Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) makes a habit of embarrassing his fellow Democratic representatives. Fortunately for Rangel’s colleagues, they are rarely asked to account for the misstatements of the perennial New York congressman in the same fashion that, say, so many Republican office holders were made to account for the imprudent statements of former Rep. Todd Akin.
Take, for example, Rangel’s recent reiteration of his claim that the states which made up the Confederacy support conservative Republicans because their residents are largely racists who despise President Barack Obama due to the color of his skin.
Via BuzzFeed, C-SPAN’s Q&A recently hosted Rangel where he was asked if he stood by his claim that most Republican opposition to Obama was driven by his race rather than his party.
“I have been requested not to talk about that too much,” Rangel conceded. “I think the reason for it is that it is just too darn obvious as to what it is all about.”
“I think if you take a look and see which counties and which Congressional districts, which areas of the United States had the most prejudice, it would be the slaveholding states,” he continued. “It would be the Confederate states. It would be the states that fought the Union. Those that hated Lincoln.”
Rangel went on, saying Confederates became Dixiecrats and are today members of the Tea Party.
“If you look at it today, they have changed parties,” he said. “They used to be Dixiecrats, then they became Tea Party. The love and affection of embracing the Confederate flag. And then you place a birth that a lot of attention was given to him. The fact that people can say we have got to take our country back and lawyers know it is not what the written word it is how did you say that to determine what they really meant. So people said, please don’t bring up that race thing anymore.”
The problems with this statement are myriad. Not only is it supremely offensive and insulting to an entire region of the United States, it provides so many Americans with an excuse to embrace their own sense of persecution. That’s not a healthy condition, and it is certainly not one a responsible representative of any constituency should foster.
But there is another larger problem with Rangel’s statement: It’s factually inaccurate.
The shift in the White southern electorate away from the Democratic Party and toward the GOP corresponded roughly with a shift in the White northern vote away from Republicans and toward Democrats. Both trends began well before the Civil Rights movement was a political force.
Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende has done some good work on this subject:
In the 1930s and 1940s, FDR performed worse in the South in every election following his 1932 election. By the mid-1940s, the GOP was winning about a quarter of the Southern vote in presidential elections.
But the big breakthrough, to the extent that there was one, came in 1952. Dwight Eisenhower won 48 percent of the vote there, compared to Adlai Stevenson’s 52 percent. He carried most of the “peripheral South” — Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida — and made inroads in the “Deep South,” almost carrying South Carolina and losing North Carolina and Louisiana by single digits.
Even in what we might call the “Deepest South” — Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi — Eisenhower kept Stevenson under 70 percent, which might not seem like much until you realize that Tom Dewey got 18 percent in Georgia against FDR in 1944, and that this had been an improvement over Herbert Hoover’s 8 percent in 1932.
Rangel has no excuse to make this statement as he should recall the 1970s and 1980s, when the South was still a reliable pool of Democratic votes in presidential years.
A breakdown of the presidential vote by county in 1976:
… shows that his transition was far from complete by the later part of the 20th Century.
In fact, the transition in the South is continuing. Republicans only took control of both chambers of the Mississippi legislature in 2011 – it was the first time the GOP had achieved this feat since Reconstruction. Even on the federal level, the South continues to realign. If the polls are to be believed, for example, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is set to become West Virginia’s first Republican U.S. Senator since Sen. William Chapman Revercomb lost to Rep. Robert Byrd in 1958 (in what was a particularly racially charged election).
But Rangel’s racially inflammatory and factually vacuous statement will pass with a chuckle from the press in much the same way that Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) racially charged jokes at the expense of Nevada’s Asian community did not merit a national conversation or a series of denunciations from his Democratic colleagues.
It’s a wonder why Rangel was, as he says, admonished for his routine and sloppy racial agitation. It is not as though any of his fellow Democrats are ever punished for his excess.