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Race & American Politics

Ever notice how in the media, when the Democrats work to maximize minority voter turnout, it’s considered normal, but when Republicans work to maximize white voter turnout, it’s considered dangerous and immoral? Ross Douthat writes that this sort of thing is not only unfair to Republicans, but damaging to the legitimate interests of the white working class. [1] Excerpt:

Now nothing to do with race in America is politically normal. But the problem with suggesting that the G.O.P. shouldn’t aim for a white working class target because it would further racially polarize the country is twofold: First, it asks Republicans to basically play by rules that (victorious) Democratic strategists are writing, and (more importantly) it tells working class whites that they should pretty much get used to being ignored by both parties, because the country’s racial harmony depends on it. I don’t particularly want to live in a country where the two political coalitions are thoroughly divided along racial-ethnic lines. But I also don’t want to live in a country where many of the voters most disillusioned with the political system [2], and most battered by the trends of the last five years and the last thirty alike, don’t have either party responding to their point of view and asking for their vote.

Douthat says that the answer for Republicans is not to develop a strategy that depends on exploiting racial anxieties, but rather to develop an approach that realistically addresses the economic problems facing the white working class (which, Douthat says, may result in winning the votes of minorities especially alienated from the GOP on economic issues). More:

I don’t particularly expect the G.O.P. to execute this kind of strategy effectively. But I’d rather see them try, the risk of racial polarization notwithstanding, than watch both parties unite in ignoring the particular mix of stresses and anxieties that beset the white working class.

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75 Comments To "Race & American Politics"

#1 Comment By JonF On August 7, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

Re: Ever notice how in the media, when the Democrats work to maximize minority voter turnout, it’s considered normal, but when Republicans work to maximize white voter turnout…

Um, Rod, there’s a big difference between doing what you can to turn out your voters, and using assorted legal shenanigans to keep the other party’s voters away from the polls. That’s what most of the fuss and furor (in North Carolina, Texas, etc.) is all about. I’m A-OK with the GOP doing its best to get Ma and Pa Kettle to vote; I’m not OK if they devise clever little laws that make it hard for black folk and poor folk, students and new citizens to do so.
And really: if the GOP wants a future shouldn’t it be trying to reach out beyond its narrowing base?

#2 Comment By mm On August 7, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

Of course the GOP “targets” whites-they are the largest group- you also target everyone else. As for the GOP trying to suppress minority voting-such a pile of bovine scat- the Dems use it as a mantra. It is to easy to commit vote fraud-just google Alana Biden or Patrick Moran(hint neither related to prominent GOPers). Part of the race baiting used by Dems to keep their coalition together- even while they promote policies that further gov’t dependence and hurt the poor. The GOP’s outreach is easy to write: Increased immigration isn’t going to hurt the country club set- cheaper nannies & lawn men! It will hurt low skill & entry level workers- the supposed apple of the Dems eyes. The Dems sell out to public sector unions is going to really hurt lower middle class people as the public pension scheme (or is it scam) falls apart & needs to be bailed out. The Dems are anti-growth d/t Hollywood and the greens . There in lies the GOPs chance with lower class non-state employed people- both white & black. The Dems policies are killing their chances-high immigration & antigrowth policies lowers their wages & high taxes (to pay & benefit the Dems allies in state/federal employment) squeezes their take home. As the economy continues to limp along ( and is hurt by the coming default of several large cities & states) the GOP needs to embrace pro growth policies and steps to reduce the burden of taxes & regulation while rapidly ending cronyist policies that help gov’t allied big business- all this will help to capture lower class voters. Pell grants don’t help the poor- they help the universities(key Dem allies). Green tax breaks and subsidies don’t make electricity- they make hay for Dem contributors (Solyndra & Greentech). The incompetence of the ever larger gov’t(IRS abuses, NSA fears, HHS can’t find illegals, CIA cant find Bengahzi terrorists but CBS can, 40% fraud rate on “obamaphones” etc) will just be an added fuel to the fire.

#3 Comment By J On August 7, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

The brief against Republicans is pretty clear if you look at vote disenfranchisement laws. These are claimed to be “moral” but if you look closely, they pretend to it but really aren’t. Why exactly a person convicted of selling some marijuana or driving drunk should lose their vote as much and probably as long as a mass murderer, or often longer, is never actually explained or justified by those who favor these laws. In those arguments “felony” becomes a kind of idolatry and absolute condition bestowed on some people have and others- whatever their actual morality and sins- do not. It’s really just a pseudo-modern form of a cursing imposed on people, really. God and morality are secondary, of course- it’s all about indulging and nursing along and manifesting social offense. And imposing additional punishment.

The Republican game is to leverage these ugly laws into discouraging poor and elderly voters and people with lesser criminal convictions (many of whom are working class) of all races from voting. All these “voter ID” laws are premised on the view that some sort of unAmerican people out there are voting illicitly for malice and chaos, tipping elections to…well, Democrats. Investigations have never turned up anything other than single individual violations of voting laws and certain no elections decided by illegal group actions- zero conspiracies of previously incarcerated felons, non-citizen Hispanics, black Americans, Native Americans, college students, women, or Muslims- to do so. And yet “voter ID” is all the rage among Republicans. Because someone somewhere might be casting an illegal vote. It’s the great Potemkin village and anti-tiger whistle of the American right wing. (“Of course the whistle works. Do you see any tigers around here?”) Or just a dirty game to frighten and disadvantage and obstruct vulnerable, generally Democratic voting, constituencies.

Privately, high up Republicans in the know will admit that it’s all the latter. In places where felon vote disenfranchisement laws are repealed there’s trivial real public outcry and no respectable moral argument mounted to reestablish them. (The exception is basically about voting from within prison, which people in most of the country- probably rightly- consider too vulnerable and prone to manipulations of inmate votes.) One doesn’t exactly read much about this in right wing American publications. Let alone the dozen or so people sentenced to jail terms (two years is the standard sentence) in Wisconsin and Minnesota since 2009 for unwittingly committing the criminal act of voting- all of them rural or small town white working class people on parole or probation who thought that voting was just an uncomplicated American right and duty of citizenship everybody does out of patriotism. Well, they sure learned that they weren’t living in Mayberry anymore- or, perhaps, that unfortunately they were.

On the more general Douthat point… a white working class exists as a social and socioeconomic phenomenon, but as a political matter there simply is no more political class solidarity among working class people of any race or ethnicity. ‘White working class’ is largely coincident simply with ‘downscale white’, eliding the mucky complicated accounting for the socioeconomic demolition of lower middle class whites (i.e. employed in things like teaching) by the policies of Republicans they are now being pushed to vote for in greater numbers.

On the elections and demographics math for the GOP- I think there’s some arithmetic for 2016 that isn’t being understood. It’s that not only does the GOP need the 8 million votes from whites that went Obama in 2008 and dropped out in 2012. It needs some more, because the Latino age demographic curve is ramping up the amount of voters available to Democrats and deaths are so preponderantly from elderly white, i.e. Republican side, demographics. The place the GOP will need to go in 2016 is the last significant source of conservative votes not yet their own- conservative black people. If only to prevent these from going to the Democratic candidate by near default.

#4 Comment By Jason On August 7, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Doesn’t majority status come with special responsibilities to to deliberately avoid using that majority status to benefit your group at the expense of minorities?

Whites voting together isn’t inherently bad, but it’s potentially dangerous to the welfare of the republic. Particularly when it’s based on creating a sense of persecution in the majority at the expense of minorities.

#5 Comment By Erin Manning On August 7, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

I just don’t get this idea that Voter ID laws are designed to suppress minority or Democratic turnout.

Here are some things you need a photo ID for (besides voting) where I live (and probably in most places in America):

–Taking the ACT, the SAT, or college placement exams (as we found out when my daughter did these things recently);

–opening a bank account, cashing a check, or paying with a credit card at some retailers who require a photo ID for verification (this is happening more and more these days)

–purchasing alcoholic beverages

–attending college classes (yes, colleges issue student IDs, but lots of them want to see an official state ID or driver’s license before they issue one)

–driving a car

–applying for food stamps or EBT cards, in some states

–starting a new job (especially to fill out the I-9 form)

–traveling by plane or train

–purchasing or renting a home or apartment

Now, so long as the laws requiring Voter ID include some provisions for alternate forms of ID for the elderly (such as social security checks mailed to them), the handicapped, and select others who may not need or use a photo ID or be able to have one, and as long as a valid voter registration card is accepted without an ID, I think that voter identification laws are sensible in our day and age. The concern posted above about people who recently moved is interesting, though, because in many states you must have lived in the county where you are planning to vote for at least 30 days (it varies by state) prior to voting there *and* have registered to vote at least 30 days prior to the election. If you haven’t, then you’re not eligible to vote in your new county, though you may be eligible to vote in your former place of residence.

[NFR: You might phrase this, “Why are the Democrats so eager to make sure people who might not be registered to vote get to vote?” I think we know the answer in both the R and the D cases. — RD]

#6 Comment By mm On August 7, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

J- you are grossly incorrect about losing the right to vote for simple DUI etc. It requires a felony DUI- usually a 3rd offense or something like hitting & killing someone. Most states have a mechanism to regain your right to vote after a felony that causes one to lose it. Al least try to look things up.

#7 Comment By Roger II On August 7, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

Erin — many poor people, who are more likely to vote Democratic and in some states are more likely to be minorities, do few if any of the things on your list. And I am pretty sure that you do not need a photo ID to qualify for SNAP. In fact, a state would have to obtain a waiver from the Department of Agriculture to do so, and Maine’s request was denied earlier this year. Many landlords in poverty-stricken neighborhoods do not require photo IDs, either. That’s the whole point — while it is unclear how many people do not have photo ID, it is very clear that those who do not are probably going to be poor.

#8 Comment By Eric On August 7, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

Ever notice how in the media, when the Democrats work to maximize minority voter turnout, it’s considered normal, but when Republicans work to maximize white voter turnout, it’s considered dangerous and immoral?

This is a false analogy. There isn’t a recent history of attempting to disenfranchise the white working class to push back against.

Republicans is not to develop a strategy that depends on exploiting racial anxieties

What’s an example of an anxiety shared by white working class voters as white working class voters that is:

a) Not also true of working class voters generally, and

b) Is not connected with racial anxieties?

#9 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 7, 2013 @ 8:07 pm


The most commonly-issued state photo ID is the drivers’ license, which many poor people (especially in urban areas) do not have. Some states issue “non-drivers-licenses”–photo ID cards from the DMV that do not grant the bearer the privilege of operating a motor vehicle.

At any rate, there are two questions involved with determining whether someone may cast a ballot:
* Is a given person an eligible voter?
* Is the person who he/she says he is?

Photo ID doesn’t do much to answer the first question; given that many drivers’ licenses do not indicate citizenship or disqualifying felony. They do allow an elections official to verify, with some confidence, that the person at the polls is really the person listed on the voter rolls for the precinct.

Determining the answer to the first question is more a proper function of voter REGISTRATION.

One complicating factor is that many states permit same-day registration (or don’t require it all!), and Democratic GOTV has often gone after unregistered-but-eligible voters in Dem-friendly demographics. (To answer Rod’s question). If you are showing the polls seeking both to register AND to cast a ballot, additional evidence of eligibility makes sense. However, federal law has long required that an affidavit of citizenship (the intending voter signs a form swearing under penalty that they are a US citizen) is sufficient to establish such, and that states should not require additional evidence of citizenship such as passports or birth certificates.

The other issue is that of cleansing the voter rolls (removal of voters who may be dead, no longer living in the precinct, or otherwise ineligible), and some states (Florida being the most notorious recent example) have engaged in overzealous cleansing of the rolls, often on specious grounds (including allegations of non-citizenship). Whereas people often die or move away, people seldom lose their US citizenship–if someone was a valid elector at a prior election, it is usually safe they still qualify on this basis at the next one. (And if someone fraudulently registers, that ought to be a police matter, not a voter-roll-maintenance matter).

#10 Comment By JonF On August 7, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

Erin, those voter ID laws allow unscrupulous politicians to cherry pick their voters by denying “undesirables” the relevant ID. Or at least by making it hard to get. We have a law on the books, one of those ill-considered War on Terror laws, that does make it harder to get a drivers license or state ID these days. It would be very easy to manipulate that law to keep IDs away from people one did not want voting.

In principle, I would be OK with voter ID laws– but only if there’s no way to deny an ID to someone who is registered to vote. As far as I know every jurisdiction issues a free voters card to anyone who registers to vote. Let that be the necessary ID.

#11 Comment By Pinkjohn On August 7, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

Ross’s last point, that appealing to white working class voters with an economic message would have added benefits of bringing along some minority voters, is a great one. It is also pure Marxism (the good kind). If the working class were to vote their class interests our polity would look a lot different. But when that gets close to happening, out comes the “dog whistle” with the racial siren song, “those (name the minority) are coming to take your jobs/ruin your schools/marry your daughters and sons/take over your neighborhood/undermine our culture with rap music/salsa, etc.” to cloud the vision of the real class interests.

@Erin, on the face these voter ID laws seem innocuous. But when you look at who drafted these laws and funded the push for them, ALEC and the Koch brothers, it might make you think. I believe they have a racist agenda, but even if that is not true, they certainly have an interest in suppressing the Democratic vote.

[NFR: But “class interest” is a highly loaded term, presuming that material interest is the most important. Would you vote for a party that promised to lower your taxes and benefit you economically if it also promised to fight same-sex marriage and gay rights in general? I bet you wouldn’t, and I would commend you for putting moral values over material ones. — RD]

#12 Comment By Jesse Ewiak On August 7, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

Ignoring that nothing you described above is a right, unlike voting and that the actual instance of voting fraud, especially voting fraud via posing as another person is virtually nil in the past few decades, I’d be OK with voting ID’s if they were totally free, those same voter bills had funding in them to open up new ID centers in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and those same voting ID laws also didn’t limit early voting, Sunday voting, absentee ballots, voter registration drives, and so on.

#13 Comment By j. r. mc..Faul On August 7, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

Erin argues for a National ID card. How many Republicans are good with that?

As long as the vast majority of people in the US are opposed to National ID cards, then a person’s affidavit of citizenship is sufficient in all cases.

#14 Comment By Erin Manning On August 7, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

Well, here’s the list of information needed to qualify for SNAP:


A voter’s registration card is one of the documents you can use in support of your SNAP claim, interestingly enough.

And, no, I don’t argue for a national ID, though I suspect we’re moving in that direction–expect to see it called for on homeland security grounds. My opinion is that states should permit *either* a voter’s registration card OR a photo ID at the polls, with the photo ID being necessary for people who don’t have their voter’s registration card with them when they go to vote (I can never find mine). But we should realize that in these days of misdirected mail and mail theft that requiring only a voter’s registration card may *sometimes* disenfranchise some voters (it has happened in the recent past to my knowledge, where someone showed up to vote and was told that he/she had already voted).

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 7, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

Voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. There is no significant pattern of people walking into polling places impersonating a registered voter. So why do those concerned with the integrity of the process favor this as their leading edge “reform”?

Because it sets up another hoop or two for those who want to vote, and those hoops will filter out some eligible voters, and the proponents think that those filtered out will more be the other side’s voters than their own voters.

I work at the polls in a state with same-day registration. They DO have to prove who they are to register, and that generally does involve photo ID, although there are reasonable alternatives. Same-day registration is no less stringent at the polls than it is at city hall. But its a long way down to city hall, and parking is a lot more difficult and more expensive.

#16 Comment By stef On August 7, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

Why would the white working class have any significantly different political aims or interests than the non-white working class? It seems to me that divisive racial polemics serve only to hinder the development of genuine working-class / lower-income populism.

#17 Comment By JonF On August 8, 2013 @ 6:13 am

Erin, sounds like we’re pretty close on voter ID. As for a true national ID, I could support that, if it were done right– basically a minimal card that had a picture, a name, and and an indication of citizenship (and maybe an expiration date and a card serial no allowing it be verified online)– and nothing else so the card, lost or stolen, would not become a one stop shop for ID thieves.

#18 Comment By Tim On August 8, 2013 @ 7:19 am

JohnE_o comes along to tell us that the ads used by Republicans concerning Willy Horton were “dangerous and immoral.” Because allowing a convicted first degree murderer out on furlough whereupon he kidnaps and rapes a couple from Maryland is just fine. It’s just that pointing this out is mean. No doubt John has no problem with the Catholic Bishops who repeatedly reassigned priests who had committed sexual abuse of minors, but I bet he is outraged over the people who criticized them for that.

#19 Comment By Matt On August 8, 2013 @ 10:30 am

Erin, those voter ID laws allow unscrupulous politicians to cherry pick their voters by denying “undesirables” the relevant ID.

Is there actually any evidence of this, or is it driven by paranoia? For that matter, why wouldn’t it be handled the way corruption is normally handled: on a case-by-case basis? Since unscrupulous politicians can manipulate any process for enforcing any law to punish their ideological enemies, this seems an argument for not passing any laws.

In truth, Voter ID is a sideshow. It’s not what all of the subtext regarding the evil of Rs appealing to whites is about. It has a marginal effect on voter turnout that would not have swung a single state in 2012, and for all anyone knows that margin may have been a fraudulent one. Nevertheless, it has become the new left cause-de-jure, maybe because they have nothing else available with which to charge their enemies with ignominious villainy. Why can’t people see that “racist” has become the new “communist”?

#20 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 8, 2013 @ 11:16 am

Re: It is also pure Marxism (the good kind). If the working class were to vote their class interests our polity would look a lot different.

Yea, exactly. Unfortunately, racial identity politics are a convenient way to get (some) working class white people to vote against their class interest (as Marx himself predicted).

#21 Comment By JonF On August 8, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

Matt, I have never heard the GOP criticized for appealing to the interests of the white working class– as Daniel Larrison notes ( [4]) economic populism is anathema to the GOP and the merest hint of it, in the campaigns of Santorum or Huckabee, was enough to send the Big Boys running to hide under the bed — checkbooks shut. Ditto Douthat and Salem’s more measured “Sam’s Club Republicanism” — which I find attractive– sank like a lead balloon.
The tactics of the GOP in this area have been wholly negative. That’s what we are criticizing. Not an effort to get white working folk to vote for the GOP, but rather shady efforts to keep non-white folk (and maybe students too) from voting at all. If you unaware of this I suggest you get your news from someplace other than Fox and RedState.com.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 8, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

Because allowing a convicted first degree murderer out on furlough whereupon he kidnaps and rapes a couple from Maryland is just fine. It’s just that pointing this out is mean.

What was disreputable about the Willie Horton ads was insinuating that an individual who held office during one segment of one much longer period when it was policy designated by the legislature that such furloughs be granted was personally responsible and therefore ipso facto if they were elected to office murderers would be granted furloughs and kidnap and rape to their hearts’ content.

This is something Al Gore should have thought about before his campaign ran the first Willie Horton ads.

Incidentally, I know of many people who have been in prison or are in prison who darn well ought to have furloughs, and one or two are doing life terms for murder. I also know there are some VERY slick operators in prison who could make a very appealing case who should NEVER EVER EVER get a furlough, including some convicted of much lesser crimes. So its a tough thing to deal with. It is good to err on the safe side.

#23 Comment By Glaivester On August 9, 2013 @ 9:14 am

Siarlys, Dukakis is responsible for vetoing a bill that would have denied furloughs to non-paroleable murderers.

#24 Comment By Glaivester On August 9, 2013 @ 9:16 am

I also find it hypocritical how Republicans are supposedly the ones stirring up racial resentment, when Democrats are fond of telling us that blacks will be”back in chains” if the GOP has its way, or that trying to regulate immigration is racist, or that whites lynching blacks decades ago is a much bigger problem than the (around) half of murders committed by blacks right this year.

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 9, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

when Democrats are fond of telling us that blacks will be”back in chains” if the GOP has its way

That’s certainly a historical short-cut. What had to be overthrown in the 20th century was a pattern of racial distinction that didn’t really begin until after the Civil War, and wasn’t fully codified until circa 1900. When women who thought of themselves as “white” (and thought very well of themselves for it) were wailing “This is destroying our way of life, its ALWAYS been like this,” there were quite a few people still living who could remember the day new laws took effect mandating segregated seating in street cars. “Back in chains” doesn’t even cover what is at issue.

Glaivester, if that’s true about Dukakis actually vetoing a bill, you have a point. I haven’t been able to find it. I’ve found reference to the original bill being signed by his Republican predecessor as governor, and to Dukakis being reluctant to end the program, which, by the time it became an issue, Massachusetts had done.

I would have been reluctant to END the program also. I have too much first-hand knowledge of prisoners whose children, spouses, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews REALLY appreciate such opportunities. I would have picked a board free of political baggage, put them through some rigorous training on mooches and con artists, set some guidelines, and then turned it over to them, with discretionary powers to approve or deny, but to be used with genuine discretion, not “we can do whatever we want to.” In American government, that’s a tall order.

Anyone who stabbed a young man 17 times during a robbery would have had as much chance of getting a furlough as a rich man has of entering the kingdom of heaven. But a woman who blew away an abusive husband… at least a 50 percent change of getting a whole week at a time.