either, nor the larger set of Republicans. It does, however, lie at the nexus, knitting otherwise disparate philosophies together into an alliance under the party, because it represents the goal they have in common. Libertarians wish to legalize many things now regulated by the government, for many of them including drugs and prostitution. Evangelicals have no wish to see those particular things legalized, and may wish many things the libertarians do not -- mandatory teaching of creationism, for example.

What binds them together is the area where government regulates segregation. Libertarians may not want businesses or schools to segregate, but they do have more faith than liberals that markets will create an acceptable outcome in this area, and are willing to accept outcomes that liberals will not. Evangelical Christians may not want segregation, but find government intervention in their schools more objectionable. And both find themselves aligned with people who are uncomfortable with race mixing, as demonstrated here.

I know this sounds like a problem we should have heard the last of in the 1950s, but consider this. There were 19 pogroms against Jews in Germany in the 1920s. Eighteen of them happened in cities that had pogroms in 1349, according to this study. Patterns of ethnic hatred are persistent, particularly in areas where there is little in-migration (which means that Virginia and North Carolina, for example, can be expected to show change sooner than states with less new blood.)

Society is changing, and I'm hoping a time will come when too few people are motivated by racism for it to matter. But the voting patterns the Sensory Overload blog noted are real, and reflect the hard, cold fact that race is alive and well as a factor in American politics.