For many decades the GOP played the politics of racial divisiveness
to further the cause of tax cuts, deregulation and a more limited
federal government. The election of 2012 promises to end this ugly
chapter in American politics. The ultimate outcome will change our
political landscape in far-reaching ways.
Surprisingly, Republican leaders openly admit that their party used
race to appeal to white voters (particularly in the old Confederacy)
disaffected with the perceived embrace of racial equality within the
Democratic Party. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips openly admitted to seeking out the votes of “negrophobe whites” in the New York Times in 1970. The Nation very recently posted the actual audio recording
of Reagan Administration Official Lee Atwater articulating how the GOP
implemented the Southern Strategy in sordid (and highly offensive)
detail in 1981. Atwater unabashedly ties the politics of race to
economic issues such as tax cuts. Two Republican National Committee Chairs actually apologized for the Southern Strategy.
In my book Lawless Capitalism,
I argue that the politics of racial division led directly to the
subprime debacle through massive financial deregulation beginning in the
Reagan Administration. Deregulation of mortgage lending, the basic
structure of globalization, and financial consolidation all find their
roots in the Reagan Administration. Indeed, the fundamental explosion in
American debt started in 1980.
To be fair, the Democrats contributed
much to the crisis too. The crisis resulted from longstanding and
bipartisan policies. Nevertheless, the Southern Strategy dominated the
political scene in the decades preceding the subprime debacle.
The election of 2012 may spell the end of the Southern Strategy, at
least as a means of GOP success. African American and Latino voters
turned out in record numbers. Asian American voters supported President
Obama over Mitt Romney by 73-26, a margin that exceeds Obama’s advantage
among Latino voters.
The viability of the GOP’s Southern Strategy will continue to fade.
Asian Americans form the fastest growing minority group in the nation. A
recent study by the Pew Hispanic Research Center projects that the
voting power of Hispanics will double by 2030—to nearly half of the
electorate. If the Democrats continue to run candidates of color to
energize this base, then these growing voting groups will constitute a
formidable foundation for a durable Democratic majority. Meanwhile, the
GOP base still today favors discriminatory practices, such as
anti-immigration laws and legislation designed to suppress the vote of
On issues relating to immigration, education, voting rights, the war
on drugs, and many others, a fundamental change in political calculus is
afoot. I contend the change may be even more monumental than such core
issues. Ultimately, without the ability of governing elites to use the
politics of racial division to further their interests, the very high
level of economic inequality currently burdening our nation may be
Steven A. Ramirez is Professor of Law at Loyola
University of Chicago, where he also directs the Business and Corporate
Governance Law Center. His book, Lawless Capitalism: The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law, will publish in December 2012.
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