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The South, the tail that wags the Republican dog, is losing its political influence

When I first gained an embryonic political consciousness in the 1950s, I learned that the “Solid South,” as it was called, was a reference to the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on the states of the old Confederacy.

Southern Republicans were as rare as hen’s teeth in those days. Gradually, however, the situation began to change just as I moved into adulthood. Northern Democrats increasingly embraced the cause of civil rights for blacks, and Republicans increasingly pursued what became known as a “Southern strategy,” a concerted effort to exploit the South’s political and cultural conservatism. Eventually, the “Solid South” became solidly Republican.

This second decade of the 21st century finds that the South is still staunchly Republican, but not necessarily to the lasting benefit of the GOP, as George Packer explains HERE:

The Southernization of American life [in the last quarter of the 20th century] was an expression of the great turn away from the centralized liberalism that had governed the country from the Presidencies of F.D.R. to Nixon. Every President elected between 1976 and 2004 was, by birth or by choice, a Southerner, except Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed a sort of honorary status. (When he began the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, scene of the murder, in 1964, of three civil-rights workers, many Southerners heard it as a dog whistle.) A Southern accent, once thought quaint or even backward, became an emblem of American authenticity, a political trump card. It was a truism that no Democrat could win the White House unless he spoke with a drawl.

Now the South is becoming isolated again. Every demographic and political trend that helped to reelect Barack Obama runs counter to the region’s self-definition: the emergence of a younger, more diverse, more secular electorate, with a libertarian bias on social issues and immigration; the decline of the exurban life style, following the housing bust; the class politics, anathema to pro-business Southerners, that rose with the recession; the end of America’s protracted wars, with cuts in military spending bound to come. The Solid South speaks less and less for America and more and more for itself alone.

(Snip)

Northern liberals should not be too quick to cheer, though. At the end of “The Mind of the South,” [journalist W.J.] Cash has this description of “the South at its best”: “proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal.” These remain qualities that the rest of the country needs and often calls on. The South’s vices—“violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas”—grow particularly acute during periods when it is marginalized and left behind. An estrangement between the South and the rest of the country would bring out the worst in both—dangerous insularity in the first, smug self-deception in the second.

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3 Comments

  1. Chuck Sweeny

    I have a different theory. I believe Americans are soothed not by a southeastern or deep South accent but by an Oklahoma accent, because I secretly believe all airline pilots are required to speak “Oklahoma.” Think about your last flight. “Good evenin’ folks. Ah’m Cap’n Daniels ….”

  2. I think it is said best by quoting from a song by Bobby Bare and later by Alabama: “Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat. They oughta get a rich man to vote like that.”

  3. Chuck, they all probably spent a good deal of time at one or all of these Air Force bases; Tinker or Altus or Vance.

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