Republicans have long tried to prevent or eliminate programs that aid the poor and middle-class, including:
- Social Security – since it began in 1935
- Medicare – since it began in 1965
- Food stamps – since it began in 1964
- WIC (Women, Infants, Children) – since 1972
- The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) – since 2010
So why are so many poor Americans now flocking to this party’s banner?
Two reasons: Racism and greed. There are historical parallels for both.
In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.
“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”
In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”
So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”
He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.
One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.
So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?
According to Hanson: “Behind the entire social fabric of the South lay slavery.
“If slavery eroded the economic position of the poor free citizens, if slavery encouraged a society of haves and have-nots…then it alone offered one promise to the free white man–poor, ignorant and dispirited–that he was at least not black and not a slave.”
And the planter class and its allies in government easily fobbed off their poor white countrymen with cheap flattery. Said Georgia Governor Joseph Brown:
“Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal. His family is treated with kindness, consideration, and respect. He does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense his equal. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.”
The reality of slavery
Similarly, poor whites now flock to the Republican Party–which holds them in equal contempt– in large part to protest the 2008 election of the first black President of the United States.
According to a Pew Research Center study released on July 22, 2011: “Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a 2-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%).”
Since the 1960s, Republicans have pursued a campaign policy of “divide and rule”–divide the nation along racial lines and reap the benefits at election time.
- Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Republicans opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Republicans, with Richard Nixon as their Presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972, pursued what they called a “Southern strategy”: Use “code language” to stoke fear and hatred of blacks among whites.
- Republicans have falsely identified welfare programs exclusively with non-whites. (Of the six million Americans receiving food stamps, about 42 percent are white, 32 percent are black, and 22 percent are Latino—with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.)
Thus, in voting Republican, many of these poor whites believe they are “striking a blow for the white race.”
And they can do so in a more socially acceptable way than joining a certified hate group such as the American Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.
In the hit play, 1776, on the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is a telling exchange between John Dickinson and John Hancock. It comes during the song, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.”
Dickinson, the delegate from Pennsylvania, urges Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, “to join us in our minuet.”
By “us” he means his fellow conservatives who fear losing their property and exalted status by supporting American independence from Great Britain.
Hancock declines, saying: “Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.”
To which Dickinson replies: “Perhaps not. But don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor. And that is why they will follow us.”
Today, poor whites generally identify with the CEOs of powerful corporations. They believe the Republican gospel that they can attain such wealth–if only the government will “get out of my way.”
They forget–or ignore–the brutal truth that government, for all its imperfections, is sometimes all that stands between them and a wide range of predators.
In return, the CEOs despise them as the privileged have always despised their social and economic “inferiors.”
Unless the Democratic Party can find ways to directly address these bitter, Politically Incorrect truths, it will continue its decline into insignificance.