Misdirected Ant-Gay ‘Minority Strategy’

by Stephen H. Miller on December 15, 2012

Walter Olson takes the GOP’s social conservatives to task for their erroneous belief that opposing equality for gay people will attract anti-gay black and Hispanic voters:

Suppose the party were to drop its odd view of minority voters as motivated mostly by (and in favor of) social conservatism. It might instead choose to appeal to them on the same grounds as other citizens; that is, by emphasizing questions of fiscal soundness, better grasp of national defense and the needs of small business, and other historic themes from the long-past Nixon-Eisenhower era when Republicans used to do better with the minority vote. Alternatively (or in addition), it might resolve to listen to what minorities actually say about why they view the parties the way they do, perhaps with a special ear to the voices of younger voters who might be more open to rethinking old political habits.

But that would take some fresh thinking. One thing is for sure, we’re unlikely to see it from the likes of anti-gay Sen. Jim DeMint, newly appointed head of the socially conservative Heritage Foundation, which was instrumental in getting the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to ban GoProud, a gay conservative group.

{ 15 comments }

Houndentenor December 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm

The bad news: more of the same from the socialcons. The good news: Jim DeMint resigns from the Senate. (In terms of gay issues, almost any replacement would be an improvement.)

Tom Scharbach December 16, 2012 at 11:22 am

Republican opposition to marriage equality is and has always been a “wedge” issue, intended to separate Democratic constituencies from Democratic politicians. The 2012 strategy of using the wedge to separate out African Americans and Hispanics is the most recent incarnation of the strategy.

In its earlier incarnation, the wedge was aimed at Archie Bunker Democrats (“Reagan Democrats”, if you will), older, white, male, working class Northern Democratic voters who saw the Democratic Party at the time as championing the poor, feminists, the unemployed, African Americans and Latinos. The “Reagan Democrats” were more or less the direct descendants of the “Wallace Democrats”, and were, among other things, intensely social conservative, not so much out of religious conviction (as is the case with white Evangelicals) as out of fear and disgust.

The Republican strategy was designed to leverage that fear and disgust in order to amplify the sense of dislocation and anger among the “Reagan Democrats”, piecing together, between religiously-motivated Evangelical Christians, fear and disgust motivated Archie Bunker Democrats, and cynical “moderate” and libertarian-minded Republicans who were willing to cast aside decency in order to maintain power, a coalition that could win the 2004 Presidential election.

It worked in 2004, the election cycle in which Republican politicians launched anti-marriage amendments in about half the states. It worked so well, in fact, that it set back the struggle for gay and lesbian equality at least a decade, and probably longer. And “moderate” and libertarian-minded Republicans got the result they sought — a second term for George Bush. All was well with the wedge.

But, like the “Southern Strategy” from which it was gestated, the wedge was destined to work only so long before it began to backfire.

The wedge stopped working for Republicans in 2004, in Wisconsin. Republicans drove an anti-marriage amendment through two legislative sessions (2002-2004 and 2004-2006) along party-line votes, and Wisconsin’s anti-marriage amendment won handily on the November 2006 ballot. The fly in the ointment was the the Archie Bunker Democrats turned out in force to vote against marriage equality but ended up voting for a very unpopular Democratic governor, Jim Doyle, on “pocket book” issues. The disparity between amendment vote and gubernatorial vote among the Archie Bunker Democrats was strong enough in Wisconsin that year that post-election analysis by the Milwaukee Journal demonstrated that the Archie Bunker turnout driven by anti-marriage amendment provided the margin that re-elected Governor Doyle.

The 2006 election in Wisconsin should have been a warning to Republicans about using “faggot, faggot” as a wedge going forward. It was not. The strategy continued, but shifted focus.

As gays and lesbians slowly but surely began to win white Americans over to the idea of equality, the strategy shifted to using the wedge to separate out African-American and Hispanic voters from the Democratic Party base.

The strategy was not accidental or haphazard. The strategy was, as Walter Olson suggests, carefully designed and executed to drive a wedge among African-American and Hispanic voters in 2012. The strategy was cynical and unprincipled, typical of anti-gay groups like NOM, FRC, AFA and the like.

The problem with the strategy is that it was, again typically, crafted in a fact-free zone.

Pew’s 2012 National Survey of Latinos suggests that Hispanic voters are more supportive of marriage equality (52-34) than the general public (48-44), and that is true among all segments of the Hispanic community. In particular, among the targeted Evangelical voters, the split is White 19-86, Hispanic 25-66. That is a huge differential, the largest among the subgroup differences. Pew’s 2012 polling is consistent with earlier polls. The fact is that widespread Hispanic opposition to marriage equality, relative to the general population, is and was an unsupported myth. The fact is and has been for years that Hispanics are slightly more inclined to accept marriage equality than the general population.

Among African-Americans, support for marriage equality has been historically less than among the general population (as late as 2010-2011, polling was showing about a 10 point drop off in support from the general public to African-Americans, but the most recent polls show that the gap is narrowing rapidly, and in 2012, there was not much difference in the views of African-Americans and whites on marriage equality. In fact, an Edison Research exit poll suggests that a majority of African-Americans (51-44) may now support marriage equality.

Polls come and go, of course.

What doesn’t come and go is the trend line, the steady and measured progress gays and lesbians have made in winning over the American people. It looks to me at this point as if a slight majority now support marriage equality, and that will hold going forward, and that among Americans who oppose marriage equality, the percentage for whom the issue is a “voting issue” is declining. It will not be too long before the anti-gay voters are (in that wonderful Evangelical turn of phrase) a “remnant”.

The question, as Stephen and Walter Olson both point out, is how the Republican Party will respond to that fact. Will it, as it has in the past, cling to the “base” at all costs? Is the Republican primary system so structured that it must, at least for a few more election cycles? Will it become the Democratic Party of the 1950′s, split between North and South on the issue, internally unable to move forward because of the drag of the modern-day successors to the segregationists? Will it become and increasingly regional party? I don’t know the answer to those questions.

I like Walter Olson’s analogy between the modern Republican Party and the Cargo Cults. It is clever and apt.

I disagree with his closing sentence, though: “I don’t know whether the stories about South Sea Island cargo cults are exaggerated, but even if they’re not, the islanders still had more logic on their side than Republicans. At least for them the planes landed once.

The planes did land for the Republican Party. In 2004. And we are going to pay the price for years to come.

BillB December 21, 2012 at 3:18 pm

The “Reagan Democrats” were more or less the direct descendants of the “Wallace Democrats”, and were, among other things, intensely social conservative, not so much out of religious conviction (as is the case with white Evangelicals) as out of fear and disgust.

Well, ok, in some cases. But overall far too simplistic — there were a great many Reagan Democrats who supported RR because of Carter’s woeful economic stagnation and/or his exceedingly weak foreign policy. They were not all bigots, although social conservatives were a large part of the coalition, to its eventual detriment

Jorge December 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I noticed something interesting about that article.

It was completely divorced from any kind of meaningful reality for minority voters. The author wrote as if he knew nothing about their communities. Aside from an observation about immigration reform, it was completely tone-deaf.

Which is, I think, the problem. You don’t appeal to minority voters by telling them what they should think is important. (Unless you happen to brainwash them early by banning bilingual ed and indoctrinating them with how wonderful John Adams and Ben Franklin were, but since neither is actually going to happen, that endeavor is worse than useless.) You appeal to them by getting them to tell you what they think is important, and then doing it.

The 2006 election in Wisconsin should have been a warning to Republicans about using “faggot, faggot” as a wedge going forward. It was not. The strategy continued, but shifted focus.

You really need to stop making this false accusation that Republicans are using slurs against gays to try to get votes.

Tom Scharbach December 16, 2012 at 5:39 pm

The phrase “faggot, faggot”, as I’ve explained a hundred times, Jorge, refers to a calculated, cynical political strategy to leverage fear and loathing about gays and lesbians to win elections. I know that you don’t believe that the strategy was ever deployed, but you are dead wrong on that score. Too many articles and books have been written by the men and women who helped create and implement the strategy for plausible denial.

Jorge December 17, 2012 at 8:50 am

The phrase “faggot, faggot”, as I’ve explained a hundred times, Jorge, refers to a calculated, cynical political strategy to leverage fear and loathing about gays and lesbians to win elections.

And as I’ve explained a hundred times, you will not find a politician of any party who calls gays faggots without being condemned by both parties. So if you’re going to insist on playing your little political shell game you are going to be called out on it.

Tom Scharbach December 17, 2012 at 10:54 am

I’m happy to be called out.

In a literal sense, you are right. The only Republican politician I know, offhand, who has called anyone a “fag” in his official capacity is Dick Armey, who later explained that he had mispronounced Congressman Frank’s name, and apologized.

But “faggot, faggot” is not intended as a literal reference. It is a reference to a consistent, carefully planned, cynical attempt to leverage fear and loathing about gays and lesbians for political gain.

I’ll grant you that the rhetoric used by Republican politicians was no less ugly than the word “faggot”, although it has not been as direct. In pursuit of political power, Republican politicians have told the American people that our sexual orientation is unnatural, diseased, destructive and disordered, that we are akin to alcohols and criminals, that we are mentally ill, that our “lifestyle” contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, that we are unfit for marriage, that we are unfit to be parents, that we are unfit for military service, that we seek to destroy religion and on and on. If you have been awake during any significant portion of the last 25 years, you know the rhetoric as well as I do. Toned down from “faggot, faggot” it may be, but it has a clear intent: leverage fear and loathing about gays and lesbians into political power.

As you know, I used the reference to “faggot, faggot” by intention. There is a reason for my choice of terms.

The “faggot, faggot” allusion is historical, to the “nigger, nigger” politics of segregation times and the subsequent migration of those raw politics into the “Southern Strategy”.

As George Wallace reflected about his campaign for Governor of Alabama in 1962: “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.

After Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act in 1964, he predicted that Democrats would lose the South for the next 50 years. By the end of the 1960′s, the “Solid South” had become the focus of the “Southern Strategy”, in which the Republican Party actively courted the segregationist vote in the South, to great success.

The Republican Party used language that was less direct than “nigger, nigger”, as Lee Atwater, a master of racial wedge politics, reflected on the change in language during an interview with a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. ” said Atwater. 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 [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

In other words, tone down the rhetoric but play the same game.

In my view, the politics of the “Southern Strategy” and the politics of the last twenty years closely parallel each other.

In 2005, Ken Mehlman, during the period when he headed the Republican National Committee, formerly apologized for the Southern Strategy, saying, in part: “I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong [in] trying to benefit politically from racial polarization.

In March of this year, Mehlman, reflecting on his role as an architect and agent of the Republican effort to capitalize on cultural fear about gays and lesbians, personally apologize for his role in designing and implementing the strategy: ““At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort. As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved. I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry. While there have been recent victories, this could still be a long struggle in which there will be setbacks, and I’ll do my part to be helpful.”

Perhaps we will see the day when a future Chairman of the Republican National Committee apologizes for the Republican Party’s latter-day “Southern Strategy”. Perhaps not.

I use the phrase “faggot, faggot” when describing the Republican anti-gay strategy with intent, and I intend it to be jarring. You have said many times that you are a supporter of Rick Santorum. I can understand why you might be sensistive to the terminology, given his role in furthering the strategy. I’m glad you object to the terminology. I hope that you will come around to the day when you object to the strategy itself.

Jim Michaud December 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Thanks Tom for putting into words my very thoughts. You or someone else should post this on Gay Patriot, if anyone dares. I used to post there, but no more. It was just too much cognitive dissonance for me. Also, North Dallas Thirty regularly posts there. It’s impossible to have a rational, calm discussion with that guy. For all I know, he could be just an online persona for an anti-gay activist. He’s cuckoo for cocopuffs and in need of therapy.

Jorge December 17, 2012 at 8:57 pm

As you know, I used the reference to “faggot, faggot” by intention. There is a reason for my choice of terms.

The “faggot, faggot” allusion is historical, to the “nigger, nigger” politics of segregation times and the subsequent migration of those raw politics into the “Southern Strategy”.

Translation:

You really are making it up.

The Republican Party used language that was less direct than “nigger, nigger”, as Lee Atwater, a master of racial wedge politics

Only a liberal could believe something like that without also being open to possibility that the Republicans were substantively right.

And I mean every word of what I just said.

Jorge December 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm

You have said many times that you are a supporter of Rick Santorum. I can understand why you might be sensistive to the terminology, given his role in furthering the strategy

I don’t like double-posting, but I feel the need to release my inner nerd.

Rick Santorum is the only major Republican or Democrat who ran for president in 2012 who talked about gay rights during the campaign without being asked directly about it. This is inclusive of Barack Obama. You are lecturing above your pay grade.

Houndentenor December 17, 2012 at 9:42 pm

They may not have wanted to bring up the topic but they certainly didn’t delete the anti-gay stuff from the party platform.

Tom Scharbach December 17, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Rick Santorum is the only major Republican or Democrat who ran for president in 2012 who talked about gay rights during the campaign without being asked directly about it.

Can you think of a single thing that Rick Santorum said during his candidacy supporting gay rights? I can’t.

Translation: You really are making it up.

The Southern Strategy is well documented, and in fact, was acknowledged by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee in a formal, official apology to African-Americans in 2005, as quoted in my earlier comment. The facts aren’t in dispute. It happened, it was intentional, and it was wrong.

The fact of determined Republican opposition to “equal means equal” and the use of marriage equality as a wedge issue are equally well documented, in articles and books written by men and women who helped create and implement the strategy. There is no room for plausible denial.

To claim that I’m “making up” the Southern Strategy and the widespread use of marriage equality and other issues surrounding “equal means equal” (e.g. DADT repeal, adoption by gays and lesbians and so on) as a “wedge” is absurd, Jorge. The attempt to seperate out African-Americans and Hispanics from the Democratic majority using that wedge is just the latest example of a longstanding political strategy.

Whether the Southern Strategy and the “faggot, faggot” strategy are two kittens out of the same litter, is a matter of opinion, I suppose, but the facts exist and aren’t in dispute.

Don December 18, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I just don’t bother with Jorge anymore. A person who supports Rick Santorum on a gay discussion site isn’t worth talking to. If he believes Santorum will be good for gay people, then OF COURSE the Southern Strategy never existed.

Better luck debating Rush Limbaugh on gun control or birth control. At least Rush would feign to admit facts into evidence.

Jorge wouldn’t want to have a gun control (or lack thereof) discussion because nothing has happened recently to warrant the topic coming up.

What dead children? What are you talking about? Rick Santorum is a savior for gays. I don’t know what you mean? No, really. He wants to SAVE them.

Don December 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Thanks, Tom. Very thoughtful and detailed analysis. And I did learn quite a few things as well.

Much of the hard-right doesn’t understand the true nature of the messaging they are hit with. States rights has long been code for no free rides for non-whites. This is why no one screams “states rights!” for abortion or gay rights. It’s not a consistent position, it is a convenient one.

I believe one of the right’s biggest challenges is decoupling the race wedges from spending priorities. the Archie Bunkers love Medicare. But they hate socialized medicine. Because they get Medicare, but the brown people get free healthcare from Obama.

The problem is that African Americans and Latinos get this. “No free rides” is not a subtle code when you see a room full of white people screaming it. They see all the free rides whites take advantage of and those cuts never seem to get made. So who are they talking about? Anchor babies. Welfare queens in cadillacs. They get it. I would guess it will take a few decades AFTER Republican pols quick shrieking these terms for African Americans and Latinos to stop thinking of gays as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even if we aren’t such good friends ourselves.

Craig January 8, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Actually, the antigay minority strategy definitely isn’t working with Maori New Zealanders, who make up fifteen percent of New Zealand’s population- primarily because the frontperson for our Marriage Equality Bill is a Maori lesbian, Louisa Wall, who also has the advantage of being a former professional women’s rugby player- and Kiwis love nothing better than an icon of our national religion- er, sport.

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