Jelani Cobb’s latest for The New Yorker, “The GOP’s Dixiecrat Problem,” uses PRRI data to discuss similarities between the mid-20th century Dixiecrats and the Tea Party of today.
The rise of the Dixiecrat Party, like that of the Tea Party sixty years later, was ostensibly the result of one faction within a political party coming to believe its policy interests had been neglected. But on a more fundamental level, it was the product of demographic changes in national politics. The rebel Democrats wrote a defiant advocacy of racial segregation into their platform precisely because the national Democratic Party understood that its future lay with Northern black voters. Southern whites had formed the party’s base since the Civil War, but by the middle of the twentieth century, the great migration of blacks to Northern cities had thrown that alignment into flux. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is remembered today for guiding the nation through the Great Depression and the Second World War, but his greatest political achievement may have been holding together the irreconcilable Northern and Southern elements of the Democratic Party for as long as he did…
Today’s Republican Party, like the Democrats six decades ago, has had to come to terms with a demographic shift—one in which Hispanic voters are a crucial new element. We would be naïve to believe that the opposition to comprehensive immigration reform that features so prominently in current Tea Party politics is incidental to its appeal. (A 2010 survey of Tea Party supporters conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that fifty-eight per cent believed the government “paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and minorities”; sixty-four percent said immigrants were “a burden” on the country.) The Tea Party–inspired eruptions that have recurred throughout Obama’s Presidency represent something more complicated than a reactionary backlash to the sight of a black President; they are a product of the way he so tidily represents the disparate strands of social history that brought us to this impasse. The problem isn’t that there’s a black President; it’s that the country has changed in ways that made Obama’s election possible.
Be sure to check out Cobb’s full column over at The New Yorker.