There was a time when Southern Democrats were a powerful force in politics: fearing that party disunity might lead to the passage of civil rights legislation few whites in the South actually wanted, many whites in southern states who would have otherwise voted Republican consistently cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. But after a reluctant John F. Kennedy, who had little interest in equality for blacks but was leery of the political consequences of simmering social unrest in the streets during the era, "finally proposed strong civil rights legislation to Congress", Congress got to work to put together an Act that LBJ championed and eventually signed in 1964. With the Civil Rights Act now law, many Southern whites who had been voting for Dems out of a fealty to unity against civil rights no longer had an incentive to stay and began casting their votes for Republicans. That, my friends, was the beginning of the end for Southern Dems as we know them, an era that may be culminating this very weekend should Mary Landrieu, The Last Southern Democrat, lose the Louisiana run-off.
Perhaps it should be the end of an era in which many politicians used the unpopularity of racial equality to siphon away Democrats to the GOP and Southern Democrats did little to counter:
...denouncing the forced busing policy that was used to enforce school desegregation, Richard Nixon courted conservative Southern whites with what is called the Southern Strategy.If you've ever wondered why politicians or pundits who use words like "welfare" are said to be pandering to racists, now you know why. Republicans turned the anger many Southern whites felt about desegregation and used that anger to attract many of those citizens to the grand old party's alternative—social conservativism—by using veiled, coded racism and tugging at Jeffersonian heart strings like "state's rights" in order to limit the federal government's ability to enact broad social reforms. Does that sound familiar to you?
In 1980, the Southern Strategy would officially see fruition when Ronald Reagan announced that he supported states rights and that welfare abuse justified the need for it. Lee Atwater, who served Reagan's chief strategist in the Southern states, claimed that by 1968, a vast majority of southern whites had learned to accept that racial slurs like "nigger" were very offensive and that mentioning "states rights" and reasons for its justification had now become the best way to both use the politically valuable race card and appeal to southern white voters.
(I bet most people don't even know that the Race Card was something created by racists for racists, and only in recent times has, in an evil and brilliant use of projection, come to be used by racists to deny their racism by shaming their opponents with the Race Card itself, but I digress.)
No one here disputes that the South has been a bastion of racism and coded post-racial antipathy since the nation's inception. What may not be readily apparent is that many Democratic candidates in the South over the last 50 years have been willing participants in the long game of racial-political Double Dutch in order to survive. How exactly did they do so? This excerpt from The New York Times article Demise of the Southern Democrat Is Now Nearly Complete offers up a clue:
Today, nearly all of the Democrats holding federal or statewide office in the South will represent so-called “majority-minority” districts or areas with a large number of new residents from outside the region. In the states of the former Confederacy, Democrats will control Senate seats or governors’ mansions only in Virginia and Florida. Not coincidentally, those are the two Southern states where people born outside the state represent a majority of the population. These Democrats bear little resemblance to the Southern Democrats who won by attracting conservative white voters.They've survived by running for office in places where people of color make up solid population majorities, no doubt championing themselves as The Good Guys without necessarily campaigning for ideals that are actually Good. Inconvenienced by progress, they took the easy way out, a way out that lasted fifty ears, a way out that, thankfully, is coming to an end. Maybe we need it to. Because, honestly, those aren't the kinds of Democrats I want on my ballots anyway.*