Much has been made of the fact that when losing Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) leaves office in January, Louisiana will not have a Democratic statewide elected official in office for the first time since the 1870s. The Republicans who occupy all of the Pelican State’s high offices are in good company; Republicans now control every U.S. Senate seat, legislative chamber, and governor’s mansion across the Deep South – from Texas to the Carolinas.
This condition is giving some Democrats, loyal to the party for whom the term “Solid South” was coined, indigestion. The best example of this phenomenon is an ill-considered paroxysm in the form of a think piece recently published by liberal columnist Michael Tomasky. In that post, the columnist compared the “reactionary, prejudice-infested” South to a vindictive veterinarian just dying to put down a sick and pitiable dog.
“And that is what Louisiana, and almost the entire South, has become,” he wrote.
The victims of the particular form of euthanasia it enforces with such glee are tolerance, compassion, civic decency, trans-racial community, the crucial secular values on which this country was founded… I could keep this list going. But I think you get the idea. Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)
With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good. Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise. The Democrats don’t need it anyway.
Tomasky proceeded to talk himself into the notion that Democrats can’t write off the South entirely. He observed that they need Florida, and the “New Southern” states of Virginia (and occasionally North Carolina) to win the White House. Moreover, the rapidly growing state of Texas might at some point provide Democrats with a tantalizing target. “But that’s presidential politics,” Tomasky conceded. “At the congressional level, and from there on down, the Democrats should just forget about the place.”
“It’s lost. It’s gone. A different country,” he concluded. “And maybe someday it really should be.”
Someone should have stopped Tomasky from penning this embarrassment, much less submitting it to his editor. The liberal columnist might have spared himself the mortifying scrutiny this screed is receiving today if he had simply committed to screaming into a pillow for an hour. But since we have been treated to this expression of wrenching betrayal that purports to make a logical case, let’s dissect it.
Jazz Shaw recently made a compelling argument for why both generalizations about the South, like those above, are often wrong, and why the myth of Southern realignment is so enticing for the left. The notion that Republicans only began to reclaim the South after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act provides Democrats with a tempting fiction that suggests their losses in the former Confederacy are due entirely to racism.
It is a baseless notion. On the presidential level, the South did begin to abandon Democrats in the 1960s, but that was a process marked by fits and starts. As recently as 1980, the electorate that handed Ronald Reagan the White House looked like this:
Moreover, Bill Clinton, an Arkansas Democrat, won Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana in both 1992 and 1996.
In 2010, Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende performed an admirable dissection of electoral results in the South in the 20th Century in an effort to combat the myth that Southern Democrats only began to shift toward the Republican Party after the passage of the CRA.
By 1962, the Republicans were pretty routinely winning Southern states in Presidential elections, and there were twelve Republicans from the South: two in Texas, two in Virginia, four in Tennessee, two in North Carolina, and two in Florida. But that doesn’t explain the “redness” of many of the Southern districts. At this point, a near-majority of Southern Democrats had voting records that placed them on the right side of the ideological spectrum, even excluding civil rights votes.
Since that writing, some Southern states have experienced post-Reconstruction milestones. In 2010, Republicans took control of Alabama’s legislature. Mississippi followed suit in 2011. In 2012, Arkansas and North Carolina’s legislative chambers were handed to Republicans. The political shift in the South is both rapid and recent.
Liberals might say that it is no coincidence that this transition is accelerating at the same time that an African-American occupies the Oval Office. That ignores the symbolic victories Republicans have enjoyed in the South, most notably the ascension of Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) to become the first African-American Senator from the Deep South since Reconstruction. Southern Democrats had decades of opportunity to replicate this feat, but failed to achieve it. Nor does this simplistic analysis take into account how both Obama and his party can still ably compete in Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina.
There is no such thing as a permanent majority anywhere, and electoral coalitions are always in flux. It seems a safe bet that Democrats will one day be competitive in the South – it was only weeks ago that the president’s party was salivating over the prospect of Georgia possibly electing Democrat Michelle Nunn to statewide office in a Republican year. But “Democratic” is not synonymous with “liberal,” and offensive tantrums like Tomasky’s are not going to draw many Southern voters to his cause.
The Democratic Party in the South is not dead, but the brand of progressivism that despises Southern voters most certainly is. At least, it is for now.