Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan could have saved his breath when he furiously demanded that GOP leaders denounce the blatant racists among them. The loud chorus from other Democrats, civil rights leaders, and even an on line petition from an advocacy group begging the GOP to speak out against its naked bigots is a good preaching to the choir, PR gambit but it won't change anything at the GOP top. The GOP would cut its throat if it denounced its racists and racism, and really meant it. The shouts, taunts, spitting, catcalls, joker posters, N word slurs, Confederate and Texas Lone Star flag waving, by tea baggers is and has been an indispensable political necessity for the GOP.
Despite the GOP's narrow health care defeat, maybe even because of it, the GOP's programmed racist public ugliness is having some success. Obama's approval ratings, always tenuous at best among white males, have plunged into free fall among them. A bare 35 percent of them say they will back Democrats in the fall mid-term elections, and less than half of white women say they will back Democrats.
The spark to reignite the GOP's traditional conservative, lower income white male loyalists, and increasingly white female supporters, has always been there. The final presidential vote gave ample warning of that. While Obama made a major breakthrough in winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters, contrary to popular perception, McCain (not Obama) won a slim majority of their vote in the final tally. Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. Overall McCain garnered nearly 60 percent of the white vote.
The GOP could not have been competitive during campaign 2008 without the bail out from white male voters. Much has been made since then that they are a dwindling percent of the electorate, and that Hispanics, Asian, black, young, and women voters will permanently tip the balance of political power to the Democrats in coming national elections. Blue collar white voters have shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters to less than forty percent. The assumption based solely on this slide and the increased minority population numbers and regional demographic changes is that the GOP's white vote strategy is doomed to fail. This ignores three political facts. Elections are usually won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. And they voted in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks.
The GOP leaders have long known that blue collar white male voters can be easily aroused to vote and shout loudly on the emotional wedge issues; abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and rights, and tax cuts. For fourteen months, they whipped up their hysteria and borderline racism against health care reform. This was glaringly apparent in ferocity and bile spouted by the shock troops the GOP leaders in consort with the tea baggers brought out to harangue, harass and bully Democrat legislators on the eve of the health care vote. These are the very voters that GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, and McCain and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons banked for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance.
But the GOP's best efforts to stir and keep them stirred into frenzy wouldn't get to first base if millions didn't genuinely believe that Obama was the anti-Christ (new Gallup poll) and that every Democrat before him had turned government into a Frankenstein monster to tax them out of their gourd to create endless social programs that benefit minorities at the expense of hard-working whites. This is exactly how hate groups, the legion of anti-Obama Web sites and bloggers, and radio talk jocks craft the reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government.
The GOP's win with white vote strategy failed in 2008 only because of the rage and disgust of legions of white voters at Bush's horribly failed and flawed domestic and war policies. This was more a personal and visceral reaction to the bumbles of Bush than a radical and permanent sea change in overall white voter sentiment about Obama, the Democrats, and the GOP. Even if the GOP is, as is widely seen, an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue-collar whites this is not a voting demographic to mock, ridicule, sneered at, let alone dismiss, because the numbers are still huge.
The GOP driven by personal instincts, political leanings, history, demographics, and raw political need has masterfully played the race card for a half century to get its way. Asking it to stop now would be asking it to cut its own throat.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.