S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1119.dems.htm

The South and Democrats
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 19, 2006 - - A Maryland political science professor this week wrote a provocative column in Salon.com that suggested the national Democratic Party needed to write off the South.

Interesting notion, but he's flat wrong. In fact, he's got it backwards. Not only do Democrats need the South, but the South needs Democrats, Republicans and independents.

In "Do Democrats need the South?" Thomas F. Schaller says, "For the first time in 50 years, the party that controls both chambers of Congress is a minority party in the South. And in the last four presidential elections, the Democratic candidate has either garnered 270 electoral votes, the minimum needed to win, or has come within one state of doing so before a single Southern vote is tallied. Outside the old Confederacy, the nation is turning blue, and that portends a new map for a future Democratic majority."

Schaller may be correct in those assertions, but he's looking at trees instead of the forest. If the Democratic Party is to be truly a national party, it can't write off one region and represent everyone else. That's just not democratic (small d).


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The Maryland professor points to several reasons to why Democrats struggle in the South: he says white voters seem to prefer white candidates over black ones (even though Mississippi, for example, reportedly has more black than white elected officials in local government than white ones.) He also says the South's social conservatism is due, in part, to the region being the most religious and rural in the country. Schaller further points to the region's small gender gap and low rate of unionism as contributing factors.

Those are all interesting, but Schaller needs to take this ostrich-like analysis out of the hole and look at practical politics. He seems to forget that in the recent election, the U.S. Senate likely would remain in GOP control if it were not for Southern Democrats and independents in Virginia. In fact, in the four Senate races in the "Old South," Democrats won two (Florida and Virginia) and Republicans won two (Tennessee and Mississippi).

Additionally, as pointed out by Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies, Democrats won 47 percent of 19 key Southern U.S. House races and were competitive in 63 percent of them. At the gubernatorial level, Democrats won in Tennessee and Arkansas.

Notes Kromm: "For Democrats to turn their backs on a region that half of all African-Americans and a growing number of Latinos and Asian-Americans call home, a place devastated by Hurricane Katrina, plant closings, poverty, and other indignities -- in short, for 'progressives' to give up on the very place where they could argue they are needed most -- would rightfully be viewed as a historic retreat from the party's commitment to justice for all.

"But most of all, November 6 proved that the 'forget the South' strategy is a colossal mistake -- if only because the elections revealed that, if they try, Democrats in the South can win."

There's another impact to consider. If Democrats ignored the South, they likely would cause political debate to be more polarized. By forgetting about the South, Democrats would become more liberal and Republicans would kowtow to being more conservative.

"It's a big country," said "Jethro" in an online comment to Schaller's article. "Dems can be competitive in every part of it, although they won't all look and sound the same. Why would we want them to?"

Yet another impact: If national Democrats bypassed the South, they would write off the next generation of leaders at statehouses and county councils. This could kill the progressive spirit that lingers in many communities across the region because there wouldn't be much of an apparatus to support candidates.

One of the outcomes of the recent election is that people seemed to be frustrated by one-party rule in Washington for the last few years. By leaving out one region that's growing like gangbusters, Democrats would be committing an egregious strategic error … and might end up losing power for good in years to come.

Americans - and South Carolinians - deserve robust political debate in Congress and the Statehouse. To expect less is to undercut democracy.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

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To the editor:

I noted on election night, [Congressman Jim] Clyburn got 97,000 votes usually he does 110 to 120,000+. Fritz [Hollings] used to fund the gotv efforts, yep in more ways than one we miss Fritz. SCETV should have had him for "color" commentary.

Want to join the pool on when Treasurer T-Rav [Thomas Ravenel] and Gov. [Mark] Sanford have their first Budget and Control Board smack-down tripping over each other to get to the TV camera. Old blue blood Charleston vs. Nouveau Charleston.

-- Lynn Bailey, Columbia, S.C.

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