The Dem Majority and The South

This is a long post and not about something that generally interests our readership here at Talk Left. But it is the evening and I want to post it. So here goes.

At mydd, Jerome Armstrong criticizes Tom Schaller for his thesis (it is mine too) that Democrats can not shape their message determined to do better in the South. Like Schaller, I thiink it is not the right approach for Democrats. Armstrong writes:

Stoller's argument ends with a point that might charitably be called a caveat: Maybe there's something I don't get about how special the South is. And that serves as a segue into talking about Tom Schaller's book, "Whistling Past Dixie". It's a point to which a southerner might reply as "typical yankee shit". It's a rather remarkable book though, using statistics to make the case that Democrats can win a majority without the south. And that's probably true, but it's Schaller's first recomendation on "The Path to a National Democratic Majority", that Democrats define the south in the most denigrate ways, to run against the south for an enduring majority, that is morally and strategically wrong.

This is misstatement from Armstrong. The strategy is NOT to denigrate the South, it is to NOT kowtow to it. It is to paint the GOP as extreme and unacceptable. Not to paint the South as anything. It is to use the power of negative branding against the GOP, NOT against the South. Armstrong misuderstands the difference between national branding and the 50 state strategy of devolution of power to state parties. He really muddles the entire subject. Not his best by a long shot. I'll explain on the flip.

For two years I have fought this battle of national image, 50 state strategy devolution and the Big Tent. Armstrong goes not understand the issue in my opinion. But it is a battle I have engaged in for 2 years.

On November 8, 2004, I wrote:

The "values" debate, in my opinion, is largely driven by this [race] - it is a corollary to Hofstader's Paranoid Style turned inward.  Digby refers to it as tribalism and it of course manifests itself in differing forms throughout the country and the world.  However, for our purposes, in discussing the tribalism of Dems and Republicans, I do think it is important to understand its root in the Lost Cause and States Rights. The New Lost Cause was the loss suffered by Southern Whites during the civil rights debate. That victory, much as Lincoln's victory in the Civil War lost the South for the GOP for a Century, lost the White South for Dems for the foreseeable future. And as Digby notes, there is little Dems can do about it.

But why has this Culture Divide spread? Two points - how much has it spread? More than many would like to think. I'll always remember this -George Wallace won the Michigan primary in 68.  (Of course Jesse won Michigan in 88 - and therein lies an explanation.)  Where the racial question spreads - so too the cultural divide.

Is race the whole answer?  No, but it is at the heart of the matter.  And now it is not just black/white.  Brown/Gays/Foreigners etc.  Remember the Democratic Party in the post-LBJ era - it was, and probably rightly so, skeptical of American claims to moral superiority -Vietnam, Watergate, the CIA, Central America, the Cold War.

Throughout this period, the Democratic voice was plainly - not as jingoistic, not as blindly pro-American, not as blindly morally sure.  Was this wrong?  Not generally.  I disagreed with much on the specific issues -particularly regarding the Cold War - but reasonable minds can disagree.  The point is that the branding of the Democratic Party  was set in stone.

The Clinton Years are interesting in what they were not and in what they were.  Many think Clinton was much better on "values."  I really reject that. I think Clinton was lucky and good.  The Democratic branding on foreign policy became much much less important at that time.  Pocketbook and kitchen table issues predominated, and Clinton was a political genius at using those issues to the hilt.  Clinton did something else -he proved Dems can govern well again.  We did not lose because people felt Kerry could not govern.

So what about 2000?  Well, first, Gore won.  Second, look at Bush's presentation of himself to the country - dignity to the White House, compassionate conservative, less government.  Values was a fairly stealth issue then.  It's funny, because people forget that W was not particularly trusted by the Religious Right pre-2000 - Bauer and  Keyes ran against him - they were said to have held their nose, cuz 8 years in the Wilderness were enough.

Slowly, Bush started to pander - Ashcroft, stem cells.  Where he was true to Conservatives was tax cuts and rolling over for Big Business. Would he have stayed on that path?  Probably.  But who knows?  Something happened - 9/11.  And we forget the impact of that event.  Bush became the President then.  His speech to the Congress in that period was his finest moment in my mind.

At that point, Bush inherited 20 years of Dem branding on the keeping the country safe question.

Bush was unbeatable then - a War President.  But the something else happened - Iraq.  All of sudden, Bush was the guy we see clearly now.  The country caught up this summer.

And "Values," old Faithful for the GOP, was needed.  Gay marriage amendment, the stealth campaign - it came roaring back, but we didn't see it, by design.

See Rove was playing the 9/11 President to the hilt.  The keeping us safe question.  A divisive "values" campaign would undercut that.  So we were caught off guard.  But there it was.

Now we hear how Dems can't talk "values."  Well, that's true, we haven't been able to since we embraced civil rights.  And we won't convince  "values" voters on this.  But we have other opportunities - there is a big downside to the "values" agenda - it loses moderate voters, particularly women.  Can we frame our values better?  Sure, Lakoff and Frank and all that is great.  But can we get "values" voters?  No.  But we can get moderates - we can talk better on keeping the country safe, we can talk better on other issues.

And we can show the true face of the "values" voters.

On Thanksgiving Day 2004, I wrote:

As you can see, Lincoln shoots right across the bow of the South.  What was he trying to do - obviously, flip the extremist label - place it on the South, take it off the Republicans.

Win the Center.  Douglas advocated something different.  But this strategy of demonizing the South required the imagery provided by Brady - the counterpoint.

This is already long and I think Lincoln makes my point here.  Something to consider when we are urged to reach out to "values" voters, compromise on Iraq, etc.

My answer - Lincoln is my guide

On January 2, 2005 I wrote:

Actually, Nagourney joins the post-mortem ritual on "What Happened"?  Here are the parts that make sense to me:

But the importance of values is disputed by more than a few Democrats, who obviously would prefer not to follow a plan that might irritate some fairly crucial parts of the base, be they secular Democrats, abortion rights advocates or supporters of gay marriage.

"Values obviously are important," said Terry McAuliffe, the national Democratic party chairman, whose term expires in February. "But clearly, the overriding issue in this election was terrorism and national security. You don't get to those other issues until you have checked the box on national security."

What?  Agreeing with McAuiliffe? Blasphemy!  Well, not totally agreeing. I think this, coupled with the Iraq Debacle, was the #1 Issue of the Election, and will be again in 2006 and 2008.  Shocking to hear that from me I know.  However, McAuiliffe does, in my opinion, underestimate the effect of the "values" issue, but not in the conventional sense discussed by say, the DLC.  The problem wasn't our message on values - the problem was our failure to properly label the GOP as extremists.  What happened was the GOP drove a high turnout of their "values" voters without paying any price whatsoever with socially moderate voters.  The differences were blurred by us, instead of highlighted.  I find Pelosi's critique encouraging in that respect:

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said that Democrats, despite their best efforts, had been outgunned on voter turnout by Republicans and that they didn't push back hard enough against what she described as false attacks. "I don't subscribe to any of these notions that we have to examine our conscience as to who we are," Ms. Pelosi said. "We know who we are. We know what we stand for. We'll make it clearer in the non-presidential election year what the differences are between the Democrats and the Republicans."

Exactly what we need to do - highlight the differences on "values" - not blur them.  Yep, Lincoln 1860.

What happened in the last election is that the GOP narrowed the pool of "persuadable" voters available to Dems by highlighting the WoT as the preeminent issue (while Kerry spent half the campaign trying to drive "kitchen table" issues) while at the same time driving "values" voters to the polls without suffering any loss of socially moderate voters who were focused on the national security issues. We must reverse both of these trends. We must broaden our pool of persuadables by improving our national security brand and we must sharpen the differences on "values" to extract a price among social moderates from the GOP for their necessary courting of their "values" voters, lowering their pool of persuadables. Voila, the formula for success. Now, how to do all that? Hmmm. . .

On Febeurary 25, 2005, I wrote:

Kilgore does make some good points however in discussing the prospects for 2006:

The odds of making serious gains among Southern white moderates--and also of cutting modestly into the massive GOP margins among conservatives--are even better in non-presidential-year state races, like those coming up in 2006. Already, two strong potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the Deep South are focused on winning by swaying suburban moderate voters. Alabama Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley could benefit from a cultural-issues split between backers of incumbent Governor Bob Riley and his likely primary opponent, Ten-Commandments-toting former Judge Roy Moore. And Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox cites her ability to win key Atlanta suburban counties in 2002 as a major credential in her bid to topple incumbent Gov. Sonny Perdue.

I think this is pretty consistent with a Dean idea, and one I have talked about as being particularly important for the South - the decentralization of the Democratic Party.  Sterling Newberry at BOP also wrote some very good stuff on the regionalization of Dem message -even where positions are the virtually the same. So this sounds good to me too.

Kilgore concludes:

Just goes to show: sometimes the regional stereotypes can be misleading. Given all the talk in national Dem circles about the need to appeal to NASCAR-obsessed, pickup-truck driving rural Bubbas, it would be especially rich to see two women take over state houses by winning suburban moderates.

This is perhaps the most intriguing part of Kilgore's post. And I certainly want to here more of Kilgore's thoughts on how Dems appeal to that voter.  That type of voter is the key to Dem fortunes in the South. And it seems to me that Kilgore is not describing a "values" voter.

A question for Ed, what does that type of voter think about the Kansas AG trying to violate the confidentiality of women's medical records? How does THAT issue play to the Southern female suburban moderate voter?

Two days later I wrote:

I think Kilgore and many establishment Dems see the Lefty blogosphere as rhetorical bombthrowers who can add little to the substantive discussion of political strategy. While I agree that we are, in part, playing a role of aggressively pointing out failures in the Media, outrages from Republicans, and highlighting issues of importance that would otherwise be allowed to fall through the cracks (the torture debate is a prime example), there is an underlying political strategy that many of us believe is the right one for this political moment - my own description of it is Lincoln 1860, in reference to Lincoln's polarizing 1860 Presidential campaign in which he stridently and aggressively labelled his political opponents as extremists.

Many have misinterpreted this reference to mean I want an aggressive campaign against the South. I don't. I want an aggressive campaign against Republicans. It so happens that I think that my strategy acknowledges what seems to me an inescapable reality at the national level - the South will not be won by Dems in the short term, and this requires a strategy that can get us wins in the other regions of the country.

And this leads the discussion to moderates and independents, all over the country. For with the country as polarized as it is, winning moderates is the key (though less so in the off years). It is my view that the extremism of the GOP has been hidden due to a number of factors - Media incompetence, some Dem confusion, and most importantly it seems to me, a conscious decision by Democrats to fudge wedge issues.

And it was with this landscape in mind that I posed the questions on the nature of moderate voters and the issue of "values" to Kilgore. . . .

Kilgore responds:

Well, that depends on your definition of "values voters." If it means people who want to criminalize abortions, demonize gays and lesbians, or institutionalize evangelical Christianity, then no, suburban southerners don't generally fit that category, and I'd personally write them off as targets even if that were the case, on both practical and moral grounds.

My own (and generally, the DLC's) definition of "values voters" is quite different. They are people who: (a) don't must trust politicians, and want to know they care about something larger than themselves, their party, and the interest groups that support them; (b) don't much trust government, and instinctively gravitate towards candidates who seem to care about the role that civic and religious institutions can play in public life; © don't much trust elites, whom they suspect do not and cannot commit themselves to any particular set of moral absolutes; (d) don't much like the general direction of contemporary culture (even if they are attracted to it as consumers), and want to know public officials treat that concern with respect and a limited agenda to do something about it; (e) are exquisitely sensitive about respect for particular values like patriotism, parenting and work; and (f) have a communitarian bent when it comes to cultural issues, and dislike those who view them strictly through the prism of the irresistable march towards absolute and universal individual rights without regard to social implications.

By that definition, I think southern suburban moderates, and especially women in that demographic, are definitely "values voters." In answer to the particular question about how suburban southerners would react to that wingnut in Kansas who wants to explore the sexual histories of women seeking abortions, I think the simple answer is that they would say: "Mind your own business, boy! Aren't there some criminals out there you ought to be chasing?"

Given Ed's response, it seems to me then that there clearly can be some common ground that can be reached by the whole of the Democratic Party on how to appeal to voters as described above. Frankly, I'm skeptical that Kilgore is properly defining "values" voters - but it does sound to me, and Kilgore expressly says this, that he is describing moderate voters. And to that end, Kilgore's last answer is telling - he imagines these voters saying to the GOP "Mind your own business boy!" But the GOP is NOT minding its own business, and these moderate voters do NOT know that! And, to me, it is the job of the Democratic Party that these voters be told that. Often and loudly.

In October 2005 I wrote:

Why do Republicans keep on winning Drum asks. For the precise reason the Netroots has advocated for a Fighting Dems strategy -- Democrats have been afraid to call the Republican Party extreme, even though it is. Democrats have been afraid to fight for their mainstream principles.

We need to practice a Politics of Contrast. We need to emulate Lincoln's Campaign of 1860.

Markos has said this too many times to count -- the Netroots, and I think the base, are not ideological purists. We want the Dems to fight for core principles and to stand up to the Extremist Republican Party.

The Third Way report appears to endorse Quavering Dems. I think the Netroots wants Fighting Dems. That's the difference.

On Iraq,  I wanted Dem agggression on the issue. I wrote consistently as follows:

My short answer is it is time to pummel Bush on his failures in Iraq. Well, it is past time. And you can't pummel him if you say "stay the course." And Paul Hackett damn sure pummelled Bush on Iraq. So, when I say it is time, I mean it is time to pummel Bush on Iraq. But I also mean more. And this is what I am talking about when I say the politics comes before the policy -- Bush will not listen to us, to Clinton, Biden, Feingold, Hagel, McCain, nobody. If Bush would listen, what would I recommend? I'll answer in extended.

But I want to leave this part on the front -- it is because Bush won't listen that the politics comes first -- because the only way to change our disastrous Iraq policy is to change the political dynamics and the political power situation we currently are in. That means Dems winning in 2006. It happens that Jerome seems to disagree with me on the politics -- though it appears to be on the withdrawal issue. Well, I gotta tell you, I am becoming convinced that calling for withdrawal has no real downside for 2006 -- and you can do it the Feingold way.

In January 2006 I wrote:

When it comes to understanding political strategy, I think E.J. Dionne is the best columnist going. Here is his excellent advice on how the Dems Can Win On National Security:

"President Bush and the Republican Party do," Rove informed us. "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats." Rove went on: "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview, and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

Oh, no, those Dems aren't unpatriotic, just security idiots.

Here's why the same approach keeps working.

First, note that phrase, "the same cannot be said for many Democrats." This is Rove's wedge through the Democratic Party. Rove has always counted on Bush's capacity to intimidate some Democrats into breaking with their party and saying something like: "Oh, no, I'm not like those weak Democrats over there. I'm a tough Democrat." The Republicans use such Democrats to bash the rest of the party. [ARE YOU LISTENING JOEMENTUM?]

Moreover, these early Rove speeches turn Democratic strategists into defeatists. The typical Democratic consultant says: "Hey, national security is a Republican issue. We shouldn't engage on that. We should change the subject." In the 2002 elections, the surefire Democratic winners were a prescription drug benefit under Medicare (an issue Bush tried to steal), a patients' bill of rights, the economy and education. Those issues sure worked wonders, didn't they?

Gawddammit E.J. - call them out! This is sooo on the money. This is EXACTLY why the DC Dem consultants suck from A to Z. They are horrible. E.J. gets it exactly right.

By not engaging the national security debate, Democrats cede to Rove the power to frame it. Consider that clever line about Democrats having a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world. The typical Democratic response would be defensive: "No, no, of course 9/11 changed the world." More specifically, there's a lot of private talk among Democrats that the party should let go of the issue of warrantless spying on Americans because the polls show that a majority values security and safety.

What Democrats should have learned is that they cannot evade the security debate. They must challenge the terms under which Rove and Bush would conduct it. Imagine, for example, directly taking on that line about Sept. 11. Does having a "post-9/11 worldview" mean allowing Bush to do absolutely anything he wants, any time he wants, without having to answer to the courts, Congress or the public? Most Americans -- including a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans -- reject such an anti-constitutional view of presidential power. If Democrats aren't willing to take on this issue, what's the point of being an opposition party?

Holy fucking cow! That's the way E.J.! Preach it brother.

Democrats want to fight this election on the issue of Republican corruption. But corruption is about the abuse of power. If smart political consultants can't figure out how to link the petty misuses of power with its larger abuses, they are not earning their big paychecks.


Frame this column. Pull it out and yell it at your TV when the Dem Consultant Dopes start talking. We must scream the Party out of this idiocy.

And my postmortem of this election is here:

Some of you may know that I think Jon Tester may be the most significant politician to emerge from this election. I think he can and does represent a new breed of Democrat - authentic, comfortable with his identity, proud to be a Democrat, not afraid to fight and yes - from the West.

I have been speechifying against the proposed Barack Obama model of new Democrat that has captured the fancy of the Beltway. I think that Obama has the wrong political formula for the Democratic future. I think Jon Tester has the right one.

A remarkable two year journey in a political debate. I know most of you don;t care about this stuff, but I do. I think it is a critical debate. It bothers me that Armstrong has set it back in this way.

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    Case in piont (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Slado on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 10:32:17 AM EST
    The above comments are why liberal democrats do poorly in the South.

    The democrats that won in midwestern and southern states this past election were "big tent" democrats that often were pro-gun, pro-life etc.. on certain all or some positions.  

    The liberal crowd won't win over the south in our liftime but a moderate democrat in the shape of some southern governors can.

    It's not rocket science.

    Same is true in the northest.   A gun toting tax cutting pro-life repulican is never going to win in the Northeast or California.   Instead a moderate repulican, like some govenors, can do well.  Ala Guliani or McCain.

    If anything this past election showed that the cournty is more partisan and in some areas only moderates can secure votes to win in a true blue or true red state.  

    We shall see.

    Easy does it (none / 0) (#1)
    by aw on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 08:38:02 PM EST
    I don't think one post is a setback.

    Nice (none / 0) (#2)
    by terry hallinan on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 11:59:32 PM EST
    Thank you, Big Tent.  Looks like there is hope for you after all. :-)

    I was a soldier in Vietnam before most Americans knew there was a Vietnam.  There were 3 generals and 1 private.  Wasn't bad at all until the Viet Cong started shooting at Americans too.  Then it wasn't so good.

    Something really confused me.  When the Viet Cong were captured with their propaganda or simply the propanda stashes were found with weapons, one of the pieces of seditious material was the Declaration of Independence.

    What the heck was the Viet Cong doing with the Declaration of Indendence?  Why would we want to put a stop to the Viet Cong handing out copies of the Declaration of Independence?  I guess it helps to understand why guerrillas of all stripes cotton to the Declaration of Independence.  Just read it.

    I absolutely refuse to believe that people in Mississippi and Utah and all other states and nations must have statements of clear liberal values hushed up and hidden so we can all live together in one big tent hating each other.

    Maybe I am wrong but I refuse to believe it.

    Theology is that way for us true believers. :-)

    Best,  Terry

    whew! (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 12:51:32 AM EST
    damn boy, you do suffer from diariah of the mouth at times! j/k, don't get your panties in a twist. :)

    one thing i noticed you either skipped entirely, or glossed over: the rapidly changing demographics of many southern states, particularly the carolinas, virginia and florida.

    this changing demographic is why jim webb defeated george allen in va. it is a change powered by immigration, from the northeast and midwest, to the southeast. the immigrants tend to be younger, well educated and middle to upper middle-class.

    this shift doesn't bode well for conservative, right-wing republicanism: educated people are anathema to george bush, they actually realize he is an idiot. by and large, social issues such as same gender marriage aren't real high on their priority list, good schools for their children are.

    i think the democratic party would be foolish to just write off the south, the values the new south has aren't that far apart from the liberal/progressive values of the democrats.

    Completely unacceptable. (none / 0) (#4)
    by Edger on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 03:03:31 AM EST
    This is one time I have to disagree with you. I think this post might turn out to be something that will interest many here, if only based on one statement you make before the fold. What caught me is the fact that for many on the left, and many 'far left' (at least as defined by others, though often not by themselves and myself) the  strategy for the past few years has been exactly this:

    It is to paint the GOP as extreme and unacceptable.

    Unacceptable to anyone. Looking back through comments here for years I think you'll few if any denigrating the south or southerners. Rather the GOP has been described here often as extremely insulting and disrespectful to everyone, and especially to it's own base, by treating them as if they think their base is a bunch of mental midgets. We've repeatedly tried to point this out. I think it's a hard one for their base to accept perhaps because they might feel that peole think they are dumb because they were suckered, when in fact they were convinced early on by what at first sounded like reasonable leadership standing up for them in the face of an enemy that was created and pointed to repeatedly.

    But that is the con artists power. And it may be partialy the lefts fault as well through our choices of words. At least my choices of words anyway. I've often said words to the effect "you can't be dumb enough to fall for that crap the gop and bush have been handing you can you?" - which is very close to and perhaps easily taken for saying "you are stupid to fall for it".

    Compete in the south (none / 0) (#5)
    by peacrevol on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 09:26:06 AM EST
    why "paint" the repubs as unacceptable? if they are truly unacceptable, just briefly highlight what they've done to make them unacceptable. then, incorporate that with what demos could do better. if you just do a bunch of "painting" of the other party, it just turns into mud slinging and nobody really pays much attention. the south is likely more conservative than the north. you have to show where the conservative path has taken us using regular language. too many political speeches and information sources use strong language that turns people like that off. you have to remember when you're talking to proud southerners who are conservatives, they are going to be put off by somebody demeaning the values that they have.

    i think the trick to winning the south over is to let them know that you respect the result that the conservatives were trying to do but the method was not the right one and didnt produce the right results. then you highlight the reasons that it didnt work and go over the liberal or democratic or whatever method you support and show how it will work. but all this time you have to be respectful and careful not to say things that make southerners think that you feel that you are more sophisticated than you. that's what pisses of southerners the most. you cant go out there talking about how repubs are crooks, because people will stop listening to you. it sounds to them like you're just trying to put them down, since in a lot of cases those are the people that they voted for.

    So your quibble is the word (1.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 09:53:14 AM EST



    Wedge Issues Not Working Why? (none / 0) (#6)
    by Ernesto Del Mundo on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 09:37:26 AM EST
    The values crowd probably still turned out in force to vote in 2006 despite the sex scandals. It would literally take the Apocalypse to keep them from voting. And the security issue was still front and center. The Democrats, from what I saw, really didn't take any of your advice. There were no attacks, just a passive sitting back and waiting for the voter resentment to build on its own.

    So the question is why did the Republicans still get pasted, when they had done much better the past two election cycles and there was a palpable fear that they would come through with only minor losses this time?

    ooops forgot a subject (none / 0) (#8)
    by peacrevol on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 10:18:34 AM EST
    So the question is why did the Republicans still get pasted, when they had done much better the past two election cycles and there was a palpable fear that they would come through with only minor losses this time?

    the repubs got ousted b/c it's obvious to everyone that the war policy isnt working. it seemed that the war was the most important issue to most voters. people are tired of watching republicans try to heard cats in a war that wasnt really ours to start with.

    yeah "paint" - it implies that you're making a "mountain out of a mollhill" in southern talk.

    But... (none / 0) (#10)
    by Ernesto Del Mundo on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 11:41:36 AM EST
    Wasn't that obvious in November 2004?