Dixie To Democrats: It’s You, Not Us
Neal Dewing
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The elections of 2014 will be remembered for a long time, not just for its clear message from the electorate, but for the far-reaching effects on the body politic. In particular, Southern Democrats ought to be nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. After Sen. Mary Landrieu’s highly-anticipated defeat in the runoff election in Louisiana, Democrats were left without a single senator in the Deep South, and Republicans were left happier than a pig in…well, you know.

Predictably, this realization led to some rending of garments among the liberal punditry, as they wondered aloud whatever will become of us. One of the more entertaining takes on the encroaching ruin came from Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast. He argued that, for “Dems, It’s Time to Dump Dixie.” Bless his heart, but he got it all backwards.

In brief, Tomasky views the exit of Landrieu as an apt time to advise Democrats that they should abandon the South altogether and stop wasting time and resources to remain competitive in such a vile place. He likened the soon-to-be-former Senator Landrieu to a blind, toothless old dog, and the Southern voter to a veterinarian who was clamoring to hasten her journey across the Rainbow Bridge:

…that is what Louisiana, and almost the entire South, has become. 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.

We do indeed. Near as I can tell, for some folks the problem isn’t the ruinous domestic policies foisted on the republic, the weak economic recovery for all but the super-rich, or the ineptitude of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Nor is it the tone-deaf embarrassment that was Landrieu’s final campaign. No sir, the real problem is the irascible voters who simply cannot grasp what’s in their best interest. And where are they more irascible than in Dixie?

Racism Isn’t Southerners’ Problem with Democrats

Tomasky very charmingly went on to call the South a toxic waste dump, seething with spittle-flecked racist outrage. Now, I’m a Southerner by birth—a Virginian, by the grace of Almighty God—and that isn’t the South I know. In the interest of gentlemanly discourse I will allow that among our older residents there is still a measure of unreconstructed racial sentiment. The standard way to paper over some intemperate statement from an aged great-uncle is to take the offended party aside briefly and tell them to pay uncle no mind, as “he’s from another time.” The implication being, once he goes on to his reward his impotent and outmoded views will go on with him.

Michael Tomasky seemed to be advising Democrats to abandon all strategic electoral sense along with the South.

I resent the necessity of having to make this point explicit. We younger Southerners, who have grown up without ever knowing segregation or Jim Crow, are non-racist. It is not in the least controversial for us to have coworkers, bosses, teachers, priests, friends, and spouses of another race. There are, of course, exceptions to everything, and no doubt some people under the age of 60 hold less-enlightened opinions about race. Even so, a preponderance of these lack a vehicle to act on their prejudice, but do possess the good manners to simply keep it to their own damn selves.

Naturally, in light of what I know to be true about Southern people, Tomasky’s article struck me as peevish and small-minded. Yet beyond the offense to honor he intended with his unfair description of Dixie, Tomasky seemed to be advising Democrats to abandon all strategic electoral sense along with the South. Far be it from me to offer aid and succor to my ideological opposites, but this idea just seems too ill-conceived to be allowed to live. The following may be a reductive assertion, and I invite any professional political operatives to correct my ignorance, but:

  1. If you allow your opponent to march unopposed to victory in one area,
  2. Then he is free to commit the resources he might have spent there to other areas, where he has a real fight on his hands,
  3. Therefore, it is unwise to simply abandon the field.

It’s Foolish to Abandon the Field

Then again, Tomasky himself seemed to question his premise immediately, and at length:

The Democrats don’t need [the South] anyway.

Actually, that’s not quite true. They need Florida, arguably, at least in Electoral College terms. Although they don’t even really quite need it… its 29 electoral votes provided a nice layer of icing on the cake, bumping [Obama]up to a gaudy 332 EVs… But Florida is kind of an outlier, because culturally, only the northern half of Florida is Dixie. Ditto Virginia, but in reverse; culturally, northern Virginia is Yankee land (but with gun shops).

…And maybe you can throw in North Carolina under the right circumstances. And at some point in the near future, you’ll be able to talk about Georgia as a state a Democrat can capture. And eventually, Texas…

If I may edit for clarity: The Democrats should write off the South, except for places where they shouldn’t.

Leave aside the fact that Virginia has two Democratic senators and is increasingly blue in outlook, overrun as it is with Yankee come-heres. Virginia isn’t technically the Deep South, but Georgia most certainly is—and Georgia’s changing. Keep in mind, Tomasky held out this slim hope for Democrats in the South when it comes to national elections, his assumption being that minority populations will remain reliably Democratic in exchange for increasing the welfare state. But will they?

My Federalist colleague Robert Tracinski has laid out the pitfalls of a “Reverse Southern Strategy,” whereby Southern Democrats focus on large, reliable voting blocs of urban minorities to the exclusion of working-class and Southern whites. To get a sense of how well that works over the long term, look at the difficulties facing Republicans in their outreach to the black community.

People Won’t Long Vote for a Party that Dislikes Them

It was cute for Tomasky to say Democrats should do the dumping, when Louisiana has made it plain that Democrats are the ones being dumped. That has a lot more to do with culture than it does with specific policies. The main problem for Democrats in the South is actually that the party is in thrall to too many folks with Tomasky’s stridently Progressive views. As Democrats continue to explicitly reject the values and mores of the South on “God, gays, and guns,”—something Tomasky made it a point to do in the course of his nasty article—that rejection will register with current Democratic voters who happen to hold those values.

The more the Democrats embrace the hateful and intolerant beliefs of the Left, the more they risk eroding their other bases of support.

Not only they, but formerly-reliable Democratic voters outside the Southern states may even start to question their allegiance. At the very least, they may question why they should bother voting for someone who hates them. Blue-collar whites and people with traditional values do indeed exist outside the South, despite the confirmation bias inherent to left-wing writers. For these people, voting Democratic is not necessarily an endorsement of the Progressive agenda. The more the Democrats embrace the hateful and intolerant beliefs of the Left, the more they risk eroding their other bases of support.

Of course, all of Tomasky’s aforementioned hyperventilating paled in comparison to his ridiculous final paragraph, in which he proposed that based on recent events and its own horribleness, the South should finally be allowed to secede (or be given the boot) from the Union. Now, I know several gentlemen in Charleston who will find that an entirely agreeable prospect. However, that is an absurd reaction to an election. It’s wholly divorced from the reality of politics, which is that nothing is set in stone. Electoral coalitions change shape, and parties can tinker with their platforms to snag new voters. As should be obvious, Democrats have to do that—and they will.

Given some time to buck the influence of the Tomasky wing of the party, I have every confidence that Southern Democrats will rise again.

Neal Dewing lives and works in Portsmouth, Virginia. He is the co-host of The Fifth Estate, a podcast examining culture and politics.

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