Back in 1969 I was a college sophomore, and, although the word did not yet exist, a pretty nerdy kid who liked to read nerdy books no one else would read. One of these books, hot off the press, was The Emerging Republican Majority by Kevin Phillips. Phillips argued, convincingly, that the country was entering a new political era of conservative Republican rule, and his conclusions seemed impossible to refute. I was particularly impressed by his 147 charts and 47 maps that offered seeming unarguable proof of his thesis. I spent hours lying in the sun of the campus mall pouring over these awesome maps - maps and charts showing, for example, county by county votes of the 1928 presidential elections. Nothing to match the multi-colored interactive maps published on Daily Kos, but impressive for 1969.
Since President Obama's re-election, many diaries and comments have been published on Daily Kos prophesizing the Emerging Democratic Majority, a majority made inevitable by demographic change and Republican extremism. So I thought it would be interesting to reread this book of an earlier political era. Finding a copy was not that easy. Only the central downtown library carried it, and it had long ago been removed from the shelves and consigned to the storage vaults under the building. I had to ask the librarian to climb down the narrow stairs to retrieve the library's copy, and he dutifully did so, staring at the book, then at me, then at the book, then I me, then at the book, and then at me. I wonder what he was thinking?
Well, it was a great read in 1969, but a chore this time around. My thoughts below the squiggly line.
Flipping over the title page, one reads the following:
This book is respectfully dedicated to the emerging Republican majority and its two principal architects: President Richard M. Nixon and Attorney General John N. Mitchell.When I read that back in 1969, I must have thought that dedication to have been appropriate. Today, I think, Wow, the Unindicted Co-Conspirator and the Convicted Felon!
In rereading this book, it is clear to me that Kevin Phillips did not want the Republican Party to be the Party of NO, the party of reactionary politics. "Liberal" had become a dirty word, but Phillips wanted the Republican Party to be known as the party of progressivism and populism. The Establishment - a dirty word to the anti-war and other street protesters of the late 1960's - was now represented by the Democratic Party, the party of the New Deal and social programs that had become the status quo. Preserving these programs was conservatism, true progressives support change, and the Republican Party of 1969 was the Party of Change. But what change did they advocate? Phillips never said.
What struck me in 2013 that did not affect me in 1969 was the book's racism, or, if not explicit racism, then a willingness to remain indifferent to racism in order to win the votes of the racists. In the Introduction, we learn that there is a "Negro problem [that has] become a national problem rather than a local one," and this "Negro problem" is the principal cause of the breakup of the New Deal coalition. And Phillips returns again and again as to how the Democrats' obsession with "Negros" is dooming the Democratic Party. For example, on page 458:
[T]he California Interior was considerably more Democratic than the state as a whole during the years between 1936 and 1956, but since the rise of the civil rights and Negro revolutions, the gap has been shrinking. The explanation is simple: the Democratic ideology of the Pacific Interior is geared to progressivism, the New Deal and the Fair Deal - to public power, government agricultural programs and irrigation projects - rather than to the new Establishment liberalism and its preoccupation with urban change and racial integration.Phillips did not see the majority white electorate as monolithic. For Phillips, voting patterns were and, in 1969, still motivated by ethnic, religious and national origins: Descendants of German Catholics voted like this, descendants of Scandinavian Protestants voted like that, etc. Personally, I doubt that one's European ancestry plays any role in how the white majority votes today. For the past 44 years, there's been a lot of mixing; the ancestors of today's white American often hail from numerous parts of Europe.
Yet regardless of ancestry, for Phillips, the overwhelming majority of American whites were conservative, unhappy over Negro (to use his word) advancement, and unhappy over social programs that supposedly helped Negros and no one else (and Phillips says not a word to dispel the falsity of the latter notion). There were only two groups of white folks who would still vote for politicians that favored the interests of the Negros over the interests of the majority, and they were "Yankees", primarily residing in New England but some of whom had spread out to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Pacific Northwest, and Jews. I'm not too sure I understand who these "Yankees" were or are, but they have always been the most conservative force in the country, routinely voting for the status quo and conservative Republicans, but now they vote for Democrats - the party that by 1969 was really representing conservatism (as Phillips defines it) and the status quo.
Aside from these two groups, white voters will ensure that the Republicans rule the country for decades to come. Many of these voters had been lifelong Democrats, but they could no longer abide the Democrats' preoccupation with Negro rights and social programs that only benefitted Negros. For many of them, George Wallace (who Phillips calls a "populist" but not a racist) was merely a way station out of the Democratic Party. Starting in 1972 and thereafter (absent future 3rd party runs), these whites would certainly be voting Republican.
And these whites were on the move. Fleeing the decaying cities - leaving them behind for the Negros and the white Democratic politicians to whom the Negros are beholden - and creating white, conservative rings around the cities (absent older and wealthier liberal enclaves inhabited by these "Yankees") that will increasingly outnumber the Negros back in the cities. And these whites were on the move from the decaying Northeast and Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, a Great Migration in reverse, to the South transforming Florida and the former Confederacy, to the Southwest transforming Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California into impenetrable bastions of conservative Republicanism.
California, our largest state, had become all but hopeless for the Democrats, as conservative Republican Southern California outnumbered liberal "Establishment" San Francisco and Berkeley and their environs, and the rest of liberal "Establishment Northern California. For Philips, the entire South, the entire Southwest, most of the Heartland south of the decaying old cities, and the Rocky Mountains and all the West outside of Washington and Oregon, were safely conservative and Republican. Democrats will predominate in New York and New England, and they have a chance of occasionally taking Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, but these states are not enough to win the Presidency.
That was 1969. What happened to change all that?
For one thing, Phillips was not so arrogant that he predicted a permanent Republican majority, only a Republican majority that would last 32 to 36 years, and that would include the occasional Democratic victory.
To structure a mathematical perspective reaching back to 1828, political history divides into four cycles: 1828-60, 1860-96, 1896-1932 and 1932-68. All four cycles lasted thirty-two or thirty-six years, and all four included steady rule by one party, with an interregnum of just eight years when the lesser party held power. The interregnums were: 1) the tenures of Whig generals Harrison and Taylor amidst the otherwise Democratic span of 1828-60; 2) the two Grover Cleveland administrations in the 1860-96 post-Civil War era; 3) the two Woodrow Wilson administrations amidst the 1896-1932 rule of industrial Republicanism; and 4) the Eisenhower years in the middle of the 1932-68 New Deal Democratic cycle. The Nixon administration seems destined by precedent to be the beginning of a new Republican era.If 1968 to 2008 was a Republican era, then it too had interregnums: the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and the two administrations of President Clinton, elected with 43% of the vote in 1992 thanks to Ross Perot siphoning off 19% of the vote. Both Democratic presidents were arguably Republican Lite - pushing the deregulation that contributed to the Great Recession of 2008, with Clinton proclaiming, "The era of big government is over!"
Much has been written on Daily Kos by diarists smarter than me about how the Republican Party is fated to a long decline. Kevin Phillips did not foresee the white America would no longer be the overwhelming majority they were in 1969, and, in fact, that we would be fated to become a Minority Majority nation. Phillips conceded that Hispanics were a growing and important presence in Texas, Southern California, and New Mexico, but he asserted that they would not be numerous enough to be part of a majority coalition. Phillips saw California, New Mexico and Nevada as integral cogs of Republican rule - that didn't last for the 32 or 36 years he had predicted. Nor did Maryland and Delaware remain the battleground states as he had predicted. And not everyone moving to the South and Southwest was a right wing racist - for example, the migration into North Carolina's Research Triangle has helped to make that state competitive.
Nor did Phillips foresee that religious fundamentalists would become one of the dominating components of the Republican coalition. Their presence and dominance has been both a blessing and curse for the Party. A blessing, as these people have been enthusiastic in promoting the Party, a curse, because their demands on abortion, and their ignorance of basic science, repel so many.
The inner suburbs of our cities are no longer dominated by racist whites who have fled "the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological" social programs of the cities. Housing discrimination is now illegal, and the inner suburbs, if not the outer suburbs, are no longer 100% lily white, and are no longer Republican bastions.
The Emerging Republican Majority was silent as to what the Republican Party would be for (other than a promise of vigorous enforcement of existing civil rights laws, with no new civil rights laws to be enacted). Republicans sought to build their 32 or 36 years of promised rule on racial resentments and lies as to who was benefiting from Food Stamps and other Great Society programs. This negativity has little appeal to younger voters, and particularly educated younger voters, who thankfully are less likely to share the racial prejudices of the parents and grandparents. Was a Party built on moderate racism and lies bound to fail; were the wealthy manipulators destined to lose control over their minions? I think that is what happened.