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Eric Rauchway of UC Davis Is the Cameraman

Ethnic Ticket Balancing and the Rise of the Wingnut Republicans

In my email inbox there are a surprisingly large number of messages stating that the central thesis of Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal is wrong: that the rise of the wingnut Republicans is not due to the fact that the four horsemen of the Republican Apocalypse--William "'Ballot Security' Means African-Americans Don't Vote" Rehnquist, Barry "You Hunt Where the Ducks Are" Goldwater, Richard "Southern Strategy" Nixon, and Strom "Lynching Cases Should Be Tried Before Local Juries Who Will Understand" Thurmond--and their allies decided to make the Republican Party the party for people who don't like African-Americans, and so lost its soul and consigned it too Hell. The rise of the Republican Party, they maintain, is due to things like the Democrats "prioritization of identity politics."

Let's unpack this. For at least the past century "identity politics" has been "prioritized" in American cities. Back in the old days a party running candidates in Boston would "balance" its ticket ethnically: an Irish-American and an Italian-American at the top. In New York, an Irishman, an Italian, and a Jew. It is no accident that the mayor of New York was a guy named Fiorello LaGuardia. It was no accident that the junior senator from Massachusetts was named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Identity politics was prioritized--by both parties--up the wazoo. Not a problem.

When does the "identity politics" become a problem? It becomes a problem when ethnic balancing leads to the presence of an African-American at the top of the ticket. Blaming the rise of Republican wingnuts on the fact that Democrats start nominating African-Americans for office is not an alternative to the thesis of The Conscience of a Liberal, but a confirmation of it.

Now you might argue that Democratic politicians ought to have reacted to this situation differently. They should have told their African-American voters, workers, and politicians: "This country is still too racist for conventional ethnic-balancing to work now that the 1964 Civil Rights has gotten you the vote. You have to wait another generation to see African-American faces at the top of the ticket, and in the meanwhile vote for white politicians who have your interests at heart and realize the debt that the Democratic Party is running up by making you wait by the door for yet another span of years." Perhaps that would have been the wiser course. Perhaps not. But it was a course the urban Democratic Party was unable to follow.

Seems to me that to say that Democrats are responsible for the rise of wingnut Republicans because they were unable to follow this make-African-Americans-wait-by-the-door-for-another-generation--well, this is the equivalent of blaming the victim of a drive-by for leaving bloodstains on the seats.

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