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Friday, June 24, 2005
Why The South Rankles the Democrats

Conservative Grapevine linked to this post over at MyDD (one of the bigger liberal blogs) about the things that are wrong with the "Progressive Blogosphere". I agree with some of the points (like the rampant homophobia expressed by liberals casually), and disagree with some of the others, but this one caught my attention:

Most discussions about "the south" are not a favorite of mine, to say the least. Whether we are being told how we can win "it," or why "it" is so stupid, I for one would like to know what the fuck "the south" actually is. Even as an electoral concept, I don't think it stands out as a distinct region anymore. Even apart from all that, I really want to know why we are so ridiculously obsessed with it. In case people out there hadn't noticed, the New Deal coalition is dead, and as a result of wide ideological differences, Democratic Presidential nominees are not going to win very many (a couple, but not very many) states that were once in the confederacy anytime soon (maybe in a couple of decades, but not very soon), no matter what we do. End of story. Even the most rudimentary political analysis should make this obvious by now, which in no way means we should stop campaigning there. Can we move on please, or should we instead engage in detailed discussions about how to move Rhode Island out of the "Swing State" column and into "Solid Democratic?"

There's a lot of foolishness packed into that one paragraph. First, it absolutely does make sense to refer to refer to the South as a distinct region from an electoral concept. If we define the South as the states below the Mason Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi, it becomes pretty obvious that it does vote pretty much as a block; almost always has and almost always will. When the Democrats are able to win one or two of those states, as in 1992 (Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky) or 1996 (Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida) they can win. When they lose the entire region, as in 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2004, they go down to defeat. This isn't even remotely controversial.

So why do Democrats hate to talk about the South? Well, mainly because the focus on the South gives Southern Democrats more power, because inevitably the conclusion is that Democrats only win states in the South when Southern white men are at the top of the ticket. This bugs self-styled progressives like Chris Bowers for several reasons:

1. Southern Democrats are more conservative than Northern Democrats. Some of this may be protective coloration, but look at the voting records of, say, John Breaux and John Kerry and it will immediately become obvious that most of the moderates in the Democratic Party come from the South.

2. It elevates in importance an increasingly smaller sliver of the party. As Southern white men have declined as a percentage of all Democrats, they have surged as a percentage of all Democratic tickets. Defining the South a little more loosely, the last two Democratic tickets without a Southerner in one or both of the slots were 1972 and 1984; not years that Democrats are apt to remember fondly.

3. Liberals are conditioned to hate certain groups as oppressors in society, and if you work it out, Southern (check) white (check) men (check) happen to fit all the boxes rather neatly.

Yet there seems no escaping the predicament. With the South continuing to grow and the North continuing to decline, it is hard to see how the Democrats can overcome this disadvantage without making a strong effort to court white Southerners.


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