RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge
Why Democrats must not abandon the old stronghold

"It makes perfect sense," said Edmund Ball, author of Slaves in the Family. "The typical case is that the son of a master's family tested out his sexuality on a vulnerable young woman in the master's house. That is exactly what Strom did." But if there was method in the madness of his personal life, there was no less logic in the contradictions of his political career.

Thurmond started as a Democrat, left in an attempt to use race as a wedge to open up the two-party system, and when he failed joined the Republicans, in whose arms he died in June. As Thurmond went, so went the South. Once the stronghold of the Democrats, the states of the former Confederacy are now the Republicans' most reliable base. When Thurmond first stood for office in 1928, three-quarters of the states won by the Democratic presidential contender were in the South. When he retired in January, the Republicans had won every southern state (with the arguable exception of Florida).

This dramatic realignment has been reshaping the US political landscape for the past 40 years. Next year's presidential election could well complete the process. The Democratic party is now thinking what would once have been unthinkable. Regardless of who is the candidate, they plan to give up altogether on seriously contesting the South.

To imagine just how much of a radical step this represents, both in policy and political geography, you would have to imagine the Labour party abandoning Scotland, completely, to the Tories by 2044. Not just losing there, but feeling that their chances were so slim that it wasn't worth their while to fight.

The immediate electoral arithmetic makes sense. The American election is decided not by popular vote but an electoral college where candidates effectively compete to win each individual state, which holds votes proportionate to its population. Even though Al Gore won no southern states, he lost the last election by just four votes in the electoral college. So if whoever wins the Democratic nomination can hold the same states that Gore did - a big but not unreasonable if - the issue will be where to pick up the remaining four votes. Those who advocate withdrawal from the South argue that rather than pouring financial and political resources into fighting for Florida's 25 votes - the only southern state where Gore even came close - why not go for New Hampshire's four, or the 21 in Ohio.

It's not just a question of resources. On almost every issue from gay rights to labour laws, the South is more conservative than any other part of the country. Why, given the potential north of the Mason-Dixon line, should the Democrats go foraging for votes in the rightwing swamps of Florida, when they could remain truer to their message in the liberal north-east and union-strong industrial midwest?

As far as crude numbers go, the appeal of avoiding the South is clear. The problem is that they do not go nearly as far as some claim. The strategy would arguably also suit the Republicans. With the South in the bag, they could also concentrate their resources elsewhere. Making less effort to entice white southerners would allow them to foster a national message that might win over voters in swing states they narrowly lost last time.

If the short-term prospects for abandoning the South are debatable, the long-term effects for the political culture of the nation and the region, not to mention the Democratic party, could be disastrous. Democrats lost the South for the same reason they lost Strom Thurmond - race and racism. The New Deal followed by the civil rights movement transformed their most loyal base from white, racist southerners to African-Americans. Integration of the races heralded the segregation of the parties; with few exceptions in the South, whites vote Republican, blacks vote Democrat.

The Democrats' failure in the South has been due to their inability to capture the votes of a sufficient number of poor whites, by convincing them that whatever privilege they get from their race is more than offset by the disadvantage experienced by their class. Being white has not saved many of them from having no healthcare, poor education and low pay. The South may be the most conservative region in the country, but it is also the most impoverished.

Failing to connect with poor whites and enthuse poor blacks is the Democrats' national problem, not a regional one. Of the 10 non-southern states with the highest rates of poverty, the Republicans won seven in 2000. Meanwhile, black Americans are the Democrats' most loyal base, yet among the most reluctant to turn out. For the Democrats to turn their backs on the poorest, blackest region in the country is unlikely to be the solution. As a short-term electoral tactic it might just work, but as a long-term approach it reflects not a means to an end but a mindset.

Uniting white and black southerners on grounds of class, rather than race, has long been considered a pipe-dream for the American left. But as Essie Mae Washington-Williams and the Thurmond family reminded us earlier this month, white and black southerners are bound together more closely than most are prepared to admit.

[email protected]

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
 follow on twitter
RT @BernardineEvari: Please follow the groundbreaking online #MuseumofColour UK, founded by the unstoppable Samenua Sesher. The 1st gallery…
RT @EthnicityUK: Gary Younge is interviewed by @sonikkalogan about his work on racism and gun violence in @the_hindu #DataPoint podcast. h…
RT @thefreedomi: 🚨 NEW: Saudi women’s rights activist & academic Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison + 34 year travel ban f…
RT @LRB: #DawnFosterForever! On Thursday 15 September at the @LRBbookshop, @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lynsey Hanley and @garyyounge will d…
RT @ShowunmiV: This is how we support Black women and girls https://t.co/8YmgV21zHo
RT @sonikkalogan: It's #DataPoint Pod Thursday! In this week's episode, I talk to @noraneus, @garyyounge and @Casey_J_Wooten about the U.S.…
RT @bgnoiseuk: Next month, @LRBbookshop will host an event to celebrate the life and work of Dawn Foster with @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lyn…
Help me Twitter. The quote: ""You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming." is most commonly… https://t.co/Xs7JkiOEd5
RT @the_hindu: #DataPoint | This Thursday, @sonikkalogan takes a look at the #US gun violence epidemic, as mass shootings continue to grow…
City workers get double-digit wage rises while lowest-paid see 1% increase - “Them’s the breaks” https://t.co/XeVyG72iA5
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
Adcirca best buy Synthroid direct mail order Get imitrex Transdermal verapamil 15 gel cost What i should buy with celebrex Where to buy cellcept Cost of stendra at walmart Tadalafil online us Buy vfend without a prescription Get verapamil online