(ed note, check #19, 16, 11, 4, and this one not on the list.)
Likewise, to describe George Wallace as a simple racist is to give his biography short shrift. As a circuit court judge in the 1950s, Wallace was respectful toward blacks, and as a legislator from 1947 to 1953, he was a moderate. In 1948, when Strom Thurmond led the Southern delegations out of the Democratic convention to protest the party’s pioneer civil rights plank, Wallace stayed in his seat. Though no fan of the plank, he was yet more Democrat than demagogue, and was instrumental in rallying the other Southern alternate delegates to save the convention’s quorum, and pass its platform.
He might have carried a tolerant message into the Alabama governor’s mansion in 1958, but he lost the race after spurning the support of the Ku Klux Klan (which then backed his primary opponent, John Patterson) and being endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Sadly for Wallace’s state, his region, his nation and himself, he did not respond as John Lewis did after his defeat by Carmichael. Mr. Lewis, whenever confronted with calls to divisiveness, chose to redouble his commitment to reason and tolerance. After his loss to Mr. Patterson, Wallace is said to have turned to an aide and declared, “I was out-niggered … and I’ll never be out-niggered again.”
After Wallace finally won the governorship in 1962, his administration was never as race-hostile as his campaign appeals implied; black leaders found his office door open, and often his mind, too. But he would eternally pay the price for the methods he used to gain that office.
It would behoove everyone in the current race for America’s highest offices to pay attention to what Mr. Lewis was really saying, and judge it for its provenance in his long experience. Better than perhaps any living American, he knows that courage on the front line is one thing, and on the campaign stage quite another, knows how tiny and harmless the seeds of fanaticism can seem, how one cry of “kill him” can crescendo into a chorus that can’t be stifled. Mr. Lewis might be deemed generous in wishing on no other member of his profession the harrowed look I witnessed in George Wallace’s eyes as he struggled up off the floor in Boston and beheld what a hell he’d wrought.
Lance Tarrance, who polled for Deukmejian in 1982, got it closest to right. Recently, he wrote: “[A]nalysis of the 1982 election revealed the weakness in the Bradley Effect theory as Bradley actually won on Election Day turnout, but lost the absentee vote so badly that Deukmejian pulled ahead to win. That Bradley won the vote on Election Day would hardly seem to suggest a hidden or last minute anti-black backlash.”
In fact, this reveals that Bradley’s liberal supporters had bungled an important strategic decision. In hopes of increasing Democratic turnout, they qualified Proposition 15, a hand-gun control initiative, for the November 1982 ballot. Every gun owner in California was furious.
The National Rifle Assn. endorsed Deukmejian; and the first large-scale, aggressive absentee ballot campaign was launched by the GOP.
Prop. 15 lost by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. It was defeated in every county except San Francisco and Marin. According to the California Journal, “it was obliterated in rural California,” where turnout ran about 10 percent higher than in urban areas. And the absentee ballot count was lopsided in favor of the Republican.
Tens of thousands of gun lovers registered their vote against gun control and stuck around to mark their ballots for Deukmejian.
Nonetheless, Mervin Field’s exit polling was, to some extent, accurate. Field did not account for absentee ballot voters. His survey—like the actual results—showed a Bradley win at the ballot box.
There were other factors that contributed to imperfect polling — and Bradley’s loss. A lackluster campaign led to a low-turnout election. The Democratic Party, overall, did a mediocre job of getting out the vote. Bradley was also criticized for not energizing his African-American base.
In the end, black turnout was lower than expected — the higher-turnout model used by some pollsters could have skewed the poll results toward Bradley. In addition, some exit polls, according to the California Journal, revealed that the unpopularity of Jerry Brown, the departing Democratic governor who was running against Pete Wilson for the Senate, “rubbed off on Bradley.”
A far stronger case can be made for the impact of a “Bradley effect” in the 1969 race for Los Angeles mayor — when then-City Councilman Tom Bradley first challenged the conservative Democratic incumbent, Sam Yorty. Bradley finished first in a crowded primary, with 42 percent of the vote; Yorty came in second with 26 percent.
Before the head-to-head runoff. pre-election polls showed Bradley handily defeating Yorty. Then, in what was considered a major upset, Yorty won re-election, with 53 percent of the vote to Bradley’s 47 percent. Yorty succeeded, according to his biographer, John Bollens, by “riding to advantage a wave of fear, prejudice and reaction.”
Yorty portrayed Bradley as a Black Panther supporter and depicted the former cop as anti-police. The Political scientist Raphael Sonenshein wrote, “Yorty directly exploited white fears. His campaign ads ran in the real estate section of [San Fernando] Valley newspapers showing Bradley’s picture with the caption ‘Will Your City Be Safe with This Man?’”
Bradley took “a high road approach,” barely responding. In an election with record high turnout overall, Sonenshein observed, a hefty anti-Bradley vote coming from the San Fernando Valley, and dramatic shifts in support to Yorty “among whites, Jews and Latinos, were devastating” to Bradley’s chances.
The name of George Wallace, who died in 1998, was invoked a few days ago by Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a civil rights leader. Lewis likened the rhetoric of Wallace to the rhetoric of John McCain and Sarah Palin.
“Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse,” Lewis said. “George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Ala. As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all.”
It was a shocking statement. (And it was meant to shock.) McCain was stunned. In August, at a public forum, McCain had named Lewis as one of the “wisest” people he knew and a person he would “rely on heavily” during his administration.
McCain issued a very tough statement in reply to Lewis’ remarks, saying the comments were “beyond the pale” and that Lewis had made a “brazen and baseless attack” on McCain’s character and the character of his supporters. McCain then called on Barack Obama to “repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments,” even though Obama had not made them.
Obama obliged — in part. Bill Burton, spokesman for Obama, said: “Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies. But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for president of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’”
That latter reference was to ’60s radical William Ayers, a line of attack the McCain campaign has been pursuing with vigor recently. What McCain has not been pursuing, to the consternation of some of his supporters, is an attack on Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
On the face of it, attacking Obama on Wright makes more sense than attacking him on Ayers. Obama was much closer to Wright and Wright’s statements are much more recent than Ayers’ actions.
But McCain is resisting. So far. He wants to get out of this presidential race without being accused of racism.
And that was the point of John Lewis’ very strong statement. Lewis was issuing a warning to McCain.
“I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America.” So said Sarah Palin about Barack Obama on Oct. 6 as she attacked him for his decision to “pal around” with onetime Weatherman bomber Bill Ayers. With Obama back in the lead, the new, harsher Republican line surprised almost nobody. The Obama campaign declared it a distraction before it even arrived.
But seen in historical perspective, the McCain campaign’s strategy against Obama is actually kind of shocking. For years, the recipe for injecting race into a political campaign has been clear. First, invoke the specter of black crime, as Lee Atwater did in 1988 when he vowed to turn murderer Willie Horton into Michael Dukakis’ “running mate.” Second, attack lazy people in the inner city, as Ronald Reagan did in 1976 when he condemned a Chicago “welfare queen.” Third, bash affirmative action, as the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms did in 1990 when he ran an ad showing white hands crumpling a job rejection notice.
Historically, this stuff has often worked, even against white candidates considered too solicitous of African-American concerns. And yet this year, with a black man actually running for President, the old recipe has been shelved. John McCain hasn’t run ads on crime, welfare or racial preferences. At the gop convention, the subjects barely came up.
Does that mean race doesn’t matter this year? Hardly. It just matters in a different way. In the past, Republicans often used race to make their opponents seem anti-white. In 2008, with their incessant talk about who loves their country and who doesn’t, McCain and Palin are doing something different: they’re using race to make Obama seem anti-American.
It is these 21st century anxieties–anxieties about changes from outside America that seem beyond average Americans’ control–that represent the Republicans’ best shot at unhorsing Obama now. In March, Pew found that 56% of high school–educated white voters see newcomers as threatening, compared with less than a third of those with a college degree. White voters who haven’t graduated from college, according to a Pew poll in September, were more than twice as likely to think Obama is Muslim as those who have. And not coincidentally, it is among these less educated white voters that McCain is strongest. Among non-Hispanic whites who have attended graduate school, according to Gallup this month, Obama leads McCain by 13 points. Among those with a high school diploma or less, he trails by 12.
Fifty years ago, America’s racial challenges came largely from within, as black Americans demanded full equality in the country they had inhabited for hundreds of years. Today many of America’s racial challenges come from without, as Third World immigration transforms the nation and U.S. workers and leaders struggle to come to terms with China and India, the emerging, nonwhite superpowers. If Martin Luther King Jr. symbolized that earlier transition, Barack Obama may have inadvertently come to symbolize this one. How he fares on Nov. 4 will be a sign of America’s willingness to embrace the realities of a new age.
New York Times (1/9/77)
Ronald Reagan, from his stump speech in the 1976 presidential election:
There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she’s collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000.
New York Times (5/17/70)
From a profile of political strategist Kevin Phillips”
“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.”