With Mary Landrieu exiting the Senate, the usual rounds of finger pointing and recriminations have already begun. In the eyes of her supporters, the reasons are numerous and obvious. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the unpopularity of the President or the issues she espoused. No, the only reason that a Republican will occupy that seat next year is that the South is full of hateful, bigoted, stars and bars waving racists and homophobes.
This, they will claim, is the result of an ongoing process which began simmering after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, building up to the sweeping “party switch” in the era of Nixon’s southern strategy. This was allegedly when the kindhearted Republicans fled to their more natural home in the Democrat party while the old school, evil racist Democrats jumped ship to the GOP. It’s an old story, and one which is reasonably deflated by Kevin Williamson this week.
A few obvious questions: If white Southerners were really so enraged about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and if they switched to the Republican party to express their displeasure, then why did they wait 30 years before making that preference felt in House elections? Why did Dwight D. Eisenhower — a supporter of civil-rights legislation who insisted on the actual desegregation of the armed forces (as opposed to President Truman’s hypothetical desegregation) and federal agencies under his control — win a larger share of the Southern vote in 1956 than Barry Goldwater, the most important Republican critic of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, did two cycles later? Why did Mississippi elect only one Republican governor in the entire 20th century, and that not until 1992? Why didn’t Alabama have a Republican governor until 1987? And why did Louisiana wait 60 years to eliminate its last Democratic senator in favor of a candidate from the party of Condoleezza Rice, Ben Carson, Allen West, Mia Love, Tim Scott, and that not-very-white guy who serves as governor of Louisiana? White supremacy should be made of sterner stuff: Did somebody forget to tell Louisiana state senator and newly confirmed Republican Elbert Guillory that he’s black?
Generalizations about “The South” are as common as they are wrong. The southeastern portion of the country is actually incredibly diverse by virtually any metric you’d care to use. If we must drill down to the most basic of numbers, we can note that the overall population of the United States is roughly 62% white and 13% black. The corresponding population distribution in South Carolina, for example, is almost exactly the same. Interestingly, of all businesses in the United States, only 7.1% of them are owned by blacks, but in South Carolina (same chart as last link, further down) that number jumps to 12.1%. In short, the entire country is a melting pot, as it has been for ages. To pretend that the south has been immune to this is to be intentionally obtuse or disingenuous.
Democrats still get elected in the south and Republicans somehow manage to get elected in the northeast. The Donkey party won every governor’s race but one in Mississippi during that last century. Missouri, the site of so much racial trouble of late, has a Democrat governor. (Which might explain the total lack of media finger pointing in Jay Nixon’s direction during the riots.) Voting tides rise and fall as the issues Americans focus on shift. It’s an easy and very tired diversion to simply scream Racist every time you lose an election.
Mary Landrieu didn’t lose the election because Louisiana is full of racists. (The same racists who seem to keep electing Bobby Jindal, by the way.) She lost because she failed to serve the needs of a majority of her voters.