Jonah Goldberg excerpts from an article advocating that the Democrats abandon the South and concentrate their fortunes elsewhere. The article posits:
Schaller builds this conclusion on one of the most impressive papers in recent political science, “Old Times There Are Not Forgotten: Race and Partisan Realignment in the Contemporary South,” by Nicholas Valentino and David Sears. Running regressions on a massive data set of ideological opinions, Sears and Valentino demonstrate with precision that, for example, a white Southern man who calls himself a “conservative,” controlling for racial attitudes, is no less likely to chance a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate than a Northerner who calls himself a conservative. Likewise, a pro-life or hawkish Southern white man is no less likely—again controlling for racial attitudes—than a pro-life or hawkish Northerner to vote for the Democrat. But, on the other hand, when the relevant identifier is anti-black answers to survey questions (such as whether one agrees “If blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites,” or choosing whether blacks are “lazy” or “hardworking”), an untoward result jumps out: white Southerners are twice as likely than white Northerners to refuse to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Schaller’s writes: “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters … the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”
What’s more, if Republicans have succeeded by openly baiting a region of the country not really American (the latte-swilling Northeast), Schaller says, “The Democrats need their own ‘them,’ and the social conservatives who are the bedrock of Southern politics provide the most obvious and burdensome stone to hang around the Republicans’ neck.” Democrats should cite “Southern obstructionism as a continuing impediment to the investments and progress the country must make in the coming century.”
Not only is it bad political strategy, but it reflect a profound arrogance. I believe that Goldberg’s analysis is right on in explaining why that “screw the South” strategy is a political loser:
One quick reason why I think demonzing the South the way the GOP demonizes the coasts won’t work, particularly for the Democrats, is that the coasts aren’t merely regions of the country, they are bastions of the economic and media elite. An economically populist party would find it hard to attack poorer regions of the country in ways that didn’t sound simply snobbish. And, let’s face it, while anti-racism surely plays a significant part in Northeast and West Coast liberalism’s anti Southernism so does plain snobbery.
Furthermore, if one looks at successful Democratic politicians, many of them are Southerners. Bill Clinton comes to mind as the most successful Democratic politician since Kennedy. Jimmy Carter was a Southerner. So is John Edwards. And James Webb. The list could go on for some time. A party that refuses to be a national party is not a party that can win in a system with an Electoral College. Accusing an entire region of the country of being a bunch of whitebread bigots is not a way to build a successful political movement.
It’s another example of the latent fault lines in the Democratic Party these days. As Goldberg points out, you can’t be an economic populist like John Edwards while calling the poor people you’re trying to save as a bunch of racist boors who are too stupid to know their betters. At the same time, the liberal coastal elites are terminally out of touch with Middle America. (Note how well John Kerry does in popularity polls – you don’t get more Boston Brahmin than Senator Kerry.)
The Democrats are in control of Congress right now because the Repubicans screwed up their leadership, but the Democrats won thanks to managing to eke by candidates in conservative districts. If the Democrats go far left and embrace the regional sectarianism that many would like to see them do, it will ensure that the Democrats lose power as quickly as they took it. The Democrats didn’t win in November, the Republicans lost. This election wasn’t as much an affirmation of the Democrats as it was a plebiscite on six years of poor leadership from the GOP. If the lesson the Democrats wish to draw from that is that they should abandon and insult an entire region of the country, they are welcome to do so, but it remains a spectacularly arrogant and foolish thing to do.