After 40 Years, Republican Racism and Homophobia Backfires

by Randy Shaw on June 28, 2007

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, he predicted that the Democratic Party’s stand for civil rights would cost it Southern support for decades. Johnson’s prediction proved remarkably accurate, and over four decades after the passage of civil and voting rights laws the Deep South remains staunchly Republican. But after forty years of winning white votes nationally by appealing to a “politics of resentment” around race, the GOP faces an increasing Latino backlash over Republican demonization of undocumented Latino immigrants. Republicans are also out of step with young voters on gay rights, as a recent New York Times poll found 44% approving gay marriage and over 75% supporting either marriage or civil unions for gays. It sounds hard to believe, but race and sexual orientation look like positive issues for Democrats in 2008 and beyond.

The conservative Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday on a subject that is no surprise to political insiders: the implosion of the Republican Party over its right-wing anti-immigrant appeals. As the paper put it, Latinos “know that when Tom Tancredo calls for an immigration ‘time out,’ he’s not talking about the Irish. He means no more Mexicans, Hondurans or other Hispanics. If the GOP wants to be deserted by Hispanics for the next few election cycles, that sort of talk should do the trick.”

After the massive immigrant rights marches in Spring 2006, Congressional Republicans responded by moving even further to the right on immigration issues. This movement cost them dearly in the 2006 elections, but seems to have not deterred their anti-Latino ferocity.

GOP mastermind Karl Rove understands the political danger immigration causes for Republicans, which is why he has pushed President Bush to support a version of “reform.” But the Republican base is beside itself with Bush’s support for “amnesty,” and the consensus is that the Party’s base will not allow passage of a non-punitive immigration reform bill this year.

Republicans find themselves in an impossible position on immigration reform. Support it and alienate your core base, oppose it and alienate a growing Latino base that has become far more Democratic-identified as immigration becomes a top issue.

It’s been a long, long time, but national Republicans are finally starting to pay a price for the racist appeals that have helped them win Presidential elections since 1968.

Remember back in 2004 when some Democrats blamed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for creating a conservative backlash over gay marriage that they linked to Kerry’s defeat? Well, times have changed.

A New York Times poll released yesterday showed that over 75% of young people backed either gay marriage or civil unions. This confirmed many other polls that show opposition to gay rights primarily correlated with age, with older voters most opposed.

In other words, the clock is ticking on Republican efforts to generate support through direct or nuanced gay-bashing. By 2008, supporting gay rights may well produce a net political gain for Democrats.

If national Republicans cannot rely on tried and true strategies of winning victories through appeals to “hot button” race and sexual orientation themes, what do they have left?

Will they run on our success in Iraq? They’re already starting to jump off that issue like rats leaving a sinking ship.

Will they try to arouse their base by attacking court decisions by a “left wing” Supreme Court? The right-wing now controls the Court, so its longstanding sense of grievance around its so-called “liberal” rulings has evaporated.

In fact, for the first time in decades, Democrats in 2008 are likely to benefit more from those concerned about the Court’s direction.

The above factors further confirm, as I wrote in December, that the United States is on the brink of a new progressive era. And while many thought class issues would be propelling this leftward movement, few could have foreseen how the Democrats traditional bugaboos of race and gay rights would help fuel progressive electoral victories.

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