Forget the South, Democrats - Stop coddling the spoiled brat of presidential politics. By Timothy�Noah

The South and the Democratic Party:

Slate has today an article by one Timothy Noah, entitled "Forget the South, Democrats - Stop coddling the spoiled brat of presidential politics." We shall here discuss it.

"There goes the South for a generation," Lyndon Johnson is said to have predicted as he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. Actually, it's been two generations, but otherwise Johnson was dead-on.
Insofar as Johnson was right, it wasn't the Civil Rights Act itself, but the use of military force against the South that did the trick. I think that the CRA was less important than Brown v. the Board of Education in that regard. In any event, the South is the only part of the United States that has felt the force of the US military directed against it--twice now, and this last time in living memory.

As I have argued elsewhere, Southerners have come to the point that we ought to admit that things are better in the South in part due to such intervention. Nevertheless--let it be said that I defy the premise of this article, which is that the South is in some way the 'spoiled brat' of American politics. The South provides fully 40% of the US military, and yet is the only region that has had that military used against it. We have served, and we have been struck across the face in our service; and we continue to serve. Therefore is America as strong as she is:

'This blow that I return not
Ten times will I return
On kings and earls of all degree,
And armies wide as empires be
Shall slide like landslips to the sea[.]'
So let us dispense with the notion that the South has been coddled. What else is there in the article?
For 40 years, the Democratic Party begged Southern Democrats to return to the fold. Always undignified, this pleading eventually become futile as well, like Shirley Booth calling for her dead puppy in Come Back, Little Sheba. Now John Kerry, winner of the New Hampshire primary, is taking some heat for saying so. But it's about time somebody did.

"Everybody always makes the mistake of looking south," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a Jan. 24 appearance at Dartmouth. And so they have.

Return to the fold? Sir, Southern Democrats still stand right where the fold used to be. It is the fold that has moved away from us. You have, to extend the metaphor, sought other grazing in pastures you thought from afar would prove greener: socialism, identity politics, abortion politics, judicial activism and its illiberal accomplice, the litigation of every aspect of American life. You have turned free and equal citizens into a hierarchy: lawyers, and subjects of the law. That would bad enough, but you have also encouraged the lawyers who become judges to be legislators, rewriting the law at pleasure. Return to you? You tred ground that shows no sign of any previous human foot: nor will it show yours for long, for it is a morass.

What else?

For two decades, it's been axiomatic that Democratic presidential candidates couldn't win unless they were Southerners.... But it didn't work in 2000 for Al Gore--or rather, it didn't work well enough to counterbalance the Supreme Court's decision to hand over Florida's electors to George W. Bush.
Well, as to that, the Florida State Supreme Court set aside Florida law, Federal law, and the US Constitution in rewriting the recount guidelines. That is an example of exactly what I was talking about just above. If you didn't engage in such foolishness, but respected the law, you would find that Southerners were less likely to have a problem with you.
If he'd taken Florida, which in many ways is not really a southern state, he'd be president. (Some people still argue that he did.) Thus Lesson 2: Democrats don't really need those southern votes.
We will return to the question of whether or not you need those votes in just a moment. For now, note that Florida, though I will agree that it is in character different from the South, is also home to an increasingly large number of military voters (you may remember them? They are the ones whose absentee ballots your Mr. Gore had discarded on a technicality? I assure you they remember, even if you don't). As mentioned, the South provides 40% of military forces. Likewise, the military's relative conservatism, patriotism, and respect for tradition and sacrifice make even non-Southern military men more like Southerners than anyone else in America. I wouldn't count on carrying Florida all that often.
Since 2000, many Democrats have questioned quietly why they should expend so much effort trying to win votes in what is now a solidly Republican region. The Democrats' ceaseless courtship of Southern votes has fostered an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Southerners now consider it their God-given right to supply Democrats with presidential candidates or, failing that, to force non-Southern candidates to discuss Him using an alien evangelical vocabulary. (God doesn't hear the prayers of Episcopalians, Congregationalists, or Presbyterians. No use even discussing Unitarians, Jews, and atheists.)
On the contrary: Southerners like Joe Lieberman pretty well. He's neither a Southerner nor a Christian--one of those Jews you seem to think need not apply. But Jews have always done well in the South: one of the nation's oldest Jewish communities, which was addressed by General George Washington, is in Savannah. The South, divided so badly by black-white racism, has generally not noticed 'internal' divisions: Irishmen, Jews, Germans, and so forth have suffered prejudice elsewhere, but not in the South. The sad reverse of that is the famous "one drop" rule, of course.

In any event, we have never asked anyone to talk about God who didn't want to do so. In fact, speaking for myself, I'd rather you didn't. There is little mroe irritating than listening to an irreligious Yankee suddenly start prattling on about Jesus when he starts campaigning in the South (Howard Dean, call your office). Southerners do like religious men--Jews or otherwise--but they like forthright men more.

Overindulgence has also made the South grotesquely hypersensitive to what non-Southern liberals say about it; to quote a famous witticism about the writer John O'Hara, today's South is "master of the fancied slight." Thus when Vermonter Howard Dean made the perfectly innocent remark that he'd like to win votes from "guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks"--a comment, incidentally, that indicated he did not intend to write off the South--he had to fall all over himself apologizing to Southerners offended by the shorthand.
This part is fair, as far as it goes. The South is an honor-based culture. In that, it is genuinely different from the rest of America. That does provide pitfalls, one of which is pricklishness to insult by outsiders.
The taboo extends to discussing whether the South has enough votes to justify Democratic solicitude. Kerry's remarks prompted Dick Harpootlian, former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, to tell ABC's Jake Tapper, "I'm shocked he would be talking about a strategy of avoiding the South." Tapper also quoted Kerry rival John Edwards, political scientist Merle Black, and Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., emphasizing the importance of the South to the Democrats. But they're all Southerners; of course they think Democrats shouldn't write off their region. (Miller, who's starting to sound like a right-fringe crackpot, has the gall to tell Democrats what to do even though he's already endorsed President Bush.)
It's worth remembering that Senator Miller gave the keynote address when Bill Clinton was nominated for the Presidency. Senator Miller's book, A National Party No More, warns that the otherwise-national Democratic Party seems not to care that it is writing off an entire region, consisting of fully one-third of the voters in the country. Maybe it seems like a winning political strategy to some persons to ceed 1/3rd of the vote, and then fight for a division of the remaining 2/3rds.

To me, it sounds like Miller is right: the Democratic party is choosing not to be a national party, unwilling to do what must be done to compete nationwide for the popular vote. If that is the case, it will become plausible for the Democratic party to be replaced by a party that will do what must be done to compete for the nationwide vote. That may be a new political party, but it might be the Republican party.

What does this spell for the future of the Democratic party? Illegitimacy, for one thing. A party that tries to govern America, having little support except on the coasts, will find that even if it wins the occasional election its policies are very hard to enact or to execute.

It is likely to find, over time, that trying to compete with a party that has a national strategy when it has only a regional strategy will cause it to be increasingly marginalized.

Nothing makes this clearer than the example of the Senate. It is barely possible to win the Presidency without the South: if you win 70% of all races outside of the South, you will have just enough Electoral votes to squeak by. You'll be OK in the House, for a while, because the House is apportioned by population. The Senate is not. There are Senate races in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, and South Carolina this year, which could solidify Republican control of that body. If you don't fight for the South, over time all Southern senators will become Republican. California and New York may stand you fine in the House, but they only give you four Senators together, and both states are in play--consider a Guiliani candidacy, for example. Give the Republicans the South, and you'll never hold the gavel in the Senate again. The Senate's consent is required for all Federal judgeships, ambassadors, major political appointments, and--just in case you have forgotten--legislation. Kiss the South goodbye, and you kiss the Democratic platform goodbye. Even on those occasions you manage to win the 70% of non-Southern races, so that you have narrow control of the House and a Democratic president, you will get exactly no legislation that you want: gridlock will be the best the Democratic party can manage. By the way, don't forget the judges. Eventual Republican dominance of the Supreme Court will be assured by the loss of the Senate.

This, mind you, is the best case scenario. This assumes that the Democratic party will be able to continue to win the Presidency on occasion, and that its legislative incapacity won't cause it to become uncompetitive in regions outside the South. A more likely scenario is that the Republicans, dominant in the Senate, and eventually the Supreme Court, will dominate the other branches as well. As the Democratic party will be increasingly unable to enact legislation, people who want legislation enacted will have to go to the Republicans. That means the withering of Democratic political support among unions, lawyers, and businessmen. The only supporters that will remain are those who are so opposed to the Republican agenda that they would rather have gridlock. You'd have had their votes anyway, even if you'd made the adjustments to your agenda necessary to be competitive in the South.

Noah argues at some length that the Democratic Party can make up with Latinos the loss of the South. That is a deeply suspicious argument, as Latinos trend socially fairly conservative and religious. A Democratic party that ejects its last conservative principles in order to run with the wolves is not going to be even as appealing to them as it is now; and even now, Republicans are making gains among Latino voters.

There is more still:

But there's an even longer political history of Southerners whining and wheedling their way into disproportionate and undeserved power.
What follows this line is tenditious in the extreme.* But, the core of truth to it is that the South has always been more politically powerful than its numbers. This is mostly because of the Senate, which the South has frequently dominated due to its cultural unity.

The radical changes of the 20th century were all enacted by Democrats. They were possible because the South was solidly Democratic, and lent their power to the party--sometimes grudgingly, and sometimes with loud protests. Since the South began to go Republican, there has been no political change of any real degree in America. When the shift is complete, radical change will again be possible. Just as before, solid control of the Senate means tremendous power across the system.

This time it will be Republicans with that power. What, Noah, do you think they will do? Consider that question for a space, and then consider what can be done to stop it. There is one thing, only: the Democratic Party must return to its roots, and start fighting for the South.

* Tenditious arguments include the following:

-"The South is arguably the most socialistic region in the country; nearly half of all U.S. military personnel are stationed there, and the region was only lightly affected by the post-Cold War base closings of the 1980s and 1990s." The facts are right, but the interpretation is wrong. Insofar as military life is 'socialistic,' it is the socialism of the comitatus, not the commune. There could be no greater difference in the value systems than that.

-"Before that, the South treasonously separated itself from the Union." In fact, the right of states to seceed from the union was taught in West Point textbooks before the Civil War. Besides, the principles of the American Revolution do not make sense if states have no right, ever, to reconsider their association. It was hardly treason to do what Washington himself had done. Unless, of course, you would prefer to consider yourself a British subject, surrounded by a nation of traitors.

-"Before that, the South successfully battled all attempts to end the practice of slavery, which the Founding Fathers well understood was incompatible with the principles of the American Revolution." As to the founders--yes, indeed, although they also did all they could to avoid ending the practice of slavery in their lifetimes. Not one of them released his slaves until his death. As to the South's avoidance of ending slavery--the Confederacy was the first American nation to ban the importation of slaves. Slave ships remained legal in the North for quite some time, and they sailed, as they always had, out of Northern harbors. Their markets were limited to Brazil and the Carribean after the Civil War. The markets there never dried up; it was the British navy that put an end to the slave trade, not an end to the market. Whereas slaves in the American South lived to reproduce, slaves in South America died almost as fast as they could be imported on those Northern slave ships, the ones you'll have read about. So please--if you must dwell on old inhumanities, you might at least do so in an evenhanded way.

-"Of course, without the three-fifths rule, there wouldn't have been a Constitution of the United States--not one that governed the American South, at any rate--because the South wouldn't have ratified it. But that only underscores further the perils of paying the South too much attention." Does it? The three-fifths compromise tells us what, exactly, about the intentions of a Southerner living in 2004? About the quality of his advice? It says nothing at all on either question: it is an ad hominem attack against the region, as indeed are most of the other assertions.

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