Opinion

Democrats shouldn't abandon the South. They should abandon Blue Dog-ism.

Southerners deserve good policy too

To precisely nobody's surprise, Mary Landrieu lost her special Senate election, which means the end of the last Democratic senator from the Deep South. The great political realignment which began after the end of Reconstruction is now complete: What used to be the Democratic "Solid South," a region which held the balance of power in the party for generations and decisively influenced the New Deal, is now almost as solidly Republican.

Michael Tomasky used this development to resurrect an old argument among the left wing: that the South should be abandoned as a Republican wasteland. He is right that the classic political stance of Southern Democrats — positioning themselves between conservative Republicans and more liberal Northern Democrats — is as dead as a bag of hammers. However, he's very wrong to conclude that the South should therefore be totally ignored:

Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise... [Democrats] should make no effort, except under extraordinary circumstances, to field competitive candidates. The national committees shouldn't spend a red cent down there. [The Daily Beast]

This is simply not an attitude any national party can afford to entertain. Yes, Southern Democrats are typically awful policy-wise, and have a history of grotesque racism. But as Ed Kilgore argues, the way to thread this needle is to stop making those sellout moves, not write off a quarter of the country.

Especially because it doesn't even get you campaign dollars anymore! Landrieu was desperately caterwauling her fealty to every plutocrat in the land, especially the lords of oil, gas, and coal. They ditched her anyway, for the fairly sensible reason that solidifying Republican control of the Senate is even better for them than electing a wholly-owned Democrat. Just like Wall Street, Big Carbon has largely joined up with Team Republican.

Personally, I think this is a greater risk than plutocrats appreciate. For decades now they're ensured their interests get top billing in Congress by buying both parties indiscriminately, which thus ensured that the American people would have no realistic anti-plutocracy options at the voting booth. But the galloping ideological polarization of the rest of the nation has reached the corporate class as well, and they've picked sides (with some possible exceptions). And if abasing oneself before the plutocracy doesn't even get campaign dollars, there's no political reason for Dems to not turn sharply populist. Heck, they might as well.

But in any case, Blue Dog-ism is dead, just like most of the actual Blue Dogs in Congress. But any party that aspires to win national power must contest every national election (ideally, every election, period). At the least, it puts the party in place to pick up seats should the favorite implode in a scandal. And these days elections are highly chaotic, with nobodies becoming contenders overnight on a regular basis. Putting somebody up for every post, without exception, is a critical part of how big majorities are built.

Indeed, Tomasky is entirely too confident about Democrats' future – as Greg Sargent explains, demographic trends and Republican gerrymandering are interacting with our antiquated, rattletrap electoral system to give Democrats an enormous negative handicap in the House. It's Republicans, not Democrats, who are actually in a strong enough position to consider writing whole regions off (they won't, of course).

And that brings me to the final problem: race and class. Tomasky notes parenthetically that, yes, Democrats will still have a smattering of majority-minority seats across the South. That's because about the most loyal Democrats in the entire country are southerners — black ones. They're also disproportionately poor, just like southern whites, and deserve full consideration and attention. The poor, the jobless, the uninsured, and the middle class deserve good policy regardless of where they live or their race (yes, whites too). That egalitarian, universalist promise is the only political stance that has the proven historical power to challenge an energized, revanchist right.

Landrieu-style conservatism is a political loser. But racially-aware economic populism might not be, in some places. There are something like 700,000 unregistered black and brown people in Georgia, for example. If they all voted, it would turn Georgia into a swing state. A muscular Democratic Party divested of these silly resentments could make it happen.

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