"Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them."Lee Atwater famously said, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can't say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. […] You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger’.”
"Faith, hope and love - the greatest of these things is love."
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
Tying Republican fortunes to the white vote made electoral sense in the early 1970s. But since 1980, the white share of the electorate has fallen in every consecutive election. During the 1990s, the Southern Strategy was redirected less on the South itself and more on a general concept that successfully uses wedge issues such as family values, abortion and gun ownership.
We now call it “Dog Whistle” politics when they use the core principles of the Southern Strategy on a national level to help generate support in new regions of the country, mostly rural areas and the Midwest. It works because it allows them to deny racism while at the same time playing on fears of “reverse racism” and economic victimization.
Remember the hatred they expressed for Clinton, whose inclusive politics led the right to call him the “first black president.” And they didn’t mean it as a compliment.
But increasingly they’re fishing in a smaller pond due to demographic changes. Whether or not their candidates are racists (and I don’t believe Romney is), they have come to realize that they have no choice but to use the dog whistle to win. For example, Romney needs 61% of the white vote from a white turnout of 74%. In 2008, John McCain got 55% from the same turnout. The only way out is the double-down on overtly racist rhetoric.
Senator Lindsey Graham admitted, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
It’s all wrapped in a religious veneer, but there’s very little religious conviction behind it – it’s a foil to legitimize their strategy, and it’s put them in a terrible position with the nomination of a Mormon as their standard bearer.
So, where are the right-wing religious fundamentalists and their faux-religious outrage in this election cycle?
They’re nowhere to be seen because the Republicans can’t risk having that conversation – it’s a mess for them. A big huge pile of steaming dog crap that came out of their own collective asshole, and they’re scared to death to step in it.
Romney’s religion is strictly off limits this time and Democrats are more than happy to oblige because it is a part of their core political conviction that religion should remain a strictly private matter.
Let’s connect the dots a bit here.
Four years ago, then-Senator Obama was vilified because of a few statements of Black Liberation Theology made by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. These were statements he says he never even heard but the right-wing jumped all over him demanding to know, “How could you sit in that church for 20 years?”
On the other hand, the Mormon Church ended its policy barring black men from their priesthood in 1978. Mitt Romney was 31-years-old. Just like Obama, he could have disavowed his religious leaders or gotten up and walked out of that church at any point during those 31 years, but he chose not to. How come he never got asked, “How could you sit in that church for 31 years?”
Why does Romney get a pass when Obama doesn’t? Let me make this really easy for you: Because Obama and his former pastor are black. The Southern Strategy says that, because they’re white, Romney and the Mormon Church are victims and are deserving of cultural self-forgiveness. It gives them the power to degrade other people while maintaining a sense of martyrdom.
Think about it.
What happened to the Saddleback Church Forum, the all-important right-wing litmus test of religious bona fides that look place four years ago (on national television) when both Obama and McCain were required to kiss the ring of pastor Rick Warren at his megachurch in Orange County, California? If it is so important to the right-wingers that we know exactly where a politician stands on matters of faith and morality, why didn’t we have the chance to see Mitt Romney discuss the particulars of his Mormon belief in the plurality of gods and his rejection of the Trinity?
The response of the Republican party this time around: “Oh, never mind.”
How is it possible that the number of Republicans who think Obama is a Muslim could double since he was elected, and that less than half of all registered voters know what religion he holds (despite the Jeremiah Wright controversy which at the very least clearly showed that he’s a Protestant Christian)?
Perhaps it is because just about every Republican politician has tacitly encouraged or tolerated it. Or perhaps it’s because his religion never really mattered to them to begin with, any more than Romney’s Mormonism matters to them.
“Muslim” is a dog-whistle code-word. Add a little lunatic Birther, Bircher and now Welcher to the brew and you’ve got Romney campaign surrogates like John Sununu dog-whistling that the president “needs to learn what it means to be an American,” is “lazy” and “not that bright”.
What’s it all mean?
Peel back the religious veneer and the blatant racism is laid bare. Because the fact is, it’s not about religion and never has been. It’s about using religion to legitimize racism and xenophobia and homophobia, whip up resentment, hate and division, and ultimately, cynically grab power for the economic elites.
A PERSONAL NOTE: I hate this subject. It's the hardest thing to write about, and I know I've done it very little justice, but I'm glad I've tried. It's been a long time in the coming. Like a lot of you, I've often found myself so repulsed by it that I avoid even reading or viewing material that covers the subject. Over the years, I've searched in vain for an explanation that would let me believe that racism and xenophobia and homophobia are really not what motivates the Far Right. I want to believe in the goodness of people, but I've come to the cold hard realization that there's really no other explanation. I'm Catholic and I'm gay - not conflicted (please, no flames), but rather deeply dispirited that the Christian faith has been hijacked by the right-wing to advance their agenda that is anything but "Christian" in my mind. It chases away a lot of my liberal friends who feel rejected, angry and disgusted by the hypocrisy and hate they see on the Right, and I don't blame them for feeling that way. Christ helped the poor, befriended outcasts and "sinners" and healed the sick (for free). All of my heroes have been progressives, and they were also Christians: Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to name a few (not to say there aren't plenty of progressives I admire who were not Christian, because there are lots of them, too). But it's truly painful to see something so admirable be distorted beyond recognition, isn't it?