The Southern Strategy lives

THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY LIVES…. The chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party sent around an email this year, sharing a little “joke” he found amusing. His message was that his dog should be eligible for welfare because, as the “joke” goes, the dog is “black, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is.”

As racist displays go, this is unambiguously ugly, and the local GOP chairman was forced to resign this week. But it’s worth contextualizing the incident to appreciate the larger truth. Indeed, it’s hard not to notice the broader, more systemic Republican attempts this year to use identity politics to win votes.

Rachel Maddow began her show last night with another powerful segment on the subject, noting the Republicans’ notorious “Southern Strategy,” and the ways in which it hasn’t fully gone away. The examples from just this cycle were too many to even feature, though Rachel took note of West Virginia’s John Raese’s attempts at ethnic “humor,” Nevada’s Sharron Angle’s racist TV ad followed by her telling Hispanic students they look Asian, New York’s Carl Paladino’s racist emails, Colorado’s Tom Tancredo’s call for a return to Jim Crow policies, Kentucky’s Rand Paul’s discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a variety of Republican House candidates who’ve embraced elements of white supremacism.

What’s more, there are plenty of other recent examples that Rachel didn’t get to, but which could have been included. All of these could have been “Macaca moments” for Republicans, but politics seems to be playing by different rules this year.

Rachel drew a parallel between the current efforts and the Southern Strategy of years past: “Republicans learned strategically, mathematically, that sometimes it makes sense to turn every minority voter against you and have that be the cost you pay to lock up all the white votes.

“As Richard Nixon’s chief political analyst explained back in 1970, ‘The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. And that’s where the votes are.’

“Does this work in 2010? Does this work in more than just the South? Does this work in what’s expected to be a low turnout general election? The Southern Strategy now means floating the Dr. Chow Mein stuff. It means floating the anti-Civil Rights Act arguments. It means floating the racist jokes, bearing the criticism for it, but locking up the white vote in compensation.”

That’s entirely true, and I’d go just a little further. Also note that the Republican Party and its media outlets spent much of the past several months obsessing over “controversies” with unmistakable undertones — Park51, the New Black Panther Party, Birther nonsense, talk of “liberation theology” — all of which seemed focused on scaring the bejesus out of white people in an election year.

Earlier this year, RNC Chairman Michael Steele conceded that his party relied on a racially-divisive Southern Strategy for at least four decades. He neglected to mention that the party’s affinity for the approach never really went away.