How did the conservative “law and order” rhetoric provide a new racial bribe to low- and lower-middle-class whites? How did this wedge impact the Democratic Party?
The "law and order" rhetoric of conservative white republicans began in the late 1950s and eventually became a new racial bribe to lower and lower-middle class white Americans. The claim that law and order in America was breaking down was strongly associated with black people and the civil rights movement due to the fact that southern officials attempted to characterize the civil disobedience of black activists to be criminal. There were also several other unfortunate and coincidental factors that supported the growth of the law and order movement, including the rise of the “baby boom” generation, riots in in Harlem and Rochester following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the movement of blue-collar factory jobs to the suburbs. Thus, when President Ronald Reagan announced his administration’s War on Drugs, it was not surprising that a few years later, drug use and dealing soared in inner cities. Furthermore, funding for criminal justice and punishment for crimes increased while drug treatment and prevention education decreased. While it was unacceptable for republicans to speak on openly racial terms, republicans spoke in implicit racial appeals to poor whites.
A disproportionate amount of the cost of integration was borne by lower and lower-middle class whites. These same poor whites were also now in direct competition with blacks for jobs, housing and schools leading to a wedge in the multiracial coalition that had formed in the New Deal. Thus, Republicans were able to win the vote of poor, working class white people and institute acts like minimum mandatory sentencing and death penalty for possession of drugs. The impacts of the law and order movement can be seen in the likes of Bill Clinton who was forced to move towards the right on law and order to win the vote claiming that, “no one could be tougher on crime than he” could. Clinton escalated the drug war and put millions in prison. He also changed the welfare program so people were unable to qualify for welfare for life and convicts could be completely excluded from food stamps. In the end, the law and order movement led to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration.