In this week’s Nation magazine both Tom Schaller and Bob Moser have their final say on whether it is possible to build a progressive movement in the South that is a powerful champion for working Americans. Unfortunately, for now, it is behind a subscription wall. The original Progressive Pulse post on this subject is here. What follows is a summary of the authors’ rebuttals:
Schaller: Can’t be done and shouldn’t be tried. Schaller still believes transforming Dixie is a fool’s errand and a waste of precious resources. He cites high racial tensions and low unionization rates as factors which will not allow a successful appeal for economic populism. His solution: “Continue importing non-native Southerners to the region because the white South is not quite ready” (for populist appeals).
Moser counters: (Economic populism) has never really been tried in the South, and now is the time. Moser downplays “negative racial attitudes” as a factor. He contends that high poverty levels, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and increasing income inequality make the South potentially receptive to a strong message of economic fairness.
In the end, I come down strongly in favor of Moser’s approach which is that a message of progressive economic populism could transform Southern politics. Progressive Southerners should welcome this debate, and not because it might lead to electoral victories. This is an issue of morality and economic justice. Already, America would like to forget the unraveling of New Orleans. Politics, and political campaigns, have the power to transform a region. Recall how John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential trip to Appalachia drew attention to the “Other America.”
If the quality of life in our region is going to improve for everyone, it will be because we Southerners are united in our belief that good jobs, fair wages, healthcare, and education are core issues of decency and fairness. If we allow ourselves to be divided, again, by social wedge issues like guns and gay marriage; then everybody loses.