H. Brandt Ayers: Where the ducks are
Jun 09, 2013 | 3593 views |  0 comments | 102 102 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former presidential candidate Bob Dole. Photo: Special to The Star
Former presidential candidate Bob Dole. Photo: Special to The Star
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Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole doesn’t believe any of the GOP stars from Eisenhower to Nixon, or even Reagan, could win a Republican primary campaign in today’s party.

So far right has the party tilted that he doesn’t recognize it. He suggests the party hang a sign — “Closed for repairs until January” — and spend its time developing positive solutions to the nation’s problems.

Mulish opposition to everything a Democratic president proposes is not the same thing as positive, well thought-out policies, he seems to be saying.

The most contrary, unharnessed, two-legged mules wear the colors and funny hats of the the Tea Party, and most of them are from the South — the party’s most reliable base.

I was an astonished witness to the birth of the modern Southern GOP in 1964, watching with mild depression as my beloved Alabama and the South consciously and deliberately chose racism as the new GOP’s winning strategy.

Previously there had been a solid Democratic majority, whose congressional wing could be counted on to preserve our (white) way of life from “radical” social experiments and outside agitators.

In the state Democratic parties, however, there had been a constant tussle for control by bitter-end, obsessive segregationists and the moderate wing, which tried to stick with the national party.

The election of a tornadic political force, George Wallace, erased the old dividing lines and substituted a new one, “Are you for George or agin him?” His almost physical hatred of the federal government prepared the ground for and found a new home in the newly minted Southern GOP.

This is how the Republicans’ Southern base came into being:

As early as 1961, Sen. Barry Goldwater told Southern GOP activists in Atlanta that the party was “not going to get the Negro vote in 1964 or 1966, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.”

Goldwater had been one of a few Republicans who broke with Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, providing, among other things, for open accommodations at public places.

In the ’64 presidential campaign, Goldwater carried Alabama by 77 percent of the white vote and swept the white vote in the rest of the Deep South by a similar landslide, 71 percent.

The hinges of history are hung backward in the Deep South. The doors opened inward to Goldwater in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, welcoming him into the Balkans of America with its never-forgotten history and prejudices.

Everywhere else but Goldwater’s native Arizona, the doors opened outward, the whole non-Southern continent welcoming President Johnson and his sense of the rights of man.

Unwittingly, Sen. Goldwater led a motley parade of White Citizens Councils, Kluxers and generic racists out of the Democratic Party to install racial prejudice as part of the founding core of the Southern Republican Party.

The front page of The Star on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1964, was a poster for the opposite paths taken by the nation and the Deep South. The lead story detailed the historic Johnson landslide and the off-lead story was about five Democratic congressmen caught in the Goldwater riptide.

Among them was our own Congressman Kenneth Roberts, who would have chaired the House Commerce Committee in the new Congress. Roberts contributed to his own defeat by a desultory campaign and infrequent visits to his district.

The victor was billboard advertising executive Glenn Andrews, who had been a lonely, good-natured GOP pioneer in the days when two votes for the Republican Party in Calhoun County raised suspicions of voter fraud.

The inheritor of that congressional seat is Mike Rogers, who, along with a solid Republican congressional majority, votes the rightwing agenda as predictably as a Swiss cuckoo clock.

The monotonous construction of an all-GOP state and South is not only boring — no debate, no fresh ideas, no one to be his own man — it is an anchor that will keep the party stuck in a starboard direction.

Sen. Dole is a wounded veteran of World War II and a wounded veteran of internal Republican politics. He is still sharp but he is an old man now who, sadly, will not live to see a wise, tolerant and rational GOP.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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