December 29, 2007


Harry Dent | b. 1930: The Southern Strategist (RICK PERLSTEIN, 12/30/07, NY Times Magazine)

For most of the post-Civil-War era, the Grand Old Party survived in the Southern popular imagination as the Yankee enemy, eager to conspire with newly enfranchised slaves to overturn the entire “Southern way of life.” In 1957, Republican congressmen were instrumental in passing the first federal civil rights law in almost a century. The idea of a Southern state delivering its electoral votes to “the party of Lincoln” would have seemed outrageous before the 1960s — before, that is, the national Democratic Party made a commitment to the enforcement of civil rights for blacks.

By then, Harry Dent was a top political aide to Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Thurmond ran for president as a third-party “Dixiecrat” in 1948 after the Democratic convention passed a civil rights plank. Shortly before the 1964 presidential election, a Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, passed the most sweeping civil rights law in United States history. This time, Thurmond didn’t form a third party. The Republican presidential nominee, the conservative Barry Goldwater, opposed the civil rights law, which was political heresy at the time, as the conventional wisdom was that Republicans could not win the presidency without courting the black vote. Dent, a Southerner through and through — he was a lay preacher and established the Senate’s breakfast prayer group — persuaded his boss to drop out of the Democratic Party for good, join the Republicans and campaign for Goldwater. Goldwater lost in a landslide, winning just six states, five of them in Dixie. The “solid Democratic South” had been breached. American politics would never be the same.

America's natural conservatism enabled us to avoid most of the worst of the socialism epoch. But for the historical oddity of Southern white males joining with Northern liberals to keep blacks down, we might have avoided the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2007 8:39 AM

I would argue with you, but I literally have no idea what you're talking about. I mean, you might as well be writing in cyrillic.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at December 29, 2007 10:44 AM

Once blacks were liberated whites weren't about to tolerate statism that impacted themselves any more, so they started voting their political inclinations again, instead of their racism. The liberal epoch was an aberration created by Jim Crow as much as by the Depression.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2007 12:52 PM

Not knowing what anyone other than your little playmates are talking about must be a way of life for you by now.

Posted by: erp at December 29, 2007 7:40 PM

How did "northern white liberals" keep blacks down, in your mind?

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at December 29, 2007 7:43 PM

That was the compromise they made for power. They accepted Jim Crow in exchange for the solid South. That's why since '64 they only win when they run conservative white Southern males. Before then they never ran Southerners.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2007 9:48 PM