Brian Birdnow

Mainstream media hostility to the Republican Party is certainly nothing new, or at least not novel enough to lose any sleep over. The media narrative of the GOP as the captives of Wall Street and the business interests is as old as the hills. The fact that the financial sector provided President Obama’s main source of campaign contributions in 2008 should raise an eyebrow or two, but the media never allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. The old financial canard still plays well, so the media continue to rerun it, and will do so for the foreseeable future.

The second old chestnut trotted out by the mainstream media is the alleged racism of the Republican Party, and its wholesale appeal to the racial fears of a white electorate comprising the GOP base. The storyline supposes that Republican warnings of the dangers of “big government” and ruinous federal spending are actually code words which encourage supporters to rest assured the GOP will reimpose Jim Crowism and segregation at the earliest possible opportunity. This accusation is also showing its age, but it still plays fairly well, so the media will use it for an undetermined number of years into the new century.

Again, none of this material is surprising to citizens who read major metropolitan daily newspapers. It came as no real bombshell, therefore, when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a commentary piece on the Op-Ed page of the newspaper on Wednesday, January 4, 2012 in which the author attacked the GOP for racism, and traced this race baiting back to the 1960s and the halcyon days of Governor George Wallace. The author, a self proclaimed “liberal Democrat”, is a political science professor named Jeff Smith. Dr. Smith claims that the GOP inherited its race baiting ways from Governor Wallace of Alabama, conveniently ignoring Wallace’s own Democratic Party affiliation. Professor Smith then argues that candidate and later President Nixon refined this appeal to race, while Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush institutionalized and professionalized the practice. Finally, the good political scientist argues that modern Republicans like Perry, Paul, Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney are simply using the old GOP playbook.

While this level of insult rises to slander, it is certainly just politics as usual for the mainstream media, and Republican candidates are advised to shrug it off as meaningless chatter. What is surprising, even startling, to those few of us who still read the Post-Dispatch, is the fact that the author of this hate-mongering piece, Professor Jeff Smith, is a former Democratic state senator from Missouri, representing the west side of St. Louis.

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.