A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a waiter. For seven years. Before PCs. Back in the age of LPs and carbon paper. I remember one customer who, after he’d signed his credit card receipt and I handed him his copy, asked me to give him the carbons (back then we used carbon paper).
I must have had a puzzled look on my face because he asked if I knew why he wanted them. I didn’t. He explained that it was because criminals sometimes go dumpster diving for carbons to steal credit card numbers. Huh? It would never have occurred to me, I said. That’s because you don’t have a criminal mind, he replied. Maybe for the first time it dawned on me that it takes a certain bent of mind to turn one’s creativity to criminal mischief.
All that is preface to Ari Berman’s new Nation essay, “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South.” In their vanity, some liberals like to think of themselves as more intelligent and creative than their conservative counterparts, but Berman shows just how creatively Republicans of a certain bent have twisted the Voting Rights Act to renovate their Southern Strategy and dilute minority influence — by packing as many minority voters into as few congressional districts as possible.
In virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional and state level, Republicans—to protect and expand their gains in 2010—have increased the number of minority voters in majority-minority districts represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by white Democrats.
According to data compiled by Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, precincts that are 90 percent white have a 3 percent chance of being split, and precincts that are 80 percent black have a 12 percent chance of being split, but precincts with a BVAP between 15 and 45 percent have a 40 percent chance of being split. Republicans “systematically moved [street] blocks in or out of their precincts on the basis of their race,” found Ted Arrington, a redistricting expert at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. “No other explanation is possible given the statistical data.” Such trends reflect not just a standard partisan gerrymander but an attack on the very idea of integration. In one example, Senate redistricting chair Bob Rucho admitted that Democratic State Senator Linda Garrou was drawn out of her plurality African-American district in Winston-Salem and into an overwhelmingly white Republican district simply because she is white. “The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we’d moved away from,” says State Senator Dan Blue Jr., who in the 1990s was the first African-American Speaker of the North Carolina House.
Then-Republican Party Chair Ken Mehlman apologized to the 2005 NAACP national convention for the thirty years of this Republican strategy. You see how much that was worth. Republican master strategist Lee Atwater repented of this kind of politics as he faced his death in 1991:
My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The ’80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
Obviously, the Koch brothers, Art Pope and the GOP leadership in Raleigh and ALEC didn’t listen. Berman writes that the new Southern Strategy makes it “difficult for voting rights advocates to prove in federal court that packing minority voters into majority-minority districts diminishes their ability to elect candidates of choice.” Because allowing them representation is just the point. It just concentrates minorities into apartheid-like districts where their political influence can be minimized and controlled. This new-and-improved Southern Strategy assumes “that black people can only represent black people and white people can only represent white people,” according to North Carolina State Senator Eric Mansfield.
“What’s uniform across the South is that Republicans are using race as a central basis in drawing districts for partisan advantage,” says Anita Earls, a prominent civil rights lawyer and executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “The bigger picture is to ultimately make the Democratic Party in the South be represented only by people of color.” The GOP’s long-term goal is to enshrine a system of racially polarized voting that will make it harder for Democrats to win races on local, state, federal and presidential levels. Four years after the election of Barack Obama, which offered the promise of a new day of postracial politics in states like North Carolina, Republicans are once again employing a Southern Strategy that would make Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater proud.
(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)
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