The Widdershins

Will the last national Southern Democrat turn out the lights please on your way out?

Posted on: December 10, 2014

disappearing dems in south

With the loss last Saturday by Mary Landrieu, D-La, to Bill Cassidy in the Senate race in Louisiana, indeed it could be she who turns out the lights.  Landrieu was also the last woman from Louisiana to hold a national office. from that portion of the Old South referred to as the Calhoun-Davis Belt.  That reference being to John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis.  There is still Bill Nelson of Florida but Florida is an odd duck:  Democratic/liberal on the Atlantic side and Republican/conservative in the panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico side.  So what exactly should the National Democratic Party do about the once “solid South”?

As Nate Cohn reflects in his article on the Landrieu loss:

The timing of the demise of the Southern Democrat is not coincidental. It reflects a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. Old loyalties to the Democratic Party have died along with the generation of white Southerners who came of age during the era of the Solid South, before Brown v. Board of Education, before the Civil Rights Act.

Yet it also reflects the very specific conditions of 2014. Today’s national Democratic Party is as unpopular in the South today as it has ever been, in no small part because the party has embraced a more secular agenda that is not popular in the region.

“It’s a completely different party than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” said Merle Black, a professor of political science at Emory University. “When the Democratic Party and its candidates become more liberal on culture and religion, that’s not a party that’s advocating what these whites value or think.”

And as Guy Molyneux said in the Times article:

The dramatic decline of the Southern Democrats represents the culmination of a half-century of political realignment along racial and cultural lines. “Some of it is about Obama; most of it is about the longer-term realignment of white voter preferences…’.  The shift has contributed to the polarization of national politics by replacing conservative Democrats, who often voted across party lines, with conservative Republicans who do not.  [Italics mine]

Southern Democrats were not the liberals of the party but leaned more to the conservative/moderate side of the party.  There were no Kennedys in Dixieland.  As this piece in The Economist said:

White Southern Democrats were largely conservative before, and the Democratic domination of Congress in the second half of the 20th century rested on an uneasy coalition between men such as James Eastland, a senator from Mississippi who insisted three years after Brown v Board of Education banned segregation that “the vast majority of Negroes want their own schools, their own hospitals, their own churches, their own restaurants”, and northern urban liberals such as Ted Kennedy. Strom Thurmond, Richard Shelby and Phil Gramm—Southern Republican stalwarts all—were first elected as Democrats, and of the 37 Democrats who voted against the health-care bill in March, 16 were Southern whites. [Note:  this Economist article is from 2010]

So really, what should be done by the National Democratic Party about the South?  Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast says it’s time to “dump Dixie”.  He compared Mary Landrieu trying to get those 60 votes for the pipeline to this:

It was like witnessing the last two weeks of the life of a blind and toothless dog you knew the vet was just itching to destroy. I know that sounds mean about her, but I don’t intend it that way. She did what she could and had, as far as I know, an honorable career. I do, however, intend it to sound mean about the reactionary, prejudice-infested place she comes from. A toothless dog is a figure of sympathy. A vet who takes pleasure in gassing it is not.

He’s not really too fond of us, or rather where we live:

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.)

I thank Mr. Tomasky for saying we are such nice people.  We try…we really do!  And as far as our “nuclear waste site” we don’t really want it that way.  It’s just that we’ve had oligarchs controlling everything who range from Huey Long on the left to our current little dictator lil booby.  Mr. “T” is willing to dump all of the old south except possibly for Florida and Virginia because of…electoral votes.

They (the Dems) need Florida, arguably, at least in Electoral College terms. Although they don’t even really quite need it—what happened in 2012 was representative: Barack Obama didn’t need Florida, but its 29 electoral votes provided a nice layer of icing on the cake, bumping him up to a gaudy 332 EVs, and besides, it’s nice to be able to say you won such a big state. 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).

So Floridians and Virginians, count yourself lucky…I guess.  The rest of us, uh, not so much.  Oh and that’s only for Presidential politics.  On the whole below that, say for congressisonal elections on down he feels like “Fahgettaboudit” !  Another reason Mr. “T” feels the Dems should blow off the south is because it will “sully their image” by dealing with the South.

Trying to win Southern seats is not worth the ideological cost for Democrats. As Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen recently told my colleague Ben Jacobs, the Democratic Party cannot (and I’d say should not) try to calibrate its positions to placate Southern mores: “It’s come to pass, and really a lot of white Southerners vote on gays and guns and God, and we’re not going to ever be too good on gays and guns and God.”

Now Ed Kilgore, writing in The Washington Monthly and Charles Pierce for Esquire have a different take on how to deal with the South.  Kilgore questions whether the national Dems would (or should) actually walk away from an entire region:

Are national Democrats actually doing that now? Not really. Yes, some southern Democrats—particularly but no exclusively white pols—dance around these issues. But the idea that the national party is being held hostage to conservative southerners is becoming as anachronistic as Deep South Democratic Senators.

Charles Pierce on the other hand says “hell no we won’t go (walk away from the Southern States).

I still will stand with Governor Dean and the 50-state strategy, at least applied judiciously. To me, the key to the problem is to break the stranglehold of the Washington-based consultant class over what candidates will be run in what places. It wasn’t the Beltway crowd who found Jon Tester in Montana, or Jim Webb in Virginia. The national party should be involved in these races only as a means by which money can be shrewdly spread around, and as a means of employing some sense of party discipline.

And he says further:

We will find progressive populists, white or black, and we will run them and support them, and maybe the first five tries won’t work but, sooner or later, there will be a breakthrough, and it will not be led by the next Bill Clinton and the next DLC.


There always has been a kind of working-class populism in the South, and it always came to grief over race. But it’s 2014, and forging an actual alliance of working people, black and white, in the places that need it the most, is a worthwhile effort whether it fails initially or not. To abandon the people trying to forge that alliance — and, therefore, to abandon the people on whose behalf that alliance is being forged — would be political malpractice of the highest order

I’ll agree that yes there has been an economic populism previously in the South, a la Huey Long but even that style of populism had its costs.  The people of the state did get *some nice things*…Huey and his cohorts got a lot.

Perhaps Mr. Tomasky is right and the party should just blow off the south and maybe my state in particular.  After all, southeast Louisiana isn’t only being affected by global warming and rising seas…the entire landmass of SELA is also sinking.

This is an entirely open thread.  Take it wherever you wish, National Democratic Party, the South, southern Democrats…wherever.


15 Responses to "Will the last national Southern Democrat turn out the lights please on your way out?"

There’s still Bill Nelson, who is held in great esteem by most Floridians. SoFla has (except for the Hispanic portions of Dade County, has solidly Democratic reps. That said, Everyone needs to remember that there are two wings of the Democratic party – the Jeffersonians and the Jacksonians. We still hold the annual Jefferson/Jackson dinners, but the Jeffs have been driving the bus for the past twenty years, and the Jacksons feel as though they are being left back at the station. Consider the current hue and cry for Elizabeth Warren. The Jeffs think that HRC is way too hawkish, too fiscally conservative, not nearly cool enough. Such wisdom gave up BHO and a total wipeout in Congress.
Unless the Dems want to watch the sun set slowly into the South, they need to find someone who can pull the Jacksons back on to the bus, and Hillary is their best chance.

Excellent post Fredster and I agree with totally Chat.

Here’s where I try and slice the ham a little thinner — Mary’s defeat in LA is but a coda on the larger issue facing Dems. Simplifying things down to God, guns, and gays is playing into the chronic analysis model of Karl Turd Blossom.

A populist message is nothing more than education of the voters. Contrary to just about everyone inside the Beltway, voters aren’t stupid. Explained and fashioned, all the issues militated toward Dems — minimum wage, equal pay, health care, access to job retraining, job creation — all the issues are Dem issues. We just haven’t had anyone capable of delivering a message that hasn’t been co-opted out of the shoot.

I still get angry about the lost opportunity of the past 8 years after the historically abysmal 8 years of Bush. The last 8 were lost years because Obama believed his cult of personality would win over the hard rock Reps — how idiotic could have one person been!? Well, we’ve seen it in the last 8 years.

@1: Yes that’s exactly what I wrote:

There is still Bill Nelson of Florida but Florida is an odd duck: Democratic/liberal on the Atlantic side and Republican/conservative in the panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico side

I think Merle Black was on the right track but he didn’t go far enough back:

“It’s a completely different party than it was 20 or 30 years ago

He needed to go back 40 years or so ago to when Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act or possibly to the 1948 Dem.convention and campaign. Then after Johnson, add in Nixon’s Southern Strategy which pushed the white southerners even further away from the Democratic Party.

I’m not going to completely absolve Landrieu because she could have highlighted some other things such the improvement in the economy…well somewhat, but not for all…the half-@ssed stimulus package which did help the state, and some other things.

I think the voters of Louisiana will regret the day they elected Cassidy. He’s not going to be anything other than a potted plant occupying a seat in the Senate.

I’ll be back in a little while. I have a little flag that tells me Microsoft wants to add some updates to my computer….something like 16 of them! It’s going to stop and restart several times while that silliness goes on. BBL!

Check out this all-timer of a faux pas from Scott Walker:

Love thus post. Very thought-provoking.

I haven’t read anything from the quoted pundits that is as on point as what Chat said, though. Jefferson /Jackson is the great divide. LBJ and Clinton were the only post-FDR Dems to effectively cross it. Obama failed miserably, as we all knew he would.

Prolix, I agree that messaging is a huge problem for Dems…at the same time, Obama had great marketing but no follow-through. We need someone like Hillary with a proven ability to both communicate effectively, and accomplish what she sets out to do.

Chat – Wow! And Molotov to you too!! 😃

Molto Molotovs!

OMG! Which was worse? Walker or “Good hair” Perry dancing.
Oy vey!

Perry, by a hair.

Perry, by a hair.


Oh how interesting! Lamar wrote a piece somewhat similar to this one.

Very good post and comments. It made me sad when I saw the map on tv that showed the solidly red south. (except for FL)

Molotov?!?! Good lord.

annie@14: Thanks. I was really hoping that Mary would pull off the 50%+1 in the jungle primary. But when I looked at the white vote breakdown I knew it was going to almost impossible. She had to have a good strong turnout in the AA vote (she was close, I think 96% of the AA’s who voted) plus be able to get around 30% or so of the white vote. There was no way she was going to get that percentage of the white vote and then the overall voter turnout was down from the primary. Soooo…I hope all the folks that voted for Double Bill will be satisfied. I think once people see how he’s not going to act in their interests, they will recognize their mistake, but too late then.

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