Carol Swain in affiliation with Prager U attempts to rewrite history in a vain attempt to discredit the Southern Strategy as just a modern tale of American mythology. Instead she and Prager “University” yet again engage in fake history, in another example of an easy to understand but hard to take seriously five-minute cartoon that they insist is better than a liberal education. This implication can be safely made by witnessing their continual put-down of professors and universities. But like Professor Swain’s previous video which I unabashedly criticized (see that here), this one is consumed with the same trite right-wing farcical points that don’t hold up to even the slightest of analysis.
Professor Carol Swain: “In the 1960’s and 1970’s, everything supposedly flipped: suddenly the Republicans became the racists and the Democrats became the champions of civil rights.”
No, things just didn’t flip – instead the process was initiated during this time. The Southern Strategy was not a sudden transformation, as a political sea change of this magnitude does not happen overnight. It began with a moment of instigation, with the Republican party gradually becoming accepted by racists in the South, and eventually being unequivocally deemed as the party of their choice with the election of Reagan.
In examining presidential elections over this timeline, a fading of southern blue being replaced by red becomes apparent as the effect of the Southern Strategy emerges and becomes fully solidified during Reagan’s presidency. The Republican message was no longer ambiguous.
Swain: Claims that the “myth” of the Southern Strategy was to “..win elections by winning the south. And to win the south, appeal to racists.”
But this was no myth. Nixon adviser Kevin Phillips has flat out stated this to be true and summarized the strategy– his actual quote is provided here at the end. Appealing to the southern racists was unmistakably it’s center focus.
Have things changed much? Do Republican’s no longer try to appeal to the racists? Was it Hillary Clinton who received support from the KKK and white supremacists in the last election? “Very fine people” was the phrase used to describe some of those participating in a white supremacists rally – was that a Democrat or a Republican who said that?
How about Donald Trump playing dumb about David Duke, white supremacy, and the KKK as seen here:
Swain then gets to her main point, discussing three myths regarding the Southern Strategy.
Swain: “Myth #1: In order to be competitive in the south, Republican’s pandered to white racists in the 1960’s. Fact: Republicans actually became competitive in the South as early as 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover won over 47 percent of the South’s popular vote against Democrat Al Smith.”
Swain picks 1928 as the year the Republicans “become competitive.” There is a huge difference in citing one year in which you were competitive, as opposed representing that year as the one in which you “became competitive.”
The truthful comment is the former, but Swain disingenuously picks to go with the later. Here is how “competitive” the Republicans in the South actually were in the presidential elections that followed:
1932 – total southern states that voted Republican: 0
1936 – total southern states that voted Republican: 0
1940 – total southern states that voted Republican: 0
1944 – total southern states that voted Republican: 0
1948 – total southern states that voted Republican: 0
In fact, since that 1928 election cited by Swain, a Republican presidential candidate had not won a single southern state until the election of 1952. That represents 24 straight years of zero southern acceptance. Yes, the Republicans were competitive in that one single year of 1928, but they certainly didn’t “become competitive” at that point.
Fast forward to the elections of the 1960’s as this is the important decade from which the Southern Strategy was born – the Republicans never won the overall southern vote in any of those elections. This showed an obvious need for Republicans to appeal to white racists in the South.
Swain: “In 1952, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower won the southern states of Tennessee, Florida, and Virginia...and in 1956, he picked up Louisiania, Kentucky, and West Virginia too.”
She is correct with her figures, but their lies one major problem – she’s talking about the elections from the early-to-mid 1950’s. The Southern Strategy was conceptualized and enacted in the mid-to-late 1960’s. She cherry-picked the year 1956 which not coincidentally, was the last year the Republicans would have success in the South until after the Southern Strategy was initiated.
In the very next presidential election in 1960, Republicans won only 5 of the 14 southern states. The good news was they still had the support of Texas and it’s high number of electoral college votes.
But then came the next election in 1964 – again, only five states were carried by Republicans. But this time Texas is lost, massively diminishes their electoral vote count. Things were looking desperate.
And what happened in the election of 1968 should end any discussion of which party was gravitating toward the openly racist candidates:
In the previous presidential election in 1964, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina were those five states that voted Republican. In the very next election in 1968, four out of those five states voted for Independent George Wallace (“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”), with South Carolina being the only one that stayed Republican.
This bears emphasis and shows clear evidence of what the southern Republican voters found appealing- and they made it known at the polls. For Wallace, who previous ran as a Democrat, back in the era where Democrats did try to win votes with racist messaging, no longer had Democratic appeal with one single exception being Arkansas. Rather, his racist messaging won him four of the five states that had voted Republican in the election prior.
In other words, 80% of the states that had voted Republican in the previous election in 1964, had instead cast their votes for the openly racist Independent Wallace.
Swain: “Myth #2: Southern Democrats, angry with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, switched parties.”
Here Swain sets up a straw man. I’ve never heard of any credible historian claim that the southern Democrats switched parties at, or soon after the signing of the CRA of 1964 as she’s making it sound. Because it’s easily verifiable that there was no instant party switch. I know not of a spokesman or writer of any prominence who has claimed that the switch happened instantaneously.
What the CRA represented was the catalyst that gradually led to the implementation of the Southern Strategy and set up the respective parties to be what they eventually became today. That fateful 1968 election was the spark that set that plan in motion, clearly showing who the Republican party needed to pander to from that point on.
Swain: “Myth #3: Since the implementation of the southern strategy, the Republican’s have dominated the south.”
This is not a myth. One can look at each of the southern states individually, and see how they voted in the presidential elections here: https://www.270towin.com/states/
Look at any of those states. You’ll notice that starting in 1970, the southern states stopped becoming blue and now were turning redder with every ensuing election. A few periodic exceptions are noted such as support for southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in Georgia and Arkansas which she will soon mention.
Swain: “Fact: Richard Nixon, the man who is often credited with creating the Southern Strategy, lost the Deep South in 1968.”
Extremely misleading by Swain. Yes, Nixon “lost the deep south” but the Democrats lost even worse, winning only Texas. Nixon still won Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. As previously mentioned, this is because George Wallace ran as an independent and made no effort to hide his racism – and as a result took four of the five states that previously voted Republican.
If you’re going to make a fair and credible argument not saturated in right-wing bias, you can’t just discuss the 1968 “deep south” vote without even mentioning that it was Independent and racist George Wallace who dominated the region. Republican Nixon came in second, with Democrat Hubert Humphrey getting the least support.
Swain: “In contrast, Democrat Jimmy Carter nearly swept the region in 1976 – 12 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Yes – Jimmy Carter was in fact a fellow southerner from Georgia who of course would get southern votes at that time. From this point on, the shift was obvious and quickly occurring, as no Democrat has won the south since.
Swain: “And in 1992, over 28 years later, Democrat Bill Clinton won Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.”
Yes, Clinton did win those states- but he still couldn’t win the majority of the south, whether you look at it in terms of population or electoral votes. He still lost Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.
So Swain’s best example showing southern support for the Democrats over the past 42 years was an election in which Democrat Clinton was handedly defeated in the South by Republican George H.W. Bush 116 – 52 in the southern Electoral College.
Swain: “The truth is, Republicans didn’t hold a majority of southern congressional seats until 1994, 30 years after the Civil Rights Act. As Kevin Williamson of the National Review writes: ‘If southern rednecks ditched the Democrats because of a civil-rights law passed in 1964, it is strange that they waited until the late 1980s and early 1990s to do so. They say things move slower in the south — but not that slow.‘”
As previously mentioned, you could see an obvious shift begin in the elections of the early 1970’s. And it’s no surprise that we saw the South transition to Republicans, as it become absolutely verifiable in the late 1980’s. For if the Southern Strategy had faded a bit with the southern support of a good man like Jimmy Carter, the election of Reagan reignited that flame of southern racism.
By the end of his term, there was no mistake which party the racists felt compelled to affiliate themselves with. Political candidates could now become openly racist again with David Duke, Jesse Helms, and James L. Hart, actually running as Republicans and winning elections in the South.
I’m left wondering if Dr. Swain or Kevin Williamson have an answer to why all of the candidates with openly racist messages have run as Republicans in this last quarter-century. In fact, going back to the late 1960’s, I cannot find one single Democrat, yet a handful of Republicans who have campaigned with openly racist tonality.
Swain: “So, what really happened? Why does the South now vote overwhelmingly Republican? Because the South itself has changed. Its values have changed. The racism that once defined it, doesn’t anymore. Its values today are conservative ones: pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-small government.”
There are big problems with this statement, as if the “conservative values” she mentioned simply replaced racism. As if racism can just be dropped from regional institutions after generations of acceptance and practice, and replaced with wholesome conservative habits and ideology.
Rather, instead of replacement, racism often becomes supplemental to those conservative ideals, rarely finding open racists who are favor of gun-control, or “big” government programs.
In other words, conservative values didn’t replace racism held by some Republicans in the south, they simply got added onto their list of ideological beliefs which had already included racism.
Swain: “And here’s the proof: Southern whites are far more likely to vote for a black conservative, like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, than a white liberal.”
But that isn’t proof at all, rather an instance – one that involved a single Senator, in a single state, during a single election. This occurrence certainly doesn’t prove that “southern whites are far more likely to vote for a black conservative”.
And even if this were true, Swain should consider why it is such a rare occurrence for an African-American to run as Conservatives compared to the large percentage who run as Democrats. Democrats don’t have to say “We’re not the party that racists identify with, let me tell you about a single instance when black candidate ran as a Democrat and won.” Democrats routinely have dozens of black candidates along with other minorities who run for office and win elections.
Swain: “In short, history has moved on. Like other regions of the country, the South votes values, not skin color. The myth of the Southern Strategy is just the Democrats’ excuse for losing the South, and yet another way to smear Republicans with the label “racist.”
But as shown in documented statements and texts, along with the agreement of the vast majority of scholars, professors, historians, and other experts, the Southern Strategy is no myth. Instead powerful right-wing think-tanks and other institutions with a tremendous amount of time, money and effort, create fake history such as this, in a desperate attempt to rebrand their product – a tainted Republican Party.
As a result, we now get Carol Swain who is the one actually engaging in myth-creation, as she tries to convince us that southern racism has been replaced clean and righteous conservative values.
The following statement is neither mythical nor ambivalent, illustrating the plan of the Southern Strategy with the very words of one of it’s architects- Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Philips:
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
What’s more disturbing than Swain’s inaccuracies, distortions, and outright lies, is the popularity of the video itself. Many are more willing to accept a fake rewrite of history that conforms with their ideology instead of actually questioning any of Swain’s mostly baseless commentary. Swain’s case runs in defiance of actual documented and verifiable facts and testimony, such as Philips’ quote above. But unfortunately for many, exploring and potentially accepting the illegitimacy of her argument may also require a reexamination of what they once considered truthful sources. And because they’ve tied so much of their identity and belief system to these sources, it makes for a hard pill to swallow.