Including November outcomes, a lot remains uncertain in this election season, and redistricting accounts for a lot of it: who is in, who is out, who can run, who can vote and vote where. Much of the rhetoric and legislation from the Republican side has a retrograde feel to it. In the wake of Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008, and the economic collapse in 2008, the Republican strategy seems to be one, enormous rearguard action to forestall the inevitable as demographic reality slowly seeps in, one last, desperate culture war counteroffensive before the end. Emblematic of that is the open reemergence of the Southern Strategy, in rhetoric, legislation and redistricting. There will be more on Republican redistricting to come, but first some observations about the flavor of the Republican primaries.
Those of us of a certain age remember an old TV sitcom, “Leave It To Beaver.” It was pretty saccharine fare, except for one particular character, a two-faced kid named Eddie Haskell.
Eddie was a fawning, smarmy suck-up around adults, but as soon as they left the room, he turned into the conniving wise guy he showed to his friends. In one episode, he finally got his comeuppance for something or other. But Eddie still doggedly kept up his Mr. Innocent routine, mystified that it is was not working this time.
As Eddie was hauled away for punishment, Wally Cleaver turned to his little brother and shrugged, “Everyone’s wise to Eddie except Eddie.”
Which brings us to former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. And many of his “Who, me?” associates.
Gingrich keeps calling President Obama the country’s best “food stamp president.” He offers to go to the NAACP national convention in Houston and instruct thousands of attendees who fly in from around the country how they should pursue jobs over food stamps. (Who knew you could book flights and hotels rooms with food stamps?)
It is a decades-old technique, the racially polarizing Southern Strategy for which the Republican Party (in the person of then-chairman, Ken Mehlman) apologized to the NAACP’s national convention in 2005, and for which its most skilled practitioner, Republican strategist Lee Atwater, repented when at death’s door.
The press noticed and called Gingrich on it. He feigned innocence, insulted at the suggestion that his rhetoric has anything to do with bigotry. But the Mr. Innocent shtick is not working this time.
It is not working for Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, either. His taped phone call with the person he thought it was billionaire Charles Koch put to rest any pretense that concern for Wisconsin’s “budget crisis” was behind his efforts to emasculate public unions. Walker saw it as his “Reagan moment,” a chance to deal a death blow to any organized opposition to Republican policies. The public saw it for what it is.
None of which solves our problems or improves working people’s lives. None of which is aimed at building up community or, as Obama said in his State of the Union Address, Americans getting each other’s backs.