It’s not clear why poor Candace Owens is so ill informed about history in general, and U.S. history specifically. It’s not because she is African American. We have any number of highly qualified, well informed African American historians about. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s upcoming mini series on Reconstruction, the period immediately after the Civil War, looks very promising.
The problem is more likely that she is a “conservative,” whatever that means in the modern United States. Your guess is as good as mine. Knee jerk opposition to whatever their fantasy du jour about the Democratic Party happens to be is the only apparent commonality. “Conservatives” tend not to be empiricists. That is, they usually do not follow the common practice of observing the world around them using their five senses and drawing conclusions about what is and how it works from the information they derive from that practice. Instead, they tend to develop their own, highly ideological fantasies about how the world should work, then proceed to tell themselves that it actually does work that way, in defiance of all evidence if necessary.
So they still try to raise questions about the problem of climate change and the human role in it, to teach creationism and “abstinence only” sex education in public schools, and to claim, at least implicitly, that Donald Trump is fit to be president of the United States, all of which are fairy tales. They are, of course, highly likely to be good Christians, adherents of the leading fairy tale in western culture.
Owens says that “Black People Don’t Have to be Democrats.” Of course, she is right. Thanks to the Democratic Party and the Voting Rights Act, which good Republicans in Alabama recently eviscerated via a Supreme Court decision, black people are quite free, as they should be, to register and vote as they see fit. The Republicans Owens champions may have gone to great lengths to keep that from happening, but that is a separate question.
Owens apparently fancies herself to be well informed. She appeared recently as a “witness,” at the invitation of Republicans, before a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on white nationalism and hate crimes. All “conservatives” can do is project, so of course, Owens dismissed the hearing as fear mongering, which is of course the stock in trade of conservatives the world over, both real ones and faux, degraded, U.S. ones.
Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) got Owens riled up by playing a clip of her speaking about how the problem with Adolph Hitler was not his nationalism (Jews will be surprised to hear that), but his “globalism,” which Owens claims to oppose, whatever it is.
But, and I have to whip out the first person here, the claim that caught my eye was her assertion, laughable, that the “southern strategy never happened.” Please.
This is personal to me. I studied civil rights history as a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University with the late Hugh Davis Graham. I learned Hugh had died when I arrived in Santa Barbara, California for a conference on the presidency of Ronald Reagan at which I was scheduled to appear on a panel with him about civil rights policy.
Graham was an expert on Nixon as president. He spent many hours poring over Nixon’s papers and wrote extensively about Nixon on domestic policy, especially civil rights policy.
As is often the case when “conservatives” like Owens are wrong, there is a tiny grain of truth swimming in the sea of misrepresentation. Since Owens’ primary goal always is to dispute the very strong claim Democrats have to being the Party of civil rights since 1964, her point in disputing the southern strategy, presumably — it is not at all clear from the context — is to try to rescue Nixon from the allegation of vast cynicism, at best, on civil rights and the observation that he used African American civil rights protesters, as well as Vietnam War protesters, as a foil to win the 1968 presidential election.
In doing this, which he undoubtedly did, Nixon set up the dog whistle racism every Republican after him would use to win the presidency, when they won, until Donald Trump, who chose instead to use full voice racism, directed at Mexicans and Muslims instead of African Americans, but as African Americans showed by giving only eight percent of their votes (poor Candace) to Trump, his roving racism could easily make them their primary target should need or opportunity, as Trump’s fervid imagination required, dictate.
Graham was very clear that it is technically incorrect to call Nixon’s a southern strategy simpliciter. Graham noted that it was actually a border south strategy. As other scholars have pointed out, Nixon wanted to thread the needle between Hubert Humphrey on his left and George Wallace on his right. He knew that there were plenty of people in the upper south who would be happy to vote Republican, in a departure from years of custom, given the right appeal, but that to compete with Wallace for the deep south would require a degree of overt racism that would alienate moderate voters, which Nixon wished to avoid.
So, as a statement removed entirely from its context, Owens is right that the southern strategy did not happen. But that claim is not true in the sense that Owens apparently meant. Nixon was entirely cynical on civil rights. The other important point Graham makes about Nixon is that he was heavily focused on foreign policy — Nixon was nothing if not a good Cold Warrior — and cared little about domestic policy, so he was happy to give the Democrats most of what they wanted in domestic affairs as long as he won for himself thereby a free hand in foreign policy.
This is all clearly written down for anyone who wants to read it, either on line or in any university library. Owens theoretically has the capacity to learn it. Professor Gates may or may not know this. He is focused on Reconstruction, not the Civil Rights Era right now, so he may not be thinking about it. But he certainly knows how to use a library and could easily brush up if he felt the need.
But again, Owens is a good “conservative,” meaning that she allows her ideological preferences to dictate her claims, not the evidence or advanced scholarship that rests on the evidence.
Candace Owens is wrong.