The song, first recorded in 1969 by The Band, was of course about the Civil War. But for southern Democrats, the song could just as well have been describing the night of July 2, 1964. That was the night Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. To this day, debate persists about the future of the Democratic Party in the South. Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, started the most recent tiff with his book Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South.
Call it the “anti-Southern Strategy.” Schaller asserts that the Democrats should focus on more fertile areas (Midwest, Mountain West, Southwest) rather than “pandering to the nation’s most conservative voters.” Schaller uses analysis of southern demographics to illustrate why the South is openly hostile to Democrats.
An elegant rebuttal was Bob Moser’s cover story in the Nation (available here). In his essay, “The Way Down South,” Moser believes that the formula for democratic revival in the South is by way of economic populism (i.e. Jim Webb in Virginia). This must-read article is a gem. There are many great quotes from Moser, but one of my favorites is this:
“Many non-Southern progressives still see the region as a dank, magnolia-scented Otherworld where the cultural obsessions of race, religion, and rifles hold white voters together in an unbreakable sway.”
Moser continues, with a condemnation of the Democratic party leaders who are willing to surrender the south:
“It ain’t wise, and it ain’t right”
…and concludes, powerfully, with a quote from Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham:
“For progressives to give up on the very place where they could argue they are needed the most…would rightfully be viewed as a historic retreat from the party’s commitment to justice for all.”
There have been plenty of spirited interactive discussions on websites on this topic. For instance, go to Dailykos (courtesy of Greg Flynn and BlueNC). Or, read Schaller’s entertaining and vigorous defense of his opinions at TAPPED. Better yet, go to our comments and start one of your own. See you there.