In Defense Of The South, the Big Tent, and Democratic Solidarity
by Chris Bowers, Tue Nov 28, 2006 at 09:17:26 AM EST
One of the keys to building this coalition is that we work together, and not have the desire to throw each other under the bus for personal benefit. This is a problem I long viewed with the triangulation strategy, but it there is certainly a small, though real, minority element within the progressive movement that would like to see all moderate "DLC" types expelled from the party. A second key to pulling this off is to realize that the conservative movement, while having a higher concentration of adherents in the southern part of the country, is ultimately a diaspora spread throughout the country. Thus, while some regions may be more difficult than others, we don't throw any regions of the country under the bus either. The point is that we are opposing conservative extremism, wherever it may be, not that we are opposing the region with the highest number of conservative extremists. After all, the electoral and ideological difference between states as seemingly red as Alabama and as seemingly blue as Massachusetts are the views of only about 20-25% of the population.
Ed Kilgore is someone who recognizes these needs, and who leaves the bombastic declarations of some school of triangulation Democrats, such as Al From or Jams Carville, on the sidelines. Right now, he has a good piece in Salon that I think level-headedly explains how Democrats should approach the South:
Schaller is absolutely right, of course, that Democrats can put together a presidential or House majority without much of anything in the South. The eight large states in the North, West and Midwest that Democratic candidates have carried in each of the last four presidential contests put the party well past the halfway point to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. But those states have actually suffered a net loss of six electoral votes -- and six House seats -- in the past decade, and are likely to lose a few more after the 2010 census. And so long as we have a federalist system and care about control of state governments, and have a Senate in which every state has two seats, conceding small states to the GOP, whether in the South, the Plains or the interior West, will place a huge anchor around the donkey's neck.(...)
Schaller's assumption that successful Southern Democrats have to run on platforms more irreconcilable with progressive values than their counterparts in the interior West is dubious indeed. But the idea that Democrats will do well by attacking Southern culture is just plain dangerous.(...)
In the end, I'm with Howard Dean: In this closely divided national electorate in which red states still outnumber blue states, Democrats should pursue a 50-state strategy with a common progressive message, tolerating some regional differences, and let individual candidates, especially those running for president, target their resources and appeals as opportunities dictate. If that means writing off the South in 2008, fine by me. But please don't prejudge the map based on unreasonable prejudices toward one region, even if it's the one populated by us crazy Crackers. I agree. Consider, for example, how the conservative movement has consistently demonized the Northeast. The result has been a near-total wipeout for Republicans in the regions that will not be reversed anytime soon. Democrats now control 59 of the 74, or 80%, of House seats in New England, New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Almost every Republican in this region who is left in Congress is on the endangered list. Running against a region lost Republicans ten seats in the House in 2006 alone, and those seats are not coming back. This is a situation far worse than Democrats face anywhere in the nation, and I think that having the national Republican Party and the conservative movement demonize the region for years probably did not help the case of local Republican moderates all that much. Whatever short term backlash the conservative movement gained from their portrayal of the region, it has resulted in a major long-term disaster for the Republican Party I can't imagine why Democrats would want to replicate that strategy in regards to the so-called Deep south..
The point is that we work together, don't throw each other under the bus, and that we run against the conservative movement wherever it may reside. We do not run against demographics or regions, as the conservative movement has done for some time in its crusades against immigrants, northeasterners, San Francisco, Hollywood, Massachusetts, homosexuals, Muslims, and whoever else is on their target list at any given moment. Doing that may win you backlash votes in the short term, but over the long-term it builds strong loyalty for your opposition within the demographics you are demonizing. Thus, not only is it bad for the country and immoral, it is terrible political strategy. As recently as 2000, Muslims used to be a pro-Republican voting demographic in America. Also, as recently as 2004, Republicans were making real gains among immigrants and Latinos. However, the conservative movement has now seen to it that those voting groups will be solidly in the Democratic camp for another generation. Smooth move, purveyors of the backlash narrative.
I like Tom Schaller a lot, and think he is quite brilliant. I also think that his book is quite excellent, but for the one caveat: I think we should run against conservatism rather than the South. Further, I think that Ed Kilgore has also consistently shown that moderates and members of the DLC can be valuable members of the Democratic coalition as long as they do not insist on throwing the party's left wing under the bus and portraying liberals in the same strawman terms as conservatives have done for decades (paging LieberDems). In a coalition dependent on overwhelming liberal support, that path can only lead to disaster. However, having people like Ed Kilgore and Tom Schaller on the Democratic side is a great asset to our cause. Throwing away leading progressive and moderate Democratic thinkers just because they are either progressive or moderate, or because they are from a certain region of the country, would be a terrible move and lead to our own demise. Let conservatives continue to demonize every demographic they view as some sort of cultural threat, and let us have a pluralistic mindset and open arms to reap the reward. As long as we respect intra-party democracy, I believe that is one key way progressives and moderates alike can build a new governing consensus in an ever-diversifying nation. And I say this as someone who resides decidedly within the party's left-wing.