Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The "Whistling past Dixie" realignment

- by New Deal democrat

Last week Bonddad posted his thoughts on the election. In the same vein, I wanted to address an important long term change of trend in the American electorate. While my politics should be evident from my nom du blog, in the tradition of this blog's "just the facts, ma'am" orientation, my argument should make sense regardless of your political views.

In 2006, Thomas F. Schaller wrote "Whistling past Dixie: how democrats can win without the South." He argued that, among working class whites, the South stands out as different on issue after issue. Southern conservatives' attitudes towards other races, homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, school prayer, and women in the workforce, are far more deeply entrenched and pervasive than those of conservatives in any other part of the country. Further, these moral attitudes are "gateway" issues. A candidate's views on economic issues will not be considered until he has passed this moral test. Therefore, Schaller argued, democrats needed to finally let go of dreams of the old New Deal coalition, and target the inner (mountain) West instead.

The validity of Schaller's argument as to the uniqueness of Southern working class attitudes was evident in polling results published just several weeks ago. While Obama is losing to Romney among the white working class as a whole nationwide, this is because the white working class in the rest of the country is about evenly split between Romney and Obama. The white working class in the South favors Romney by a 40 point margin!

Obama won in 2008, and is very likely to win again next month, because of the emergence of a modified version of Schaller's "Whistling past Dixie" realignment. Several trends have contributed to this realignment.

Former republican enclaves in the northeast, like suburban Philadelphia, have been so offended by the GOP's reactionary social policies, that they have flipped democratic. The last northeastern GOP senators are being defeated, retiring, or dying. It took a generation, but a "solid North" has emerged to oppose the Southern dominated GOP.

Beyond that, the California diaspora in the mountain West, and the increasingly powerful Lation vote, have combined to enable Schaller's strategy of targeting the inner West. Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado voted for Obama in 2008 and are likely to do so again this year. In another cycle or two, Arizona and Montana are likely to be in play. (Even though both Nixon and Reagan hailed from California, Reagan's re-election campaign of 1984 is the last time that state voted GOP).

Put the "solid North" and the mountain West together with the traditional democratic stronghold in the upper midwest, and you are on the cusp of victory.

The realignment is a modified version of Schaller's strategy, however. Perhaps you've heard of the humorous acronym used by natives to describe the affluent Raleigh suburb of Cary, North Carolina -- "Contaminated Area: Relocated Yankees." The migration of northern, socially and economically liberal whites to more southern climes has reached critical mass in several eastern states. For all intents and purposes, on a national level Virginia seceded from Dixie beginning with Jim Webb's victory over "macaca" George Allen in 2006. Virginia was a blue state in 2008 and has been solidly blue all this year. It looks set to hand Allen another Senatorial loss, to Tim Kaine as well. Florida has already become a notorious battleground state. And North Carolina, which flipped blue in 2008 and is just slightly pink for 2012 as I write this, is close behind in the queue.

Put this together and you have the makings of a durable realignment. Let's face it, if a black man can win election and then re-election with this coalition, it is unlikely that an equivalent white, Asian, or Latino candidate is going to do worse!

I have always maintained that 2008 was not a mirror of 1980 or 1932, which was a defining "wave" election. The 2010 midterms proved that. Rather, 2008 was like 1968, in which a new regional realignment - Nixon's Southern Strategy -- first manifested itself. Contrary to the fantasies of Andrew Sullivan and a few on the left, Obama is no progressive Ronald Reagan. Rather, like Nixon, who signed legislation creating OSHA and the EPA, Obama is the first manifestation of that realignment, who nevertheless governs firmly in the tradition of the past consensus ("Grand Bargain", anyone?).

From 1865 to 1932, the South was a defeated, downtrodden, resentful region. Since 1932, it has been a strong and then dominant player in first the New Deal coalition, and then the GOP Southern - Wall Street coalition. It will not react well to being the reactionary vanguard of a rump that includes the Mormon West and the high plains. Today's GOP spurns the legitimacy of elections that they do not win. It has become, as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have written, an insurgency. Just imagine what will happen if, e.g., 74 year old Justice Scalia retires or dies, and a re-elected Obama nominates even a moderate to replace him.

Even if you disagree strongly with my political views, I submit that the evidence for the emergence of this realignment is compelling.