DESPITE gains made since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, America still remains racially polarized. Successful manipulation of the race division has for the most part accounted for the recent Republican control of the White House. The Democrats are perceived as representing the 'special interests'--a code word for blacks--and championing 'big government' and costly special programmes (for blacks) seen as constituting a drag on the national debt. In the 1992 presidential campaign, voters were more preoccupied with the economy and jobs. As a result, a Democrat was elected president for only the second time in 24 years. Yet, the pivotal role played by race in this election cannot be minimized. This article will focus on the black-white relation.
In the months leading to the presidential campaign, both parties plotted racial maps, reinforced racial stereotypes, reviewed past race-baiting advertisements and modified racial positions. Subtle but sophisticated racial manoeuvering helped to determine the conduct and eventual outcome of the election.
Race is nothing new in presidential politics. In 1968, George Wallace exploited it to gain votes among disgruntled Southern whites put off by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the 1988 presidential election, George Bush successfully exploited white fears of black crimes. Two years later, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina handed the President another recially loaded issue when he defeated his black opponent by portraying him as a supporter of 'quotas' which hurt white qualified job seekers. The success of Senator Helms led President Bush to denounce a Civil Rights legislation as a 'quota' bill even though it was similar to the one he had proposed.
The debate on 'quotas' was designed to drive a wedge between supporters of the Bill (mainly Democrats) and white voters who by and large resent measures that give blacks preferential treatment in education and hiring. Judge Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court was another cynical albeit skilful move to weaken and divide the opposition which ordinarily enjoys strong support in the black community. For their part, the Democrats also manoeuvred for winning race issues as they documented race-based grievances against the Republican administration. But they knew they were on weaker ground because in presidential races, votes are lost not gained by seeming to work with, or for, the 'special interests'--blacks.
These factors produced a racial climate that culminated in the David Duke phenomenon. Although …