Forget any and all talk about the historic, and allegedly imminent, realignment of our political parties. Ignore stories that mention the "inevitable Republican majority." It must be clear by now that the Reagan White House, including the president, is far more interested in the president's reelection than in any party realignment or Republican majority.
For 1984, as of now, Ronald Reagan is patterning his campaign, especially in its southern strategy, after the 1972 model of Richard Nixon. That was the election when, in spite of Nixon's epic landslide victory, the GOP still lost two seats in the Senate.
Ronald Reagan is reportedly "hurt" by any suggestion that he is indifferent to racial segregation. He has led an administration that failed to take any position at all on congressional extension of the Voting Rights Act, generally acknowledged to be the most important civil rights statute of the century, and that argued before the Supreme Court the cause of segregationist Bob Jones University. It should be noted that Reagan has been far more supportive of Bob Jones than the latter has been of the president. Last year, Bob Jones publicly called George Bush "a devil" and Mr. Reagan "a traitor to God's people" for naming Bush vice president. But that was mild. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, whose department had interfered with Bob Jones' plans to confer an honorary degree upon Northern Ireland's meanest bigot, the Rev. Ian Paisley, was described by the Rev. Jones as "a monster in human flesh . . . a demon-possessed instrument to destroy America."
Throughout this amazing drama, Reagan stoutly insists that he is not "writing off" black voters. That is more than a little like Interior Secretary James Watt's announcing that he is not writing off the Sierra Club membership. Black voters were never available to Reagan to write either on or off. But by his reluctant followership of congressional Democrats and Republicans on voting rights and his championing of the unappealing Bob Jones, the president has obviously and deliberately chosen to write off many moderate, middle-class Republicans in hopes of picking up blue-collar southern whites in 1984.
Those so-called "Yankee" Republicans whom the president is writing off have historic roots in the abolitionist movement. They are concentrated in New England, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington. But they are found in every northern state. The listed states were, not surprisingly, those which were among the worst for George Wallace in 1968 and among the best for John Anderson in 1980.
Reagan's continued singing of the Bob Jones school song means that GOP Senate and House candidates in those Yankee states will feel obliged to establish daylight between themselves and the president in order to get elected. So much for party-building.
What Reagan seems to be doing is swapping the Anderson vote (7 percent nationally) for the Wallace vote (13 percent). But in addition to the moral myopia involved, that tactic is politically unsmart. Since 1968, when Reagan first employed a southern strategy in his failed try for the GOP presidential nomination, America has changed for the better on matters of race. Americans are now no longer disturbed about swimming, dining, riding, voting, or even living next to each other.
Americans do disagree a lot about affirmative action and racial quotas. But Bob Jones is not involved in that debate; he's back in the separate water-bubbler days.
On the day that the Supreme Court ruled against Bob Jones University and the Reagan Justice department, the Rev. Jesse Jackson became the first black man in this century to address the Alabama legislature in the capitol presided over by Gov. George Wallace, who won with black votes. The Reagan strategy is fighting history.