Thu
Nov 9 2006
09:29 pm

Prominent blogger Digby is dishing a prescription for strong electoral medicine.

Much grist for the mill here:

[Tom Schaller] has also written a book called "Whistling Past Dixie" where he makes the case for a non southern strategy. It's a very interesting thesis that makes a basic point, which nobody wants to admit, but which is undoubtedly true: the conservative majority in the south is much more conservative than the rest of the country and the Democrats simply cannot win by trying to accomodate it. And by conservative, I'm not talking about what we used to think of as conservative, I'm talking about the special regional conservatism that's dominated the GOP since it gelled as a southern dominated party in the early 90's.

This election marks the end of the GOP behemoth for any number of reasons, corruption and incoherence not the least of them. But I think there is also a new awareness that southern conservatism, which leans heavily on cultural indicators and the religious right is not working for most people. The vast majority of gains for the Democrats in this election came from outside the south.

This is an incredibly thought-provoking post. Many of the commenters (no surprise) miss the point entirely. It is especially interesting in light of the candidacy and strategy of one Harold Ford, Jr.

I would offer that Digby has hit upon something important here. Southern conservatism and its self-centered agenda has been thrust into the national spotlight, and undeservedly so. He argues (convincingly, to my eye) that not only has that agenda been repudiated in this electoral cycle, but also that the Democratic Party has demonstrated conclusively that a majority can be held without the South. It's rough reading, but understanding its underpinnings is important stuff.

RTWT, as they say. I'm interested to see reactions to this.

Topics:
R. Neal's picture

My reaction is bullshit. If

My reaction is that this is bullshit. If Democrats want to win, they will have to run at least to the middle, and in the South they will have to run to the right of center on some issues. And I'm not sure I see what's wrong with that (until they start bashing gays or throwing civil rights out the window).

It's more complicated than the other-region liberals make it out to be. They completely and totally miss the fact that nearly every Dem win on Tuesday was a moderate Dem with very few exceptions. They are out of touch and leading Democrats down the road to ruin, and have been for two or three election cycles now.

And I'm tired of being written off by the liberal elite. Would it kill them to help us help move the South to a more progressive place? We need the help more than anybody else in the country, yet they are ready to give up on us, for what? A few votes in New York? This attitude is a complete and cynical abandonment of everything the Democratic party is supposed to stand for.

Look for a much better analysis by Chris Kromm at the Institute for Southern Studies in the coming days. I've seen it, I'm just not sure where it will run first.

R. Neal's picture

P.S. the only thing proven

P.S. the only thing proven in the South in this race is that even if a black Democrat tries to run as a faux-Republican he will get lynched by the GOP. I can't imagine what would have happened if he had run as a liberal Democrat.

R. Neal's picture

P.P.S. Ask Digby to tell us

P.P.S. Ask Digby to tell us one thing that Harold Ford Jr. would oppose regarding Pelosi's First 100 Hours agenda? Or the addendums I posted. These guys need to wise up.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

I agree

I agree with you, Randy. Sure, the rightward lurch of the GOP over the last 25 years or so has its roots in the South's old traditions of bigotry, paranoia, xenophobia, and fundamentalism. But ever since the 1980 elections, the cancer of reactionary extremism has metastasized way beyond the Mason-Dixon line. It's no longer just a Southern problem.

How many of the right-wing Supreme Court Justices are from the South?

How many of the far-right think tanks are based in the South?

Digby's post (like almost every analysis of the South by non-Southerners) misses some crucial points:

First, he ignores the fact that states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and the big rectangle states in the middle have bought in to the same reactionary, extremist urge over the last several election cycles. This ain't just a Southern problem any more; it's nationwide.

Second, he ignores the fact that the Dems have been utterly inept at selling the central truth of the party ever since LBJ bowed out: Democratic principles are essentially populist in nature. If any Southerner were forced to think about Democratic principles on a personal level (labor issues, environmental issues, equality, tax policy, etc.), he or she would conclude that these are populist, individual-centric positions which speak to the average Joe. That could easily be made to appeal to the individualist tradition within the South (and especially in Appalachia). LBJ and Truman were the last great populists to win broad appeal, and it just amazes me that the national Democratic Party refuses to learn from its own history.

Writing off the South isn't the answer; convincing it is.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Rachel's picture

Dems have been utterly inept

Dems have been utterly inept at selling the central truth of the party ever since LBJ bowed out: Democratic principles are essentially populist in nature. If any Southerner were forced to think about Democratic principles on a personal level (labor issues, environmental issues, equality, tax policy, etc.), he or she would conclude that these are populist, individual-centric positions which speak to the average Joe. That could easily be made to appeal to the individualist tradition within the South (and especially in Appalachia). LBJ and Truman were the last great populists to win broad appeal, and it just amazes me that the national Democratic Party refuses to learn from its own history.

This is something I've thought about a lot in the last few years.  Dems have let the Republicans make social issues the central issue, but honestly, how much does gay marriage really affect most people's lives, one way or the other?

I don't disagree with Randy that a liberal would have hard sledding in the south.  But I also think that it's stupid for the Democrats to abandon efforts here.  They just need to hone their message.  I think even a candidate who supports gay marriage could make that palatable (if not likeable) in a state like Tennessee by framing it in terms of the govt staying out of people's private business.

One last point - it's also important to realize, as few non-southerners do, that Tennessee & Virginia aren't Mississippi and Alabama.  Hell, Knoxville isn't even Nashville.  Or Memphis.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Culture wars

Dems have let the Republicans make social issues the central issue, but honestly, how much does gay marriage really affect most people's lives, one way or the other? 

Culture wars are a favorite tactic among the reactionary forces in this country, and they always have been. Invariably, most Southerners respond by thinking of the issue in purely provincial ways; cultural issues in the South always devolve into us-versus-them demagoguery, rooted in the distinctly Southern distrust of outsiders.

During the first half of the 19th century, the abolitionist movement was seen by most non-Appalachian Southerners as an attempt by outsiders to interfere with internal matters. Secession wasn't about slavery per se -- it was about telling the North to butt out.

The gay marriage thing fits the same pattern: Southern reactionaries saw a decision by the "Massattusess" Supreme Court as interference by them damn yankees into private matters. I saw a pickup truck on Kingston Pike with a bumper sticker that said, "I love my wife." That would have been laudable as a sentiment, were it not for the adjacent bumper sticker that said, "God made Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve." The whole issue was framed as a threat to some personal ideal imposed from the outside. The national Democratic Party missed the boat on communicating the truth of the issue (as did gay rights groups), but the GOP was able to exploit the Southern fear of outsiders on yet another "social" issue.

In order to convince Joe Southerner of the justice, fairness, and rightness of liberal views, this co-opting of the message must be short circuited and fundamentally changed. As you said, if such issues were framed in terms of keeping the government out of our private business, the GOP stranglehold on the South would be lost forever.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

WhitesCreek's picture

So let's suppose, just for

So let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Harold Ford Jr. looked exactly like Lincoln Davis. Is there anyone who wants to present an argument that he would have lost had that been the case?

Now let's try another excercise...Suppose Harold Ford Jr. had not consciously voted a conservative record for the last four years exactly. Suppose he had come out against Amendment 1?

Tennessee is Tennessee...right or wrong, and these things take time... Far more than I would like.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Lincoln Ford?

I'm not sure about the Lincoln Davis comparison; I think Ford would have lost in that case, too. I don't think overt racism had much to do with Ford's loss; rather, I think he lost because 1) he's from Memphis, and 2) his last name is Ford.

If his race were a factor, how do you explain the fact that he got 45% of the vote in freakin' Union County? Ever been there? It's very, very, very white. And proud of it. I have family there, and I know whereof I speak.

Had Davis been running against Corker, or had Ford been white, the GOP machine would have manufactured the same kinds of vile, dishonest crap against him. They are the masters of lies, regardless of the complexion of the good guy.

Tennessee (and the rest of the South) can change, but these things take time. Yes, a position against the Hate Amendment would have caused Jesus Hisself to lose the election. I'm not sure that will be the case in 20 or 30 years, if the message is communicated correctly. Truth and justice do have a tendency to win in the long run, but we have to be patient. Change happens in the South, but slowly.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Brian A.'s picture

"The South"

What does that mean, anyway?  It's a giant oversimplification.

If you were to plot areas on a political/cultural graph, I suspect most of East Tennessee would be a lot closer to parts of Western Pennsylvania and Southeast Ohio than it is to Southern Florida. 

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

Up Goose Creek's picture

Race

"So let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Harold Ford Jr. looked exactly like Lincoln Davis."

Sadly I have to agree that Ford would likely have won. Partly it's the age thing but mostly race.

I was surfing past the Craigslist Rants & Raves board yesterday. This normally somnambulent site usually contains essays on why I hate/love Knoxville peppered with some football posts. But this week it started filling up with some of the most racist bile I have read.

I'll say that this attitude is of an extreme minority but I'm afraid it's more than 3%.

Brian A.'s picture

During the first half of the

During the first half of the 19th century, the abolitionist movement was seen by most non-Appalachian Southerners as an attempt by outsiders to interfere with internal matters. Secession wasn't about slavery per se -- it was about telling the North to butt out.

Socialist,

There may be something to your broader point.  But this part is wrong.

Bottom line: No slavery dispute = No Civil War.

Slavery was the cause of the war.

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

rikki's picture

split

The Democratic party should split into state or regional parties that can develop a character of their own. This would be especially worthwhile if splinter parties adopted regional names. A Southern Democrat party could form as a coalition of Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, etc. Democratic parties. The addition of the word "Southern" on the ballot would be worth a chunk of low-information voters each election.

Left Coast Democrats in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California could adopt the name Lefties, tripping conservatives who like to use the word as a general derogatory term, just like queers adopting "queer" has altered the way we talk about sexuality. New England Democrats could become Neddies, and the heartland can just keep "Democrat" unchanged.

It would broaden the dialogue and diversify the conversation. More than two solutions could enter consideration, which is critical for an adaptive system like a democracy to find optimal choices. Natural decision making depends on variation, but a duopoly constrains variation. It collapses a set to a point, breaking the adaptiveness a healthier democracy would have.

By splintering into regional, allied coalitions, the Democrats could improve the health of our democracy. They could break open stalemate issues and diversify the national conversation.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Hell, Rikki, if the

Hell, Rikki, if the Republicans did the same thing at the same time, we might actually manage to forge a real, collaborative democracy in this country. "Consensus" would no longer be a dirty word but would instead become a requirement to get anything accomplished.

I doubt it will ever happen, but it's nice to imagine.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Sven's picture

I'm a big fan of Digby, but

I'm a big fan of Digby, but I have no idea WTF the point of that post is and I'm not inclined to spend time figuring it out.

All the strategic noodling was well and good out in the wilderness, but it's time to stop the abstract wankery and get down to brass tacks. Stat.

The congressional Dems have a very brief time to get their act together and capitalize on this fortuitous turnover. Not only do they have less than 24 months total, the preznit campaign begins in earnest Jan. 1. And if they don't come out of the gate strong at the start we are (pardon my French) well and truly f#%@d for the duration. That leaves a couple of weeks to draft the next play.

There should be relentless focus along three or four themes at most; defining and refining them is the immediate task at hand. I think there's an emerging consensus that shoveling out the stables should be first and foremost*.

The Wingnuts are reeling at the moment. But given that they have no conscience or shame, it's not going to be very difficult for them to forget how badly they f'd up and get right back in the saddle.

They really don't have any interest in governing anyway, so Limbaugh and his ilk are probably being honest when they say they're relieved. As Monsieur Kerry might say, Ressentiment is their raison d'etre, after all. They will do anthing and everything to change the subject. The wicked shitstorm this way comes will be nothing like we've ever seen.

Get ready.  

* I read a recent interview with Pelosi - I think about five or six months old now - where she was bragging about the power she wields with her PAC warchest. This was after all the hubbub about unethical contributions. That doesn't quite fit the line she's feeding bloggers and it's gotta stop. This is one area where all us e-scribblers could be holding the line. I keep plugging the Sunlight Foundation, which has some great ideas.

bizgrrl's picture

I also disagree with Digby.

I also disagree with Digby. Why "give up" on a large section of the "United States" of America? The South is a great land, as is the North, West, Southwest, Midwest (well I'm not so sure about Kansas), etc. We just need to keep talking and teaching. There is much to be said and much to learn. Let's not wait until an election to diplomatically discuss the issues. Let's start now towards a better South and a better America.

Don't get me wrong, I am not happy with Tennesseans after this election. I am just not ready to give up on change. Tennessee is rural, as is most of this great country. Rural American has proven again and again to go Red. I think we need to think more about the rural vote than just giving up on it.

SayUncle's picture

What R. Neal said. And this

What R. Neal said. And this would be one of those stupid things he asked them not to do for the next two years.

---
SayUncle
Can't we all just get a long gun?

Andy Axel's picture

What R. Neal said. And this

What R. Neal said. And this would be one of those stupid things he asked them not to do for the next two years.

For some reason, I can't comment on your site, but I see that you and #9 are having a little love-in regarding one paragraph in this discussion.

First off, you misrepresent my opinion. I would never say that Ford should have run a race like Kerry. Sure, I don't agree with a lot of the conservative positions that Ford took, but I acknowledge the political reality of him having to stake them out.

Secondly, when I say that Digby hit upon something important, what I'm saying is that it's important for people to understand this current of thought, because it's going to be churning through the collective consciousness over the next couple of years.

On one hand, Digby is onto something vis-a-vis abandoning the "third way." It's time to acknowledge that Clintonian politics don't work minus [Bill] Clinton.

On the other hand, the 50 State Strategy needs to comport with certain political realities itself. Turn the southern states loose. Let them develop their own brand of Democratic ideals. A single party cannot represent 150,000,000 effectively or even the several million who inhabit "the south." It just can't.

We need to have national support, but we also need the ability to have our own primaries, fer chrissakes. And stop trying to mold, say, Illinois politicians into southern conservatives. Illinois isn't captive to evangelical interests like Tennessee is.

____________________________

You can live a batter life, or a butter life. Or both, if you choose.

SayUncle's picture

"For some reason, I can't

"For some reason, I can't comment on your site"

Your comment is there. Not sure what problem you were having.

---
SayUncle
Can't we all just get a long gun?

Pug's picture

I don't think the point of

I don't think the point of his post was that the Democrats should give up on the South, but that they can win without it. For years now the pundits, the Republicans and even quite a few Democrats have sold the line that the Dems can't ever win because they lose the South. That isn't true because they are starting to make inroads into the Mountain West and the mid-West.

There are a number of good Democrats who hold Southern congressional seats (welcome Mr. Shuler and Mr. Webb) and governorships. The national party needs to support them and try to create more of them. But it looks like the real near-term opportunities are going to be in places like Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. Those areas are more likely to contribute a winning presidential margin than the Deep South.

The Republicans have a similar, or worse, problem in the Northeast. They have virtually been wiped out in New England, a place they have taunted and trashed for decades now. They are perennial losers on the West Coast as well, and their new boogeyman, "San Francisco values" won't help them there. If they start to weaken in the Far West and mid-West, the South is all they will have left. They have a huge problem.

Brian A.'s picture

Yes . . .

But the electoral math still dictates that unless the Democrats pick up Arizona and Colorado (which they haven't yet done) they still need to win a "southern" state or two.

How consequential would their "sweeping" victory Tuesday look had Webb not won Virginia?  Not so much.

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

Andy Axel's picture

I would argue that less

I would argue that less interventionism on the part of the DC establishment would be a good thing.

And insofar as the Democratic strategy has been to adopt "third way" political pandering as religion, it's time to realize that you don't need to graft the southern template onto the rest of the country as dogma. The DLC didn't win this election nationwide. Neither did the DSCC or DCCC, although they desperately have been grasping for credit.

To some extent, the Democratic Party has been captive to Clintonian politics. The problem is that once you remove Bill Clinton from the picture, it just doesn't work. Clinton is an exceptional politician. Yet, Clinton is not the absolute reference manual for how the DP can win into the future. A lot of people seem to forget this. The Clinton formula just doesn't work minus Clinton.

The Democratic strategy needs to be flexible, adaptive, and regionalized. There needs to be a continuing commitment from the DNC to The 50 State strategy. It has obviously worked better than "third way" politics nationally. But more than that, there needs to be a commitment to building a much stronger bench for federal candidates.

Keep in mind, too, that Tennessee is nominally D. D governor, D state house, 5 of 9 of the US Reps are D. But is it a Democratic Party like you'd see in Illinois or Maryland? No.

A big problem in Tennessee, I would offer, is that there is a single statewide office elected here, if you don't count the two Senate seats. That office is governor. The other positions are patronage positions. Lt. Gov. Wilder has held that seat since Reconstruction, it seems like. Jimmy Naifeh's lock on the House has been one big GOB barrier to institutional or structural change. Sadly, the alternative would be turning over the House to the Stacey Campfields of the world, and I can't even contemplate what sort of train wreck that would be. Another problem is the lack of women in office. Only about 14% of the elected positions in TN are held by women. Another is the 50% high school graduation rate that we have here.

So, if we want real political change -- we need smarter women running for statewide office. ;-) That's honestly the long and the short of it.

And we need to take the energy that we saw in turning out the vote and channeling that into taking back the DP infrastructure in the state. While I know that the GOP would take issue with Naifeh's agenda on principle, I would argue that Naifeh's agenda hasn't necessarily been our agenda either. How we engage that going forward is an important question to tackle. Inertia has not been our friend 'round here.

So, Digby is right about one thing: If the Yankees need to abandon southern conservatism in their own races, let them. It might help out nationally. But we still need to roll our own solution down here with national support. Abandonment clearly doesn't work. Witness the 2000 election.

____________________________

You can live a batter life, or a butter life. Or both, if you choose.

R. Neal's picture

Digby may have a valid point

Digby may have a valid point or two, but this is a much more thoughtful analysis than his.

Paul Witt's picture

During the first half of the

During the first half of the 19th century, the abolitionist movement was seen by most non-Appalachian Southerners as an attempt by outsiders to interfere with internal matters. Secession wasn't about slavery per se -- it was about telling the North to butt out.

Not to hijack this thread but that statement is BS. Preserving slavery was the sole cause of southern secession.  The thing they wanted the north to "butt out" about, was slavery.

I, also, don't agree with Digby.  While I prefer liberal, progressive or populist Democratic positions, I also don't mind centrist or conservative Democrats either.

However, I do think that if populist gets the '08 Democratic nomination that it would be a much better strategy for them to be themselves, ignore social conservative southerners and focus on other parts of the country.  Parts that are more open to a northern populist for example.

Andy Axel's picture

Problem: Electoral College

Problem: Electoral College

Bing-fuckin'-o.

Jeopardy answer: Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, and John Kerry all believed this to be true.

Question: What is "You can win a presidential election without the South."

____________________________

You can live a batter life, or a butter life. Or both, if you choose.

WhitesCreek's picture

Ok, so in spite of my

Ok, so in spite of my earlier comment, It has to be noted that Ford did 10 points better than Al Gore. The exit polls tell the story of who voted and why. What they don't tell is who didn't vote and why...

What if Ford had skirted the gay marriage issue instead of coming out against it? Hung the Iraq war more prominantly around Corker's neck? "Even George Bush has abandoned "Stay the Course" The math on switching votes is that you get 2 for 1. The math on picking up votes is that you have to have 1 for 1.

 If a little over 35k voters had changed their minds Ford would be Senator Elect. That's easier than picking up 70k additional votes. Hard to deny the Southern Conservative strategy's effectiveness. Ford simply was unable to carve all the bigotry out of it.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Paul, you really should read

Paul, you really should read The Confederate Nation by Emery Thomas. It's one of the best backgrounders on pre-Civil War politics I've ever read. He makes the case much better than I can, but the central point is this: the North & South had hated each other since before the Revolution for lots of distinct reasons; by the 1850's, the issue of slavery had become a convenient lightning rod for the expression and focus of those animosities, but the resentment between North and South had much deeper and broader roots. Sure, the 1860 campaign used slavery as the focal point, but the South's intransigence on the issue was entirely rooted in the same "us-versus-them" mentality which had driven US politics since 1776 and which drives wedge politics today.

The Nullification Crisis almost caused secession to occur during Andrew Jackson's presidency, and that was solely about unfair tariff policy.

Call it BS if you want, but a broader reading of US history supports what I said above. The South has always resented Northern interference and will take a contrarian stance on issues, sometimes just out of spite.

Furthermore, the same Southern animosity toward outside interference is one of the pressure points the Republicans have exploited so masterfully since Goldwater. Failure to recognize this will prevent the Democrats from broadening the success they earned on Tuesday.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Paul Witt's picture

...the South's intransigence

...the South's intransigence on the issue was entirely rooted in the same "us-versus-them" mentality which had driven US politics since 1776 and which drives wedge politics today.

The south's problem was with interference with their property rights and closing off markets to their crops.  With both their property and their crops being slaves. Shifting the focus off of slavery as the one central issue regarding secession is revisionist and, in my opinion, apologist for the actions of a few radical southern elites.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Wow

If you interpreted my words as "revisionist" or somehow "apologist" for the vile institution of slavery and the monsters who perpetuated it, then I've failed to communicate my point. I won't belabor it with more thread-jacking, but I can assure you that you've completely mischaracterized what I'm (inadequately) attempting to say. I was trying to discuss the root cause of regionalism in this country, not the particular expression it found in the runup to 1860.

Never mind.

--Socialist With A Gold Card


"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler

 

Paul Witt's picture

If you interpreted my words

If you interpreted my words as "revisionist" or somehow "apologist" for the vile institution of slavery and the monsters who perpetuated it, then I've failed to communicate my point. I won't belabor it with more thread-jacking, but I can assure you that you've completely mischaracterized what I'm (inadequately) attempting to say. I was trying to discuss the root cause of regionalism in this country, not the particular expression it found in the runup to 1860.

Never mind.

Understood.  As I said, it's a pet peeve of mine.  I apologize if I misinterpreted your comments.

bizgrrl's picture

I tend to agree with some of

I tend to agree with some of your sentiment.

Keep in mind there are some "tolerant" places in the South. I truly appreciate diversity. After moving back to East TN after living in FL for quite some time, I was quite surprised at the lack of diversity and the perceived desire to remain stagnant.

A lot of people are moving into the South and slowly Southerners are accepting change. I have noticed though the South does tend to get a lot of the Northern bigots moving here. Some appear to either lose their tolerance when they move here or want to move here to get away from this so called Northern "diversity". The most verbally bigoted person I ever met moved to the South from Chicago and I have lived in the South all of my life.

What is a "Yankee"? Someone who lives in the original 13 states? Small area with a lot of people. I have visited nearly every state in the country. Every state and region has there idiosyncrasies, some good, some not. To label the South as a cause to be forgotten is absurd. Of course then, if the South wasn't so desirable a region, rich in resources, cheap in living and business costs, no one would care. No one would care because our population would not be growing at such a rapid pace and our voters would not have such growing influence.

Halfdan's picture

Conservative Issues not Permanent

Digby has been on this kick since at least 2004. What he's missing is that divisive conservative issues are temporary. Sure, it's likely that a liberal Democrat will have trouble winning electoral votes in the deep south, but abortion and gay marriage are pretty much the linchpins of the evangelical/conservative alliance. And now that states are passing their own firewall amendments on gay marriage, and now that the national GOP is threatening to abandon its ultra-conservative platform, evangelicals may well start losing their shiny status in the eyes of political strategists.

Just as the Democrats can't win on the coasts alone, the Republicans can't win in the South alone.

Andy Axel's picture

Southern Idears

...some Southern ideas can creep up here and take hold.

Barbecued ribs. Kentucky bourbon. Cajun & Creole cuisine. American literature. Jazz. Hell, rock 'n roll, fer chrissakes. Rock wouldn't exist without Little Richard (Macon, GA), Bill Broonzy (Scott County, MS), Muddy Waters (Rolling Fork, MS), Howlin' Wolf (West Point, MS), Professor Longhair (Bogalusa, LA), Koko Taylor (Memphis, TN), Antoine "Fats" Domino (New Orleans, LA), John Coltrane (Hamlet, NC), B.B. King (Indianola, MS) and the white folk who imitated them -- people like Elvis Presley (Tupelo, MS), Jerry Lee Lews (Ferriday, LA), Patsy Cline (Winchester, VA), Hank Williams (Georgiana, AL), Johnny Cash (Kingsland, AR), Wanda Jackson (Maud, OK), Carl Perkins (Tiptonville, TN), and Link Wray (Dunn, NC).

No blues, no Sun Records. No Sun Records, no Beatles. No Beatles, well, the world would be different today.

Hell, politically speaking, Johnny Cash is a case in point…

I know it pains a lot of people to realize this, but in his life, Cash was not a Republican. Still, the GOP rushes to claim him. They screamed mightily when Al Gore and Tim Robbins appeared at his funeral, as if it was some slight on the man's memory.

I wonder how many of these folks have ever listened to "The Man in Black." I mean, really listened to it.

Now, in no way would I rush to conclude that Cash was a flaming liberal. Far from it. I'm sure he was rather conservative. His politics, though, were populist and genuinely Southern.

I think other normative behaviors could be examined wrt the South and why the rest of the country, especially the North don't understand why the behavior must continue.

Isn't that the very nature of reactionary politics? Of conservatism itself? "Refusal to change, just because." Nostalgia for an age that never existed. People still buy that Margaret Mitchell line of bullshit down here, for whatever reason.

...the continued migration to the South/West and to the Coasts that is occurring in this country is going to push these notions, or at least ones akin, into places where they are not wanted for reasons that are by no means moral or even sensical.

Again, I think this is an attempt to graft DLC-style Clintonism onto Yankee Democrats and declare that one size must fit all.

Long story short -- and a point I don't think I've seen anyone here make -- this electoral cycle was unprecedented because it was a large-scale repudiation of neoconservative extremism. This isn't the same as "Republicans lost," but neither does it indicate that "Democrats won." This is not meant to trash the hard work that went into winning, or to discount the commitment to people-powered politics. It could be argued, however, that this was a singular win in "perfect storm" conditions. Let's be realistic here.

Remember, not only has Iraq been a simmering, continuous disaster, 2005 saw the wholesale devastation of vital American city, and it looked that for all intents and purposes that our government didn't give a shit. Congressional approval was at all time lows, and it would have taken nothing short of a miracle for the RNC to pull it out. It wasn't for lack of trying, for sure. It looked like they were going to drag Macaca the Cro-Mag past the finish line in VA and Talent didn't lag in MO until late in the game.

As a Democrat, it worries me that bright people like Digby are overplaying the hand we've been dealt here.

____________________________

You can live a batter life, or a butter life. Or both, if you choose.

Eleanor A's picture

Interesting

Friends and I have been having a lot of conversation lately about what I personally perceive to be the chief reason Ford lost this thing: Tennessee Democratic insiders couldn't find their asses with both hands.

TN Dems at the local level routinely walk right into GOP traps. Case in point: The Tennessee state Senate voted that gay marriage amendment onto the ballot, and were it not for four Dems in the state House we'd have had an antiabortion amendment to match (without any exceptions for rape, incest, or life of mother). Need I remind you the Tennessee state Senate is held by the GOP, but with only a 1-seat majority, which means droves of Democrats voted for those amendments. Only to have the GOP demagogue the hell out of the gay marriage one, which forced our candidate to come out in support of it, which certainly cost him votes in Memphis and Nashville - the two reliably blue counties in this state, which together account for nearly 1/3 of the vote. Despite their weak choices in statewide candidates, Republican voters came out in droves to support that amendment.

Ford didn't help himself by refusing to force his idiot brother out of the Congressional race in Memphis and contributing to a public battle with newly elected Rep. Steve Cohen. But TN Democrats need to realize that in their race to co-opt Republican voters with conservative social issues, they are increasingly running the risk of alienating hardcore Democrats, and that risk is going to increase with time as more people move into urban areas in the state. I'm not saying folks need to run as liberals, but they do need to avoid handing Republicans branches to beat them with, such as lightning-rod social issue ballot initiatives.

We also need to start aggressively combatting the idea that only Republicans reflect Christian values; try suggesting that to Northern Democrats, though, and you'll get howls of protest. It mystifies me why none of them ever seem to remember MLK himself was a man of the cloth. You're starting to see some local Democrats reframe issues like poverty and education as moral issues, which I think is a winner, and I hope to see more of that type of rhetoric in the days ahead.

Andy's absolutely right about our need to elect more than one statewide office and to bust open the doors of the state Democratic infrastructure, so we've got a bench of candidates who offer something more than the same old good ole white boy collegiality to voters. Good luck prying the reins of power away from folks like Naifeh and Wilder, but listening to some of our state House and Senate members lately, I think this may be an idea the time for which has come.

It certainly didn't help that Nashville voters had to wait in line four and five hours in the pouring rain for the first time (another valid reason for Ford's loss), but I'm with Andy here too: Digby and others like him will badly mischaracterize what happened here, which will probably result in many missed opportunities. There's always a temptation to oversimplify complicated cultural issues, and in this case many people are also oversimplifying previous failures to capitalize on said social dynamics by Democrats. Many people would like to chalk all this up into simple racism and bigotry, and it could be many more election cycles before they figure out what's really happening here (Dems completely concede social issues to Republicans, hand them electoral advantages, etc.)

I wonder how they're rationalizing Virginia, which put the Dems over the top in the Senate, into being a Northern state. It's simply not true that Democrats can't win here, but the national Party needs to take a look at how state Parties are being run. It seems obvious that some sunshine initiatives are needed there too.

I'd post more, but I don't want to hand a roadmap to our Republican friends. Email addy in prefs is good.

Shifting the focus off of slavery as the one central issue regarding secession is revisionist and, in my opinion, apologist for the actions of a few radical southern elites.

Oh goody. Another revisit to the Civil War as to the reasons why all Southerners are racists and Democrats are bound to lose. I just can't wait. Gaaaah.

Paul Witt's picture

Oh goody. Another revisit to

Oh goody. Another revisit to the Civil War as to the reasons why all Southerners are racists and Democrats are bound to lose. I just can't wait. Gaaaah.

Not at all what I'm saying.  Thanks though.  Revisionist civil war history is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.  That's all this is about.  No present-day implications intended.

I agree with you on the rest of your post by the way.

Eleanor A's picture

Didn't mean to pile on you

Didn't mean to pile on you PW, and in fact have been enjoying your posts recently. Was more trying to give warning that this particular argument nearly always boils down to what I said (people claiming whatever is said means Southerners are racists, etc), I suspect due to the lack of nuance conveyed by the written word.

Andy Axel's picture

Ford didn't help himself by

Ford didn't help himself by refusing to force his idiot brother out of the Congressional race in Memphis and contributing to a public battle with newly elected Rep. Steve Cohen. But TN Democrats need to realize that in their race to co-opt Republican voters with conservative social issues, they are increasingly running the risk of alienating hardcore Democrats, and that risk is going to increase with time as more people move into urban areas in the state.

Hello, silver lining. Cohen is an outspoken progressive Democrat. Let's see what someone not named Ford can get accomplished in TN-9.

We also need to start aggressively combatting the idea that only Republicans reflect Christian values; try suggesting that to Northern Democrats, though, and you'll get howls of protest. It mystifies me why none of them ever seem to remember MLK himself was a man of the cloth.

This is something I thought about, but couldn't get to fit. I would revisit the legacy of MLK for yet another reason: Here, too, is an example of a revolution that would not have succeeded without sympathetic Northern support, but would have failed if it had not been home-grown in the South.

A populist revolution in Southern politics would probably look different from the Civil Rights struggle of the '60s, but people here have to want it, and people have to work for it. I surmise that many do want to see more populism in Democratic politics. The church will continue to play a significant role, and we still have other religious men and women deeply committed to the Beloved Community, which focuses on the quality of life in the here and now, rather than intangible "heavenly" rewards:

The Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable Kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, The Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not devoid of interpersonal, group or international conflict. Instead he recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of human experience. But he believed that conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence. No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence. And all conflicts in The Beloved Community should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.

Now, if that society exists, I have yet to see it anywhere, north, south, east or west. Yet, this is a theology that I openly support.

____________________________

You can live a batter life, or a butter life. Or both, if you choose.

Sven's picture

From the best blogger on the

From the best blogger on the planet:

I should mention that I am also taking this time to retool alicublog for the Democratic era. Previously I let a lot of things slide because there was no point in paying attention. When John Bolton was muscled into the Ambassador's post, for example, I felt no need to question the decision: under the rule of Republicans run amok, that made as little sense as protesting the decision of Dracula to suck the blood of virgins, on grounds that their blood should instead be extracted by mad scientists who would then breed them with monkeys to produce a race of supermammals (the moderate approach).

Now I have to proceed as if the worst possible outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

That's what I meant to say.  Let's get wonky, homies.

Halfdan's picture

So-Called Christian Values

We also need to start aggressively combatting the idea that only Republicans reflect Christian values; try suggesting that to Northern Democrats, though, and you'll get howls of protest. It mystifies me why none of them ever seem to remember MLK himself was a man of the cloth. You're starting to see some local Democrats reframe issues like poverty and education as moral issues, which I think is a winner, and I hope to see more of that type of rhetoric in the days ahead.

EleanorA, I completely agree with absolutely everything you say until this part. "Northern Democrats" (including me, although I'm a southerner) believe that embracing Christian values is fine *as long as you embrace Christian values.* Jimmy Carter did this, and despite his born-again status he's a hero to true liberals everywhere. John Edwards does this, and he's also well-regarded by many. Barack Obama, unfortunately, only "talks about" his faith and so ends up being regarded as a self-important gasbag who's too focused on a presidential run to shut his yap and get down to business.

Case in point, and then I'll be done: the recent torture/detainee act was a perfect opportunity for folks like Obama and Harold Ford to say "torture is immoral and as a Christian I can't vote for it." But they didn't (although Obama voted 'nay' anyhow), and we "Northern Democrats" are seriously left with the impression that "Christian values" are the stuff of stump speeches and are not really part of the equation when it's actually time to do something. And by the way, I am very glad to hear that local Democrats are walking the talk, and I would vote for them in a heartbeat. Because even though I'm not a Christian I care as much about morality as anyone.

Andy Axel's picture

Bump: MyDD Analysis

More thoughtful analysis of Whistling Past Dixie here in a post entitled, "Harold Ford & the South, Big Tent & 50 State Strategy."

[Whistling Past Dixie is] a rather remarkable book though, using statistics to make the case that Democrats can win a majority without the south. And that's probably true, but it's Schaller's first recomendation on "The Path to a National Democratic Majority", that Democrats define the south in the most denigrate ways, to run against the south for an enduring majority, that is morally and strategically wrong.

The obvious correlation here, to which Schaller's himself draws the comparison, is what the Republicans have done to northeastern liberals. And now, Schaller argues, it's time to turn the tables and do to the south for the conservatives, what they have against liberals in the northeast on the national debate.

In contrast, what makes the 50 state strategy so important and strong, is that it changes the paradigm that the Republicans have created in the last 4 decades. For Democrats to try and turn the table on them, using the same method, leaves me lacking. There's no reason to denigrate the south.

As Schaller writes, the Republicans make it a point that it's liberals in the northeast, not the northeast, that they are attacking (just as Bush & Rove point out that its not Democrats' patriotism that they are attacking when they make treasonist-like accusations against Democrats). Obviously, that is a Big Lie, and Shaller would acknowlege the distinction is cya rather than substantive.

Ford ran a terrific campaign, especially if you are a Big Tent Democrat that wants to win in the south. But beyond Ford, we have a strong base of African-Americans & a growing base of Latinos in the south, and pockets of progressives, and they are already combining forces in places in the south to win at the city and county level.

... We can hope [racism] goes away, and work toward that goal through education, but we can't ignore it in the meantime. We still have work to do in the south (and everywhere) to get rid of racism, and frankly, and it's the Democratic Party's work to do. The national Democratic Party has an historical obligation to win the battle of ideas in the south, and to opt out of that, or to run against it, would constitute a moral failure.

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