The GOP’s Muslim ‘southern strategy’

US Politics
on 9 Comments

When Mitt Romney stated that it was Israel’s “culture” that was responsible for the country’s superior economic development he was simply recycling an argument long used to explain black poverty in the US.  African American’s were poor, it was argued, because of a “culture of poverty” and a “pathology” which leads them to have children out of wedlock or become dependent on welfare. This framework, developed a few decades ago, became a staple part of political culture with both Republicans (Reagan’s famous “welfare queens”) and Democrats (Clinton’s ending of “welfare as we know it”) using it to further their electoral campaigns.  

So it’s not surprising that Romney should chose to rehash this argument in the Palestinian context—its Arab “culture” that is responsible for the economic misery that Palestinians live under, right? Occupation has nothing to do with it. What we see at work here is not only a rehashing of old Orientalist frames, but the addition of Arabs and Muslims to the “Southern strategy.”

Cultivated in the 1960s and 70s, the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” was a means by which white voters in the South could be won over by subtle appeals to anti-black racism. African American men were coded as criminals to be locked up and a new form of racial control was born. Nixon and later Goldwater exploited the fear of “lawlessness,” supposedly brought on by the civil right movements, as a way to position the GOP as “tough on crime” and to win Southern whites away from the Democratic Party. Appealing to white working class voters’ anxieties about what de-segregation would mean for them economically, the GOP also argued against welfare.

The election of Obama in 2008, and Democratic victories in Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina that year, signaled a blow to the old “Southern strategy.” Yet if Obama’s African American roots were no longer going to be as useful, his Muslim familial connections would quickly rise to prominence. Obama was “accused” during his campaign of being a “secret Muslim,” a charge that would come back again and again reaching a crescendo during the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy in 2010. 18% of the public believed that Obama was Muslim in 2010. This figure remains about the same today, but larger numbers of conservative GOP voters (34%) identify Obama as Muslim in 2012 than in 2008 (when the number was 16%).

The new GOP Southern strategy now highlights Muslims and Arabs as the key threats to national security and “law and order,” even while the old one lingers on. This strategy is not subtle in its racist appeals in the way that anti-black racism had to be in the post-civil rights era. It is much more blatant drawing upon a long history of bipartisan attacks on Arabs and Muslims.

Thus, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass) is raising money for his reelection campaign in part by praising the endorsement of a libertarian blogger who claims Obama is Muslim. Similarly Michelle Bachmann’s accusation that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) agent is a part of this approach. It is a means of appealing to the Republican base (about 25% of the electorate) which holds far right wing values.

For this base, Romney is not a candidate they can get excited about (as was evident in the GOP presidential primaries). When Bachmann accused Abedin of infiltrating the government on behalf of the MB she was both employing McCarthyite type fear mongering tactics and positioning the Republican party, and Romney, as a “lesser evil.” That is, if Romney is not the darling of the far right, he is certainly better than a Democratic Party infiltrated by Muslim agents (be they Obama or Abedin).

Bachmann’s attack on Abedin, and its ringing endorsement by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the far right wing media apparatus, demonstrated that she could corral this base and bring them along on a Romney-Bachmann ticket. When asked on CNN about her VP ambitions Bachmann coyly replied that it was not her decision to make. More recently, John Bolton (a key Romney foreign policy advisor) expressed disagreement at the push back Bachmann was facing and came to her defense.

None of us should be surprised if Romney does indeed make her his choice for Veep. Yet, it is worthwhile to note that it was none other than McCain who began the attack on Bachmann. Perhaps recognizing the pitfalls of his Sarah Palin adventure, McCain seems to be sounding the alarm of including politically inexperienced, verbally inept, far rightwing tea party candidates on a presidential slate. Dick Cheney similarly weighed in advising Romney not to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Whatever Bachmann’s future may hold, anti-Muslim racism is going to play a part in the GOP’s strategy this election year. But don’t expect Obama and the Democrats to debunk this by taking a principled anti-racist position. Romney has been  squealing that Obama has betrayed the country by leaking national security secrets. Obama outflanked Romney from the right by revealing his “kill lists” thereby demonstrating that he can be “tough on terror.” The range of debate at the top of society is going to be stiflingly narrow unless we build social movements that can challenge and speak out against Islamophobia.

About Deepa Kumar

Deepa Kumar is an associate professor of Media Studies and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of "Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire" and "Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization and the UPS Strike". You can follow her work at her website and on twitter @ProfessorKumar.

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9 Responses

  1. yonah fredman
    August 1, 2012, 2:26 pm

    “Nixon and later Goldwater exploited the fear of lawlessness” This would infer that even in his 1960 bid for the White House Nixon exploited this fear. I am not aware of this. I know that when Nixon ran in 1968 it was true, in which case it would be “Goldwater and later Nixon”.

    • lysias
      August 1, 2012, 3:16 pm

      You’re right. Nelson Rockefeller in 1960 made Nixon agree to the “Compact of Fifth Avenue,” which committed the Republican Party to an advanced civil rights position.

    • traintosiberia
      August 2, 2012, 6:29 am

      Interestimgly Goldwater in 1985 0r 1987 or around that time predicted that Israel could get US in war ofor its own interest.

  2. Krauss
    August 1, 2012, 3:04 pm

    I am by no means a friend of the GOP grassroots, but they do not hold the ultimate power here. The elites, as always, are more important. That’s why Obama and co won’t call Romney out.

    Because Romney’s racist bundlers(one of whom, J. Philip Rosen referred to a ‘holy war’ between Israel and it’s muslim neighbours) truly believe what he sprouts.

    And Romney declared himself a ‘progressive’ in 2002 and promised to be as strong as anyone on gay rights.

    The bottomline: he will say whatever he needs to say.
    And Obama didn’t hesitate to go after the Tea Party in 2010, even hinting that ‘they do not like what I represent’ with heavy-handedness so that every reporter got the hint.

    Yet the DNCC is trying to outflank Romney from the right, and that’s because a lot of these racist bundlers have kinred spirits across the aisle.

    Haim Saban, one of Obama’s biggest supporters, even admitted to being ‘transformed to Avigdor Lieberman whenever Israel is in a conflict’.

    As long as there is no opposition to this kind of racism, you know that the elites in both parties are being paid to either stay silent(Democrats) or amplify it (Republicans).

    The end result is the same.

  3. traintosiberia
    August 2, 2012, 7:03 am

    Muslim bashing is not unexpected and surprisingly has taken so long compared to the development of similar mindset against German in WW1 ( German Measles was renamed as was Frecnh Fry after 2003),Chinese after 1949,Vietnamese after 1959 or Russian after Korean conflcits and Mexiacan afer 1847. It is defensive mechanism to numb the mind and conscience.It is easier to kill a man if he or she could be branded as evil,imbecile,degenerate,or beast. But its amazing the same strategy is reemployed repeatedly again and again in the same geographical location targeting the same population with tangible succeess.That is beoynd logic particlularly when taht impression is evidnet among intellectual giant ( social climbers! ) who hector and lecture and lampoon masses for odd belief in God or miracle or after life
    On another vein,this line of reasoning could still be invoked despite the developments in science,psychology,behavioral economics,and despite available evidences of quintessential nature of normative overall similarity in human intelligence and IQ and the evidences of corrupting effects of colonization on human dvelopment .
    It is remarkble that the same mind that will flinch and recoil aginst utterring a word remotely connected to racism or bigotry against LGBT,Latinos,Blacks or even Asian -Indians can not only do and promote these invectives but expect to benfit from it.
    The degenaration is complete and so is the acceptance of rotten corpses of pre Darwianian ,pre Freudian concept of humanity as reincarnation of American reawakening .Never forgetting to remind the addled brain that the current conflict is derived from “Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism” that are out there struggling again to uplift the fallen. The Child never grows up.He moves from beast to Native Indians to Blacks to Mexicans to Muslims always keeping the milestone stuck in stone age.

  4. traintosiberia
    August 2, 2012, 7:16 am

    Have one ever wondered why the most corupt politican is also most pro-Israeli.? Santorum,Cain,Gingrich, Romney,Chenney,Kirk the lsit keeps on growing.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    August 2, 2012, 11:58 am

    RE: “When Mitt Romney stated that it was Israel’s ‘culture’ that was responsible for the country’s superior economic development he was simply recycling an argument long used to explain black poverty in the US.” ~ Deepa Kumar

    FROM GEORGE WALLACE (1963 Inaugural Address ~ January 14, 1963 ~ Montgomery, Alabama):

    [EXCERPTS] . . . Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again through history. Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever. . .
    . . . Let us send this message back to Washington by our representatives who are with us today . . that from this day we are standing up, and the heel of tyranny does not fit the neck of an upright man . . . that we intend to take the offensive and carry our fight for freedom across the nation, wielding the balance of power we know we possess in the Southland . . . . that WE, not the insipid bloc of voters of some sections . . will determine in the next election who shall sit in the White House of these United States . . . That from this day, from this hour . . . from this minute . . . we give the word of a race of honor that we will tolerate their boot in our face no longer . . . . and let those certain judges put that in their opium pipes of power and smoke it for what it is worth.

    Hear me, Southerners! You sons and daughters who have moved north and west throughout this nation . . . . we call on you from your native soil to join with us in national support and vote . . and we know . . . wherever you are . . away from the hearths of the Southland . . . that you will respond, for though you may live in the fartherest reaches of this vast country . . . . your heart has never left Dixieland. . .

    And you native sons and daughters of old New England’s rock-ribbed patriotism . . . and you sturdy natives of the great Mid-West . . and you descendants of the far West flaming spirit of pioneer freedom . . we invite you to come and be with us . . for you are of the Southern spirit . . and the Southern philosophy . . . you are Southerners too and brothers with us in our fight. . .

    SOURCE –

    • lysias
      August 2, 2012, 6:53 pm

      Funny, I thought a lot of Southerners were proud of having Celtic roots. I wonder what they made of that “great Anglo-Saxon Southland” phrase.

  6. anan
    August 4, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Deepa Di, there is virtually no chance Romney will get a nut like Bachman as his VP. He didn’t create Bain Capital from scratch by being brain dead insane.

    His most likely woman VP running mate would be Nikki Haley in my opinion.

    Israel’s talent for business, product development, R&D, technology and entrepreneurship are deeply admired around the world. More so in Asia and Brazil in my opinion than in the US. There is a reason Indira Gandhi wanted India to be more like Israel. [Not in misbehaving with the Palestinians. That is not at all what they mean. They mean being successful like Israel in business, and to a lesser degree the Mossad and IDF]. Then South Vietnamese Vice President Ky famously praised Israel as a strong country and was attacked by Palestinian terrorists while traveling on his aircraft.

    Many Asians want their kids to be like Israel. Really successful, hard working, passionate, creative, goal oriented and family oriented. Although not necessarily having the best morals in the universe. Would you disagree?


    I think you are wrong to perceive American free market types as anti muslim. Malaysia represents the model many Republicans aspire to make America like. No taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest. Low 26% top marginal tax rate. Very simple relatively flat tax code. Most can fill their tax returns on the internet. Malaysia also has very simple low business taxes and simple regulations. Overtly and unapologetically pro capitalist and pro business. No occupy business.

    In his recent trip to Palestine and Israel, Romney seemed very respectful towards Fayyad and Abu Mazen. Strange as this sounds, I think Romney will probably be more pro Palestinian than Obama’s first term if elected. What do you think?

    In practice Obama has given in to Israel a lot more than Bush junior, Clinton, Bush senior, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon and LBJ. [LBJ is the first strongly pro Israeli US president.]

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