Republican Party: Howard Dean Says, the “White Party”

ABC News’ Ron Claiborne reports a likely slip of the tongue on National Public Radio last week by the Democratic National Committee chair, Howard Dean, who said: (photo: Stroup)

“If you look at folks of color, even women, they’re more successful in the Democratic party than they are in the white, uh, excuse me, in, uh, Republican party.”

The McCain folks of course pounced on this, and called it “insulting,” while a DNC spokesperson just said that Dean “misspoke and corrected himself immediately.”

Claiborne, however, accents how important this issue really is. It is literally, the Elephant in the Room. This issue is

rarely discussed in public and almost never by politicians: the marked racial division by party in American politics. Members of the country’s largest minority groups — blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans — are predominantly Democratic.

He is right, but of course there is a lot more to it than that: The Republican Party has been the white party since African Americans left it in large numbers for the New Deal Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. It was then no longer the “party of Lincoln” civil rights issues, and economic issues were hitting African Americans very hard.

Last December I made these additional points about the Republican Party being, in effect, the “white party” of the United States (for research see here):

With the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Republican Party intentionally abandoned black voters for a strategy openly targeting what are seen as the primary interests of a majority of white voters. This explicitly pro white political strategy has put emphasis on the interests of whites in suburbia and the southern states. Codewords such as “quotas,” “states’ rights,” “busing,” and “crime in the streets” have been substituted for the more explicitly racist terms of the days of legal segregation. The southern strategy was effectively used by Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972 to win the first two Republican elections with that racialized strategy.

The neo-segregationist strategy targeting southern and suburban whites was also used effectively in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush campaigns of the 1980s and early 1990s. Reagan began his presidential campaign asserting strongly a states’ rights doctrine, and he intentionally picked Philadelphia, Mississippi–where civil rights workers had been lynched in the 1960s—to make this symbolic appeal to southern white voters. Reagan and his associates sought to dismantle further federal civil rights enforcement efforts, including weakening the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and attacking affirmative action programs, to please white constituents.

When George H. W. Bush undertook a run for president, he ran a racist campaign. In 1988 Bush and his advisors conducted an infamous advertising campaign that used visual images of a disheveled black rapist, from his opponent’s home state, to intentionally scare and recruit white voters to the Republican Party. Most recently, after losing elections in the 1990s to moderate Democrat William Clinton, the Republican Party succeeded in electing George W. Bush. Bush gained the presidency in two consecutive elections, 2000 and 2004. In both, the Republican Party focused heavily on securing white voters in the South and suburbs, and some Republican officials sought to restrict black voting in key states.

At one time centered in the states of the East and upper Midwest, today the Republican Party is, as a result of its recent political remaking, now centered in the South, parts of the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain states. In recent political campaigns, the Republican Party has continued to be the “white party,” the one aggressively representing white interests, albeit often in disguised language. Thus, in elections between 1992 and 2004 the Republican Party got a remarkably small percentage (8-12 percent) of black voters, and a minority of most other voters of color as well.

Not only has there been only a handful of black delegates at recent Republican party conventions, but the Republican National Committee has had few black members. Service at the highest decision-making levels of the Republican Party has in the last few decades been almost exclusively white. Thus, in late 2004 there was only one African American from the fifty U.S. states (plus a black member from U.S. Virgin Islands) among the 165 members of the Republican National Committee. This compared to the 97 black members on the Democratic National Committee, more than one fifth of the total membership about the same time. This pattern still pretty much holds today. Today, all black members of the U.S. Congress, and something like 98 percent of the 9,000 black officeholders at all government levels across the United States are members of the Democratic Party.

This highly segregated pattern of political party interests and participation has characterized U.S. politics now since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the southern and border states, the Rocky Mountain states, and numerous states of the lower Midwest, white voters now tend to vote overwhelmingly for the Republican Party in presidential elections, and for that reason some people now explicitly refer to the Party as “white party.” The Republican party has brought about its political resurgence since the major losses in presidential elections of the early and mid-1960s by explicitly using a politics of “race” that works mainly because of the racist legacies of slavery and legal segregation have persisted aggressively into contemporary U.S. society. It continues to do this today, and will even more in coming months.

How can we claim to have a democratic country and have a democratic media when these strong data on the racial differences in the two major parties are almost never seriously discussed? It seems to me, that this is the real issue in this election: democracy.


  1. mordy

    This, along with the last few posts, have been terrific. Thanks Joe. I suspect that your question to close out the post is largely rhetorical, but if it isn’t i will offer up an answer. We can claim to have a democratic country because they tell us we have a democratic country. If the logic seems a tad circular, perhaps it is. But think about it- even knowing the shameful history of slavery, they still tell us that our country was founded on freedom. Despite the founding fathers careful insertion of the separation of church and state clause, people like Rick Warren, on national TV flat out say that they could never vote for a candidate who was an atheist (and sadly, i am afraid much of the electorate will agree). The point is, much of the rhetoric becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy no matter how casual a relationship it bears to the truth.

    Do Blacks in fact hold 9000 government offices? The numbers at the national level are so minute, this figure seems unusually high

  2. Joe

    Well said, Mordy. I think you are right: a central problem is the lack of critical thinking in this country about many subjects. This is true from the 1600s to the present. People still get fired or demoted (not hired, excommunicated, etc) just for critical thinking about what the “authorities” tell us, and/or action based on it. (Yes, there are 9000 black officials, including those holding the numerous local political offices.)

  3. Seattle in Texas

    Awww, I think that was one of those “accidentally on purpose” Freudian slips on Dean’s part (if so, Go Dean! muhahahaaaa!)…. And a democratic county? Hmmm….

  4. Mordy, the figure is right. That figure of 9000 includes city councilman, county commissioners, dog catchers, you name. But, to put it in perspective, when you have up all the government with elected officials there are more than 86,000 total governments in the USA (for instance, there are 1000 school boards in Texas alone), so 9000 elected officials isn’t all that high.

    I agree with Seattle that it was an “accidental” slip of the tongue, but there’s some merit to it. But, we must remember that about a third of Latinos, especially in Florida, vote Republican and Asian-Americans are more Republican than are blacks. So, Dean’s statements, which elements of truth, is still falsifiable.

  5. Black Political Analysis- Thanks for providing some context to the 9,000 figure. If the total government number is 86,000 then 9,000 represents a little more than 10%. It indeed isn’t much, but is higher than i thought. We have a woeful representation of minorities in government.

    It still kills me that the punditocracy continues to pat the nation on the back over its nomination of Senator Obama as a clear sign that we have moved past racism and discrimination. It is another clear sign of the shocking lack of critical thinking. They seem to forget that should he be elected president then the Senate would lose its lone black member. Despite the outcome there is still such a long way to go

  6. Joe Author

    BPA, thanks for details on black elected officials, and putting it into context.

    Actually more than 90 percent of Rep. party members nationwide are white, far more than for the Dem. party. And it is accurately labeled the “white party” because of its strategy from the early 1960s to today of appealing mainly to white voters, esp. suburban white voters, and often with explicitly racist appeals (like the Willie Horton and Dr. Wright attacks).


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