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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

White Southerners’ Rigid Conservatism Finally Fading?

Michael Lind, author of “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States” and co-founder of the New America Foundation has a post up at Salon.com, “The white South’s last defeat: Hysteria, aggression and gerrymandering are a fading demographic’s last hope to maintain political control.” The gist, in excerpts:

In understanding the polarization and paralysis that afflict national politics in the United States, it is a mistake to think in terms of left and right. The appropriate directions are North and South. To be specific, the long, drawn-out, agonizing identity crisis of white Southerners is having effects that reverberate throughout our federal union. The transmission mechanism is the Republican Party, an originally Northern party that has now replaced the Southern wing of the Democratic Party as the vehicle for the dwindling white Southern tribe.
…The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat. First the attempt of white Southerners to create a new nation in which they can be the majority was defeated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Doomed to be a perpetual minority in a continental American nation-state, white Southerners managed for a century to create their own state-within-a-state, in which they could collectively lord it over the other major group in the region, African-Americans. But Southern apartheid was shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic….
…many white Southerners do not think of themselves as having any “ethnicity” at all. Others — German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans — are hyphenated Americans. White Southerners tend to see themselves as “pure” Americans, “real” Americans, “normal” Americans. Long after Mayflower descendants were submerged by waves of European migration in New England, large regions of the white South remain the last places in the country where local majorities can trace their family ancestry back to before 1776 in British America.
…the old-stock Yankees in the Northeast and Midwest did not accept their diminished status in their own regions without decades of hysteria and aggression and political gerrymandering. The third and final defeat of the white South, its demographic defeat, is likely to be equally prolonged and turbulent. Fasten your seat belts.

While many white southern progressives, me included, will recognize the stereotype Lind projects so broadly on whites in the region, his “prolonged and turbulent” prediction may be overstated. Yes, the GOP will pitch a prolonged hissy fit to aggravate racial animosities and the more gullible white southerners will buy into it. But the more numerous white conservatives, particularly in the middle-class suburbs, are less likely to wholeheartedly embrace the reactionary fortress mentality Lind describes in the years ahead, as the Republican brand becomes increasingly contaminated.
Living standards under southern governors and state legislatures have not improved, and in some case have gotten worse. In December for example, Public Policy Polling reported that “Georgia Governor Nathan Deal could be vulnerable in 2014, given the right Democratic opponent. Only 37% of voters in the state approve of the job he’s doing to 40% who disapprove.” Looking further south,

PPP’s first Florida poll of 2013 finds Rick Scott’s approval numbers on the decline and Democrats warming up to Charlie Crist, setting the stage for Florida to possibly elect its first Democratic Governor in 20 years next fall…Scott’s approval rating is just 33%, with 57% of voters disapproving of him.

Every day in today’s southern suburbs, northerners are migrating in and more southern whites are working along side African and Latino Americans and socializing with them as neighbors. A more likely scenario is that the rigid white southern tribalism of earlier decades will soon begin melting like the polar ice caps.

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