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The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza recently wrote that President Obama is unpopular in my native Kentucky because he is “seen by Kentuckians as liberal and reflexively partisan.”

Democratic Racism

“B.S.,” counters Page One Kentucky, a Bluegrass State blog.

“It’s…because he’s black. That’s why people are afraid of the man. Even Democrats. It’s why a huge number of racist, bigoted Democrats admitted to voting against the man on the basis of race alone. It’s time to stop sugar-coating this anti-Obama B.S. Sure, some of it is on legit policy grounds but very little of it.”

Punches don’t get pulled on Page One. Many liberals swear by the blog; many conservatives swear at it.

Anyway, the blog’s broadside reminded me of the unnamed “Kentucky GOP strategist” who last year confessed, perhaps too candidly, to Politico’s Jason Zingerle that, “We are still a racist state, I hate to admit it. Anything you can connect to Barack Obama is a winning thing for us.”

Of course, Republicans blow fuses when somebody says the GOP practices dog-whistle politics to pander to white prejudice or that racism fuels much of the right-wing venom against the president.

Yet for the GOP, race has been a “winning thing” since the 1960s, when the party adopted the “Southern Strategy.” The idea was to win over white Democrats in Dixie who were angry with the Yankee wing of their party – and LBJ – for championing landmark civil rights laws aimed at ending Jim Crow segregation and race discrimination.

So the old GOP, the party of Lincoln and Liberty, became the new GOP of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. The white Democratic “Solid South,” and later Kentucky, turned Republican red. At the same time, African Americans almost unanimously forsook the GOP for the Democrats, a shift that began under FDR in the ’30s and ’40s.

Today, the Republicans, even up North and out West, are largely what the Dixie Democrats used to be: conservative white folks.

Anyway, Kentucky Democratic bigwigs might dispute – at least for public consumption -- Page One’s claim that “a huge number” of the party faithful voted for Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney because Obama is African American.

I wonder how many of them owned up to their racism. I know some did, according to pro-Obama party activists and volunteers.

They told me that some heretofore loyal Democrats told them they weren’t about to vote for a black man for president – and that “black” wasn’t the word the bigots used.

The confessions were whispered or were made behind closed doors, the Obama-voting Democrats said.

“Racism is more overt now in Kentucky than I have seen it in a long time, yet no one admits to being racist,” said David Nickell. He’s a lifelong Kentuckian who teaches sociology at Paducah-based West Kentucky Community and Technical College, where I taught history for two dozen years.

Nickell added, “In many ways, Obama's election brought it back to the surface… I don't remember ever seeing such raw hatred towards any elected official. Not even the Clintons got that sort of hatred.”

“That sort of hatred” was too much for a couple of Texas A&M students in 2008. A summer job selling books door-to-door brought them to my neck of the Bluegrass State woods.

The two white guys, both sporting military-style crew cuts, stopped their pickup truck, walked over to a trio of Obama volunteers registering voters in a county seat town and said, “We’re frightened for your candidate.”

The Aggies explained that they had encountered “several people” who brought up the election to them and frequently and angrily spewed racial epithets to describe Obama.

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The Texans guessed that the local bigots took them for bigots because they were fellow white Southerners.

The students said they were Republicans who planned to vote for McCain; they were in ROTC and planned to pursue an army career. They told the Obama volunteers that the racism they heard sickened them.

These Aggies are what Page One meant by Americans who have “legit policy” differences with the president. There are, of course, others – even in Kentucky.

Even so, Cillizza ought to know better than to say that Kentucky isn’t Obama country because “he is seen by Kentuckians as liberal and reflexively partisan.” Racism is the elephant in the living room, and not just in my home state.

“Nobody wants to say it out loud, but race is part of the political equation, in Kentucky and elsewhere,” former Louisville Courier-Journal editorial director David Hawpe wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader after Obama lost the Bluegrass State again in a landslide in 2012. “We're not post-racial, yet.”

Hawpe, an eastern Kentucky native, said the same thing out loud – okay, in print -- in the C-J during his tenure at the state’s largest paper.

[dc]“B[/dc]eyond the rhetoric and the numbers lies a great truth about red-state politics below the Mason-Dixon line,” he also wrote in his Herald-Leader op-ed piece. “Lyndon Johnson, as he pushed civil rights and voting rights bills, knew he was signing the Democratic Party's death warrant in the South. He gave Bill Moyers a pen after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and said, ‘We delivered the South to the Republican Party for your lifetime and mine.’”

Berry Craig

Hawpe concluded, “….Kentucky is one of America's least Obama-friendly red states. And it's not just a coal thing. Nor is it just about Kentucky's religious, conservative, rural values. [Sen. Mitch] McConnell used the GOP Southern strategy handed to him by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, took Western Kentucky away from the Democrats, and changed the state's political personality.”

David Hawpe sees the elephant.

Berry Craig

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