At the end of his contribution to the great Chait debate, Krugman writes:

I’m surprised that Jon doesn’t talk at all about the key political role of race in the political shift in this country. Reagan didn’t start as a supply-sider: he started as the enemy of welfare queens in their welfare Cadillacs. And what I’ve learned from Larry Bartels, Tom Schaller, and other political scientists is that race is really central to the whole thing. Here’s a preview quote from my own book:

“The overwhelming importance of the Southern switch suggests an almost embarrassingly simple story about the political success of movement conservatism. It goes like this: thanks to their organization, the interlocking institutions that constitute the reality of the vast right-wing conspiracy, movement conservatives were able to take over the Republican Party, and move its domestic policies sharply to the right. In most of the country, this rightward shift alienated voters, who gradually moved toward the Democrats. But Republicans were nonetheless able to win presidential elections, and eventually gain control of Congress, because they were able to exploit the race issue to win political dominance of the South. End of story.”



Really? That's it - that's the whole story? The Cold War, the crime wave, the sexual revolution and Roe v. Wade, the tax revolts, and about sixty other smaller things that I can think of were all trumped by the race issue? What an utterly ridiculous interesting idea.

You can find some of my earlier thoughts on this question here and here; I also think this Yglesias post (written in response to a previous Krugman foray on this topic) makes a great deal of sense. More generally, I would suggest that anyone who tells you that there's "an almost embarrassingly simple story" that explains thirty years of American politics (and happens to prove that their political opponents are evil bigots, and bigot-enablers) probably needs to do a little bit more reading on the subject.

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