“He who controls redistricting can control Congress.” —Karl Rove , “The GOP Targets State Legislatures,” The Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2010
“I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president  we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” —Trent Lott  (R-MS), then Senate majority leader, at 100th birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Dec. 2002
. . . And the Decline of Everything We Care About
A principle that many Jewish supporters of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s understood was that if African Americans’ rights were denied, other minorities—other citizens—could suffer the same. Put another way, Am I not my brother’s friend? And if not I, who? If not now, when?
Columbia University journalism professor Thomas B. Edsall posts at the New York Times a disturbing analysis  of the gains that Republicans have made in the South in recent decades—and of African Americans’ loss of political influence there—of which the recent Supreme Court decision  in Shelby County v. Holder was a capstone (or a tombstone). President Lyndon Johnson knew when he pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964  and the Voting Rights Act of 1965  that white southerners would defect from the Democratic party for a generation. Fifty years later, the results may be even worse than even the savvy LBJ foresaw. The Democrats have been outmaneuvered by the Republicans in every conceivable way, and the consequences will likely be felt for decades, generations to come—and not in a good way. Non pro bono publico.
We strongly recommend that everyone interested in the survival of democracy in the United States read this concise overview  of how Republicans have pursued a strategy of gaining power in states and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their success is bad news for voting rights (minorities, students, the elderly), for social services and the social safety net, and just about every aspect of civic life in this country: reproductive choice, immigration reform, workers’ safety or veterans’ health care; investment in infrastructure; funding for education and the arts, for food inspection, air traffic safety, etc. Edsall’s piece is an epitome—a portrait in miniature—of some aspects of the same systematic dismantling by radical conservatives of the nation’s social and economic order that was held together by the New Deal and the Great Society detailed in Hedrick Smith’s powerful 2012 book Who Stole the American Dream? , due out soon in paperback. (See below for a list of Edsall’s books.)
“Bleaching,” “Packing” and “Cracking”
Somehow we were not aware of this, but Republicans have now gained control of the legislatures of all eleven former Confederate states . Free at last.
Among Edsall’s findings:
- . . . before the 1994 [congressional midterm] election, only one out of 202 black elected officials in Southern legislatures was in the minority party. After the 1994 contest, the number of Southern blacks in the minority party grew to 46 out of 260. In the aftermath of the 2010–11 elections, the proportion of Southern blacks serving in the majority—that is, the party controlling the state legislature—dropped to just 15 out of 313. In less than 20 years, the percentage of black legislators in the South serving in the majority fell from 99.5 percent to 4.8.
- Republicans are currently entrenched, backed by decisive majorities of white voters. Republican legislators in the South have, in turn, moved aggressively on two fronts to secure their power: by designing legislative and Congressional districts minimizing Democratic prospects and by moving ahead with legislation designed to suppress voting under the guise of combating voter fraud.
- After the censuses of 1990, 2000 and 2010, Republicans demonstrated superior skill in controlling the election of the state legislators who draw new district lines—and superior deftness in the mechanics of creating new districts.
“The Decline of North Carolina ,” a New York Times editorial published July 9, tells what a southern state’s legislature can do when Republicans are in the majority.
Thomas B. Edsall is the author, most recently, of The Age of Austerity : How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics. He has written four other books, including Building Red America : The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power; Chain Reaction : The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (with Mary D. Edsall); and The New Politics of Inequality .
Of related interest:
Louis Menand, “The Color of Law: Voting Rights and the Southern Way of Life ” (The New Yorker, July 8 & 15, 2013)
“Is the South Dragging the Rest of the Nation Down? ” by Allen Barra (Alternet)
Rand Paul’s rewriting of his own remarks on the Civil Rights Act  (The Fact Checker @ The Washington Post)