Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006
The South and Democrats
SC Statehouse Report
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
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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
"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
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
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11/19: A fellow
in a job interview
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
11/14: Missing Fritz
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"
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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