EDITORIALS - Archives 09.05.04

The White Party, and the rest of us

What a year, 1968. I watched the Republican "Coronation" this week and was taken back to my childhood. This is exactly what a re-nominating event would have looked like had George Wallace won the presidency. Growing up in the backwater swamps of East Texas, I couldn't miss that election as America stood on the brink of social transformation.

As a Southern "cracker", I received an up-close look at the positions of those who supported the segregationist Governor of Alabama for President. Wallace was already famous nationwide for tossing a gauntlet to the Federal government with his famous "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" speech, and for having blocked integration in Alabama public schools by standing in the schoolhouse door in 1963.

Using codewords for racism and intolerance, his campaign literature focused on three themes: Patriotism, Militarism, and economics. Today the theme would be called "compassionate prejudice".

That George W. supported a strong police force. "We stand behind you because you are the thin line between complete anarchy in the streets and the physical safety of our person," stated his campaign literature. In talking about the Vietnam War, Wallace said, "These college professors who are making speeches advocating victory for the Viet Cong Communists - I would deal with these people as they ought to be dealt with, as traitors."

He was also proud of his economic record in Alabama. His campaign claimed, "Alabama enjoyed a record-breaking growth in industry, education, highway construction and other phases of state government."

Alabama then, as now, ranks as one of the lowest-performing of American states both in industry and education. Texas, where a more recent George served as Governor, has counties with the lowest median household incomes, the highest poverty rates and the highest child poverty rates in the nation, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau survey.

It was in 1968 that the Democrats began fleeing the Democratic Party of Texas and calling themselves Independent Americans and Republicans. It took another decade before their numbers were significant enough to have an impact on Texas elections, but it was clear that the main reason they left the party was because of its support for civil rights for women and "colored people."

What began as a movement within the South, with almost undisguised racism, has become the unacknowledged core of the national Republican Party today. One look at the events in Madison Square Garden shows this clear divide.

In a country where people of color - Asian, Middle Easterners, Blacks, Hispanics, etc. - are becoming the majority, the Republican Party still looks like the old WASP, White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant crowd. Despite token attempts at diversity, most of the non-white faces in the crowd at the convention were either press, security personnel, or entertainers.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've also had membership in that same old WASP club since birth. But I'm proud to live in an America that is finally beginning to fulfill its promise as a multicultural melting-pot, a place where diversity and the cultures of people throughout the world are celebrated.

This is the real America.

By the way, Governor Wallace lost his bid for election as an independent candidate in 1968 but still managed to garner nearly 10 million votes, about 13 percent of the total. Although he later recounted his racist and bigoted past, by then his supporters were firmly fixed in the Republican Party and many were later counted among the "Reagan Democrats".

The election in November could almost be called the White Party versus Everyone else.

Tragically, too many Americans seem to remain mired in a segregationist past in their opposition to people of color, immigrants, and non-"Christian" faiths. They are completely missing our nation's promise as inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, "from her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome…"

This, however, is the American harbor towards which the rest of us are sailing.

Peace - Charlie









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