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There is a spirited debate of sorts going on in the pages of The Nation over Tom Schaller's book, "Whistling Past Dixie".  Bob Moser wrote "A New Southern Strategy", an article in November 27th issue.  It's subscription only but I'll summarize the  current debate:

Thomas Schaller's recent book, Whistling Past Dixie, brought together years' worth of poll-tested memoranda in calling for the Democratic Party to kiss off the nation's largest region.

On November 7 the South--a k a Jesusland--showed how wrong that conclusion was. If the Senate lands in Democratic hands, it will be thanks in large part to Claire McCaskill's triumph in Missouri and to Jim Webb's prevailing in the recount in Virginia over the man who was once conservatives' great hope for the White House in 2008. It will not be thanks to the candidate who ran the sort of Southern campaign the sages called "perfect"--Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee

This week in the letters page, Jay Walljasper, whose opinion I would ordinarily respect, writes "knowingly" in response:

Walljasper writes:

For years the Democratic Leadership Council and other conservatives have warned Democrats that they must water down their progressive ideas if they want to win in the South. That has meant dampening the enthusiasm of many working-class, minority and progressive voters elsewhere, whose indifference has hurt the party more than conservative Southern Democrats have helped it.

This idiot savant approach to "Southern" politics (whatever that really is) is infuriating.  It is condescending and based on a fictionalized image of the south frozen in time, the snow filled streets of Minneapolis from where Walljasper writes and Rahm Emanuel's mind.

Bob Moser writes in response:

As I will argue at length in these pages in a future issue, Walljasper's notion of a uniformly conservative South where Democrats can't compete without watering down their "progressive ideas" is simply false. His suggestion that Democrats in 2008 should "say that the Republicans are becoming a regional party"--i.e., a Southern party--as a campaign tactic is a disturbing echo of Tom Schaller's argument, in Whistling Past Dixie, that Democrats should not only steer clear of the South in 2008 but should run against the South as a way of whipping up resentment against conservative Republicanism. Morally and strategically, such a "non-Southern strategy" would be a disaster.
And whatever Walljasper thinks, a party that demonizes the South will not have a prayer of picking off Southern "border states" like Virginia, Arkansas or Louisiana--or Kansas, for that matter.

The people of the "South" (whatever that is) have been starved of a positive progressive agenda for years with mealy-mouth national Democratic policies that have abandonded them to hordes of nay-saying conservatives.  Don't blow off the "South" (whatever that is) like so much African genocide.  Do something about it.  Talk and act like progressive Democrats.  We'll do the rest.

Greg Flynn
Raleigh NC

Originally posted to gregflynn on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 07:14 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    I moved "South" from New York 16 years ago to North Carolina and I am constantly surprised by continued misconceptions about "Southern" politics (whatever that is).

  •  Damn skippy. n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PaulVA, Anglico, gregflynn

    Order your very own DVD copy of my animated documentary DOOLITTLE RAIDERS!!!

    by tkmattson on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 07:25:57 AM PST

  •  I've met mahy social conservatives (8+ / 0-)

    down here in the South but when it comes to economic polulism, there is no difference between the working class Republican voters here and the working class Democratic voters in my home state of Rhode island.

    Instead of appealing to social conservatives down south with economic conservatism via the DLC, we should be talking to people about their economic conditions which will make an impact down here and everywhere else across the country without giving up on any of our beliefs.

  •  I just wanted to say (5+ / 0-)

    I have lived in St. Louis most of my life and Missouri is not the South.

    To the extent that Bob Moser bases his thesis on that premise, he is wrong.  

    Southern Missouri is similar to the South in some ways, but neither St. Lousi nor KC are southern cites.  Northern and mid-Missouri are midwestern.

    And, to the extent he relies on Va as an example - yes Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy -- but Northern Va. really is not the South either.  The DC suburbs ain't Dixie.    

    McCaskill is a midwestern moderate, not a southern progressive.  Webb is a closer case, and has more southern aspects, but w/o northern Va, he would not have won.  

    I am not saying we should write of the South, but let's get our political geography right first.

    Let's talk about the South: Tennesssee, NC, SC, Ga., Ala, La., Miss., Ark., Texas, perhaps Oklahoma.

    •  Agreed (4+ / 0-)

      Moser writes in his response:

      As for Missouri, there are few debates of longer standing than whether that culturally divided state is "really" Southern or Midwestern. But I think we can all agree that the Bible Belt of southern Missouri is as Dixie as it gets. David Dunlap is correct that Senator-elect McCaskill didn't win the Ozarks. My point was that, like Jim Webb in Virginia, McCaskill took her message of economic populism directly into the "reddest" parts of her state and purloined enough votes in Missouri's Republican stronghold to put her over the top statewide.

      •  Fair enough. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        She lowered Talent's majorities in the Ozarks by getting 42-43% of the vote.  I agree with his general point about economic populism having an appeal in the South.  Seems to me that many of the runaway shpos from the North that went South in the 50s and 60s for non-union labor have now run away overseas, thereby leaving a lot of folks either without jobs or without jobs that, while they did not pay union wage scales, paid relatively well for the region.

        Economic populism plays well because working people are hurting in the North, South, Midwest and West.  Damn near everywhere.  

    •  well... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      benny05, gregflynn, TomP

      You're right with Missouri, but I feel Virginia is definitely still southern.  Yeah the DC suburbs are "northern-ized", but the rest of the state is still southern, and Webb still had to get a decent number of votes in those areas to win...NOVA couldn't do it alone.  

      And the same is with other southern states.  Take North Carolina....the Raleigh/Durham/ChapelHill metro area is just as "northern-ized" as NOVA nowadays, (and probably even more progressive), but no one is denying that NC is a southern state.  

  •  Those 50 States in Dean's Strategy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gregflynn, TomP, Mad Kossack

    include 'the South'.

    So the DNC is still going to be supporting asking everybody for their vote.

    However, let's remember that the DLC strategy is really about losing to the Republicans, and failing that to be Republican-lite economically so as to benefit Wall Street.

    Every year that the liquidation of Amreica to benefit the Wall Street Buccaneers is billions in their pockets, some of which ends up in Hillary's campaign warchest.


    "There is a time for compromise, and it is called 'Later'!"

    by LeftyLimblog on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 07:33:22 AM PST

    •  100 Counties (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      benny05, TomP

      And in NC we are working on a 100 county strategy that puts Dems on the ballot to get voters to the polls.  We have some NC Democratic Party laissez faire inertia to overcome and national Democratic inertia does not help in the least.

    •  Kick that meme up a notch (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      philgoblue, gregflynn, TomP

      I think we're living through a major shift in the party, I hope we are at least. There are a bunch of pols, that were successful last time, talking about restoring Democratic party values to, of all places, the Democratic party.
      John Edwards:

      Now I know that most of this room is filled with Democrats. I love the Democratic Party, but I want to say to every one of you that I love America more. And I want us all to understand... when we're working in these really important elections, I want us all to understand what's at stake because we get all wrapped up in these elections with getting people to the polls and...

      That's all important, but there are only two political parties in America and for the last six years we've seen what one of them will do to us and the world. We've seen the incredible chaos and damage that can occur when they are leading. This is not just about politics, this is about the kind of America we want to live in and the kind of world that we want to live in.

      Deval Patrick:

      [On politics] It's as if how to win is really pre-eminent and principle and vision is for the naive and unsophisticated. And it's causing a lot of really good people to check out. And I'm not just talking about at election time, but civic life itself...

      [On Democrats] We have perfected a conversation about how to win, but we don't say too much why we should win. We have candidates doing their level best to blur any differences between us and the opposition as a tactic to win without ever saying what we would do with that power once we do win.

      He also says in that speech that if there's no difference then why should people vote for us anyway? Smart guy that Governor Elect Deval Patrick of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, aka "Milton man."

  •  Apples and Oranges (4+ / 0-)

    From the debate at YearlyKos that I attended to all of the subsequent blogging and writing, more often than not people "take sides" on this as if it is cut and run versus stay the course. A battle of strawmen.

    Schaller's main, valid, points:

    1. He is talking about presidential politics, winning the electoral college.
    1. Targetting is inevitable since resources are by definition finite.
    1. When targetting it makes logical sense to pick the "low hanging fruit" first.
    1. The conservative south is the fruit at the top of the tree, most expensive (in terms of dollars, time, and potentially hurting the message to the more moderate or liberal regions).

    Dean's and Mudcat's main, valid points:

    1. There is a message that can reach many southern voters.
    1. We should not write off nor insult the region.
    1. Party building, precinct by precinct, must be given a higher priority than it had been given in the past.

    I, too, live in NC. There are pockets where we are picking up steam. There are counties that are woefully in need of party repair (my own, Forsyth, for one).

    It would be foolish to openly insult NC and the south but no Democratic candidate will. It would also be foolish, however, to base a near term presidential strategy on trying to win NC if that trades off with trying to win VA. Or VA if that hurts chances in OH.

    Summary of apples/oranges:
    Near term/long term
    Presidential/party and congressional

    Be the Democrat you want to see. DebateScoop

    by demondeac on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 07:42:03 AM PST

  •  Reading 'Whistling Past Dixie' right now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gregflynn, TomP

    The stats he uses are sometimes contradictory to his case and he (unsurprisingly, given the premise of the book) hugely over-generalizes about the region. Also, the results of last month's election undercut many of his arguments.

    Still I am enjoying his synopses of voting patterns in other states--and in a larger sense I believe he is correct that the Dems most promising opportunities are NM, CO, NV. But it's a mistake to think Virginia and Arkansas, and possibly other southern states, are unattainable.

  •  it's not just the Dems writing off the South. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The Republicans do it too, only in a different way. They take the South for granted. Just look at the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, after Katrina. I think part of the reason those places got such short shrift from the Bush regime is that the area is assumed to be in the back pocket of the Party and that there was little need to deal with those poor people. After all, they have little or no chance of affecting things by electing the opposition Democrats.  

  •  Two approaches, and 2010 census (0+ / 0-)

    Either find a way to carry Southern States, or squeeze their economies to depopulate them before the 2010 Census allocates House seats and Electoral votes for the following decade.

    I don't think it's an accident that the Bush admin shipped Katrina refugees to Houston, and obstructed Northern communities who'd offered sanctuary under conditions far less draconian than Houston.

    Democratic Candidate for US Senator, Wisconsin, in 2012

    by ben masel on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 01:03:05 PM PST

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