I thought that the Civil War ended more than a hundred years ago, but apparently it continues on and on here at DailyKos. Some of the bitterest diaries and comments during the election season had to do with a certain Southern senate candidate who ultimately lost. In the past few days it has returned with a vengeance. I regret it.
Richard Nixon may have been a lot of things, but he was no idiot. He realized that the progressive and Southern traditions of the Democratic Party were at loggerheads and he was determined to exploit this division. Nixon’s Southern Strategy has been the basis for the reemergence of Republican power in the latter part of the 20th century. It was a classic case of divide and conquer. And it still is in effect right here among us.
I am disturbed that any attempt to discuss allocation of Democratic political resources is often reinterpreted by a few Southern Kossacks as an attempt to "abandon" the South. A little background would be appropriate here. Since the end of Reconstruction and until the 1960s, the Democratic Party was associated with the South and the Republican Party with the North. The term "Solid South" was coined because the South voted as a bloc for the Democratic presidential candidate every election. In fact, the Democratic Party was so powerful that most Deep South states were one-party systems. The real election was always the Democratic primary – for white voters only. More often than not, half of more of the Democrats in Congress were Southerners. Although Northern Democrats had significantly different interests, they had to acknowledge the influence of Southern Democrats.
National Atlas - Public Domain
The Civil Rights Movement broke the "Solid South" forever. Initial cracks appeared during the New Deal – especially in response to Eleanor Roosevelt’s support of civil rights. The first real break came when Strom Thurmond broke with Harry Truman over desegregation of the military in 1948 and carried four Deep South states. John F. Kennedy carried most of the South in 1960, but Mississippi and Alabama bolted. In 1964, the only states that Barry Goldwater carried, with the exception of his home state of Arizona, were five Deep South states. By 1968, the South was lost to the Democrats – at least on the presidential level – with the region split between George Wallace in the Deep South and Richard Nixon in the Upper South. Nixon saw this and acted.
There was only once exception since 1968. Georgia native, Jimmy Carter, swept the South in 1976, but was as quickly rejected by his home region in 1980. In the ten presidential elections since 1968, the Democratic candidate has lost every Southern state in five of those, won only one Southern state in another two, and received well less than half of Southern electoral votes in the two Clinton/Gore victories. Even though the Democratic Party ran a ticket with two Southerners on it, the South didn’t respond. It was the North, the Midwest, and the West that elected Bill Clinton. A look at the 2000 election map will show the complete reversal of national voting patterns over the course of the twentieth century.
National Atlas - Public Domain
The Republican Southern Strategy bore its first fruits in presidential elections, but state races in the South still remained strongly Democratic. The racist, sexist, militarist, and pious pandering that have come to characterize the right-wing today were still ably represented by Southern state Democratic parties well after those states regularly voted Republican in presidential contests. George Wallace, a classic Southern Democratic populist said it best after he lost his first race for governor in Alabama, "I was out-niggered, and I will never be out-niggered again."
But Southern Republicans were working hard to do precisely that. The Republican take-over at the state level began in the late 1980s and 1990s. Southern senate seats and governorships began to fall one by one until the Republicans dominated Southern state governments across the region. The decline of the Texas State Democratic Party was highly visible, but the reversal has been as complete in Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Mississippi. Louisiana is most likely next.
It’s no accident that the emergence of Southern Republican power at the state level is represented by such people as Trent Lott who famously said, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
It cost him the Senate leadership, but reflected true Southern Republican attitudes in 2002. Thus, Republican are the real inheritors of Southern Democratic segregationism and racism; however, the Southern Democratic parties still have not completely broken from their past. They remain with a foot in both worlds – a backward-looking reactionary one and a forward-looking progressive one.
The task confronting progressive Democrats in the South is daunting. I do not believe that the Democratic Party can succeed in the South as long as it retains the divisions which are a holdover from the days of Dixiecrats and a tacit acceptance of the Republican Southern Strategy. For Southern Democrats to succeed, they must advocate for populist and progressive reforms that are in line with Democrats nationwide – not necessarily identical – but in tandem. For too long Southern Democrats have scuttled Democratic policy in Congress. And the simple fact is that Southern Democrats no longer command a majority of Democratic offices at the national level. The 50-State Strategy is precisely that. In addition to state like Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina - it includes states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.
When people of good will here at DailyKos argue that the Democratic Party needs to look to regions other than the South for control of Congress and for electoral victory in the presidential election in 2008, they are simply acknowledging a political reality. They are not abandoning the South. They are not dissing the South. They are not saying that there are no Democrats in the South. But the position of Southern Democrats within the Democratic Party has fundamentally changed since 1968. That is a simple fact. And no amount of rude hectoring will alter it.