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Is This The Start Of A Southern Strategy Revival?

(CBS/AP/David Katz)
When President Obama sat down with Sgt. James Crowley and Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. for their now famous "beer summit" last week, it pushed two perennial no-no's - race and class - to the front of the national discussion agenda (at least until the next installment of John and Kate plus Eight.) The timing was purely coincidental but a few days later, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press issued a report detailing the slide in President Obama's job approval numbers.

When you review the findings, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that President Obama has a growing problem with less affluent white Americans. Consider the falloff in his approval ratings between June and July.

  • 55 percent of Americans with less than $30,000 in annual family incomes now hold significantly less positive views of the president's performance, down from 65% in June.

  • Among whites with annual family incomes of less than $75,000, Obama's approval rating fell to 47 percent from 57 percent last month.

    It's not an anomaly. A Gallup survey turns up similar findings, with white support for Obama dropping 16 points since the start of the year to 47 percent. For Michael Steele and the rest of the Republican braintrust, finally, a way to change the subject from the latest hijinks of Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin's prime time quest for fulfillment. And they are making the best of the opportunity.

    You only have to turn on the television to learn there's a lot of unchanneled rage out there - first, the tea party protests against endless financial bailouts, then the conspiracy theorists challenging President Obama citizenship and now the growing flap over "Obamacare." In fact, Thomas Edsall in the Huffington Post suggests what we're witnessing is a Republican return to a "White Voter strategy," similar to the so-called "Southern Strategy" which helped Richard Nixon win the White House in 1968. A similar critique is offered by The Nation's Leslie Savan. who goes one step further to connect the dots between the "birthers," the Gates arrest and the debate over health care reform. To wit:

    "There were Birthers insisting that Obama's presidency is illegitimate because he was born in Kenya; CNN's Lou Dobbs trying to legitimize the Birthers, and of course, an angry Rush Limbaugh fuming that Obama 'is an angry black man.' None of them, however, could hold a fuse next to Glenn Beck, who asserted that the biracial POTUS is a 'racist' who has 'a deep-seated hatred of white people,' something so unhinged that even the Brown-Haired-Guy-Who's-Not-Steve-Doocy (the Fox & Friends cohost who had to apologize a couple weeks ago for blurting that Swedes and 'other ethnics' are different 'species') called him on it."

    Savan's clincher is that Republican opposition to changing the health care system relies on spreading the notion it also would involve the racial redistribution of wealth. "As Beck himself said, practically redefining "welfare queen" as "healthcare queen": "Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill, are transforming America, and they're all driven by President Obama's thinking on one idea: reparations."

    Will it lead to Obama's Waterloo, the outcome South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint hopes for? To Be Continued. But in the meantime, check out the run of recent YouTube video clips and the anger of the mob-style protesters at congressional town hall meetings. (See what happened to Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat who has never lost a Congressional race with less than 67 percent of the vote, upon returning to Austin for a meet and greet.)

    Last month the Weekly Standard's impresario, Bill Kristol, urged critics of the Obama health care proposals not to pull their punches. "Go for the kill" was his prescription. He and other Republicans believe they have a winning moment. But is it a lasting one?

    The Republican's problem, as pollster Nate Silver has pointed out on another occasion, is that the numbers in any Southern Strategy redux don't add up any more. When the GOP adopted its Southern Strategy in the late 1960s, it was a very different America, one where perhaps less than 10 percent of the electorate was nonwhite. That majority is evaporating.

    To be sure, the polls are not terribly detailed. It's possible to still like Obama and be skeptical of the Democratic health care proposal. Well-insured Americans of any race, ethnicity, or skin color might have good reason to worry that their insurance plans will cover less, or be squeezed out of business by a government plan. Still, with demographic changes since then, about a quarter of the electorate is now nonwhite (and growing.)

    How well the Republicans fare in national elections will turn on how they deal with those demographic changes. That's been a challenge for the old timers who still haven't got the message that Opie and Aunt Bee no longer appear on prime time.

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