Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky has given up on the South after 2014 as far as Congress goes, and is tired of the Dems spending good money on races they will never, ever, ever be able to win. Yes, NC, VA, and Florida are necessary for the White House, but…
At the congressional level, and from there on down, the Democrats should just forget about the place. They should make no effort, except under extraordinary circumstances, to field competitive candidates. The national committees shouldn’t spend a red cent down there. This means every Senate seat will be Republican, and 80 percent of the House seats will be, too. The Democrats will retain their hold on the majority-black districts, and they’ll occasionally be competitive in a small number of other districts in cities and college towns. But they’re not going win Southern seats (I include here with some sadness my native West Virginia, which was not a Southern state when I was growing up but culturally is one now). And they shouldn’t try.
My friend the political scientist Tom Schaller said all this back in 2008, in his book Whistling Past Dixie. I didn’t want to agree with Schaller then, but now I throw in the towel. He was a man ahead of his time. Look west, Schaller advised the Democrats. And he was right. Now it’s true that many states in the nation’s heartland aren’t winnable for Democrats, either. Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah will never come anywhere close to being purple. But Colorado already is. Arizona can be. Missouri, it’s not crazy to think so. And Montana and South Dakota are basically red, of course, but are both elect Democrats sometimes. (Did you know that both of Montana’s senators right now are Democrats?!) In sum, between the solid-blue states in the North and on the West Coast, and the pockets of opportunity that exist in the states just mentioned (and tossing in the black Southern seats), the Democrats can cobble together congressional majorities in both houses, under the right circumstances.
This is the crucial argument that the Left has had on the future of the Democrats: which is better, more Democrats, or better Democrats? I’ve long been a proponent of more Democrats (Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy) but considering how quickly that has disintegrated in just 8 years, leaving the GOP with the biggest House majority they’ve had since Hoover, I’m going to say that “more Democrats” isn’t going to cut it. The 50 state strategy isn’t going to work anymore in Alabama or West Virginia or (and let’s face it) Kentucky.
But it’s not just a question of numbers. The main point is this: 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.”
Cohen thinks maybe some economic populism could work, and that could be true in limited circumstances. But I think even that is out the window now. In the old days, drenched in racism as the South was, it was economically populist. Glass and Steagall, those eponymous bank regulators, were both Southern members of Congress. But today, as we learned in Sunday’s Times, state attorneys general, many in the South, are colluding with energy companies to fight federal regulation of energy plants.
It’s lost. It’s gone. A different country. And maybe someday it really should be.
And that’s where Tomasky loses me.
Giving up on the South 100% is a recipe for repeating the last six years forever. It’s the ultimate emoprog copout, not to mention it erases the political power of millions of people of color and treats us as what, hostages with Stockholm Syndrome, not to mention that there are millions of poor white voters in the South too.
But we do need a new solution. We need better Democrats AND more Democrats, and giving up on the South and handing it over to the GOP for the next 20 years only assures more of the country-destroying insanity we’ve seen since 2009.
The Tea Party is not going to magically go away once Obama leaves office. We need to fight back on this crap and give people a reason to vote FOR Democrats and not just against the GOP. It’s hard to say “we can’t give up on the South” when Southern Democrats have given up on the Dems. But at the same time, running Republican-lite candidates to win Blue Dog seats only hurts the Dems across the board.
So is the fight now “Since Southern Democrats told Obama to go to hell, what should we do to keep them?” The answer will define the party for the next generation. In 2014, “They’re not Republicans!” was only good enough for what, 16% of the voting public to get off their asses and vote. We’ve got to try something else, and now.
Something like “Let’s run actual Democrats as candidates”.
Sorry. We gave the Alison Grimes and the Mary Landrieus a shot, and they failed miserably. They ran as Republicans and ran away from Obama and I spent months trying to convince anyone in earshot that this was the only way. The empirical evidence is in, and Blue Dogs are done for.
But that doesn’t mean “Dump the South” unless you want more years of wondering why a Democratic president can’t get anything done with a GOP Congress.