Let me start with this: Candace Owens is wholly unqualified to speak at a Congressional hearing on the rise of white nationalism. Full stop. She has no training, formal or otherwise, as a historian. She is a journalism school drop out who peddles conspiracy theories online. On her best day, she is a low-rent con artist.
That the current GOP would see fit to give her a platform to discuss the topic of white supremacy and white nationalism is unsurprising. They party long since abandoned even a pretense to intellectual integrity or legitimacy and now freely encourages any clown willing to debase themselves to promote their “version” of reality. One of their favorite fantasies turned talking points is the one Owens clumsily promoted today—that the Southern Strategy is a myth.
Ironically, I guess this actually make Owens the perfect person to come explain the rise of white supremacy and white nationalism. It is largely rooted in historical ignorance and the incredibly effective sales pitched performed by the GOP since the 1960s.
Conservatives have been alternatively aknowledging their support for white supremacy and denying it depending on their audience since the moment Nixon put the Southern Strategy into practice. For over half a century, Republicans have been shouting “Jim Crow was a Democratic platform” whenever the heat got too great on some racial issue, but then turning around and running a Willie Horton ad. The idea that Jim Crow was a Democratic practice is a half-truth, at best. Ideas as large as white supremacy have never been neatly contained in our two-party system. Hell, in the early 20th century both parties referred to their candidates as progressives. The parties are not monolithic or static. But this particular form of GOP revision is absurd in nature. It is an undeniable historical fact that the Dixiecrats– a popular term for the southern Democrats for whom the issue of white supremacy was always #1– switched teams in the mid-1960s and became the backbone of the new GOP.
Since the mid-1960s, the modern conservative movement has catered to the white supremacists (and later added homophobes, though one suspects a great deal of overlap in these bigoted populations) as an intentional electoral strategy by the party apparatus. As I have said before, from both top-down and bottom-up sources, white supremacy has deeply embedded itself in the modern conservative movement.
Historians refer to these two phenomena as “The Southern Strategy” (the top-down strategy) and “The Suburban Strategy” (the bottom-up, grass-roots strategy). The Southern Strategy that Owens attacked today is the more well-known of the two. Popularized by the 1970 article “Nixon’s Southern Strategy: It’s All in the Charts” by James Boyd of the New York Times, it represents the GOP’s open attempt to court disaffected white southerners who were unhappy with desegregation. The Republicans knew that this move would alienate blacks permanently moving forward. Nixon political strategist Kevin Phillips explains:
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.
These are not the words of a liberal historian years after the fact. They are the words of one of the men who created the strategy just after having run it to great success. And you do not have to take any historian’s word for it (you never do– that is the great thing about history). Go read the source for yourself.
There was no Blexit from the Republican party to some imagined Democrat “plantation” full of handouts and victim mentalities that some sellout like Owens can reverse. The Republican Party straight up abandoned black people in favor of white bigots.
For the most comprehensive takedown of Owens stupidity, take a look at this thread from Kevin Kruse.
The racism of the Southern Strategy was not the white hooded, full-throated hatred of a klan rally, but the racism of basic math. The bigotry of the technocrat.
While the strategy was explicitly designed to swing the south Republican, Phillips also predicted that it could shift many counties in the north based on ethnic composition. You can see it in how he described why Boston Irish Catholics had not yet joined their natural conservative allies in the GOP:
It’s because there are not enough Negroes and Jews in Boston to take over local Democratic organizations and send the other ethnics whooping into the Republican party. But it will come.
And come it did. In largely white working-class areas voters fled the Democratic party that had been their home as the pro-union party in favor of the pro-business but anti-black/Jew Republican party.
The GOP, from Nixon on, stoked racial division as an electoral strategy. They did so openly. Phillips was not a pariah for making these remarks. This was no secret strategy– it was out there for all the world to see. People who voted Republican in the 60s and 70s (or had parents/grandparents that did) might not want to admit it, but they knew damn well that the newly emerging conservative movement stood against integration and for segregation.
In short, the Southern Strategy was a recognition on the part of savvy Republican demographics experts and political strategists to capitalize on emerging population trends (like the reverse of the recommendations from the Romney autopsy in 2012). For all their talk about ideological purity, purging the RINOS, and needing to “fight” the liberals and establishment, the real motivating factor behind much of the GOPs campaign rhetoric in the last half-century has been one of white identity politics and not a commitment to conservative ideals. Often, this is where I lose my conservative friends and family. For many conservative intellectuals, there has been a genuine belief in the philosophical and economic principles of their movement. And there is merit to many of these concepts, in a vacuum. For these thinkers (and voters), it was never about race, just ideas. And for decades they believed that the majority of the base thought this way too. This is not true. And it probably never was. As Avik Roy, a Republican health care policy wonk and editor at Forbes who worked for three Republican presidential hopefuls (Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio) told a reporter at Vox, “the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”
Roy said this mournfully. Like a true believer, he seemed genuinely hurt by the realization that individual rights and equality were double-speak for his base. That when they advocated for local control it wasn’t just because they better know the problems (and theoretically, the solutions) to local problems than some desk jockey in Washington. It was because they wanted to use that power to discriminate against others.
As Roy says:
It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.
All of the dog whistles become audible when you realize this fact. Calling black people accused of crimes thugs and criminals who deserve to have aggressive/violent police actions taken against them while demanding patience and discretion when discussing whites accused of crimes isn’t a race-neutral way of talking about crime. It is white supremacy. Calling immigrants rapists, drug dealers, and animals is not common sense or “telling it like it is.” It is white supremacy. Chanting “Jews will not replace us” is not decent behavior from very fine people. It is white supremacy. Pretending that statues of Confederates put up by southerners trying to whitewash the history of the Civil War has nothing to do with celebrating racial chattel slavery and the antebellum Southern way of life isn’t overly romanticized nostalgia. It is white supremacy.
The Southern Strategy was never a liberal fantasy, or some myth constructed by polemic professors to turn good conservative kids against their parent’s political faith. It is a factual part of the historical record available to anyone with a WiFi connection and the ability to read. It has been the backbone of Republican electoral strategy since the late 1960s. It is white supremacy.