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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Will the South Sink Obama? (And what the term Socialism means in the South)

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Democrats have won exactly three Presidential elections. In the seven losing Democratic campaigns, Democratic nominees have only once carried a a single southern state (I define Southern states as former Confederate states. So in other words Kentucky and Oklahoma are not Southern states by my definition): Hubert Humphrey carried President Johnson's home state of Texas in 1968 and Jimmy Carter carried his own home state of Georgia in 1980. In the three victorious Democratic campaigns, the party has carried a grand total of 20 Southern states. In fact the Democrats have carried every single state in the South in a victorious Presidential election since 1968 with the exception of Virginia, traditionally the most reactionary rim south state which last voted for a Democrat in 1964.

Barrack Obama is my choice for President. I have editorialized at length during the primary how limited I believed Senator Hillary Clinton was a national candidate. I correctly foretasted that Senator Obama would be much more competitive in the interior western states as well as in Midwestern populist states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa than the cookie cutter Democrat with baggage that Clinton is. I however appear to have been wrong in believing Obama's ability to transcend race and regional appeal would make him attractive in the South. Sadly this is not all Obama's fault nor due to Southern voters being left to their own devices. They are being manipulated.

Surprisingly Obama currently leads by a big margin in Virginia, increasingly suburban and less reactionary than it once was. But Obama is not even slightly competitive in rim/border South states like Arkansas and Tennessee which have a much greater progressive tradition than the deep south. Obama looks to have a slight shot of carrying North Carolina on election day but is not polling well in Louisiana, a state Bill Clinton carried twice or Georgia which Clinton carried in 1992 and lost by a single point in 1996. It is also highly likely inspite of the current polls that Obama will not carry Florida.

Obviously the National Democratic Party is too toxic right now in the Deep South to seriously entertain thoughts of competing in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi. However, Obama's poor poll numbers in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana are to me very worrying. In fact in the case of Tennessee and Louisiana it is possible Michael Dukakis ended up with a better percentage of the votes than Obama will. That's flat out unacceptable for a new kind of Democrat, but perhaps this owes itself more to John McCain's race baiting.

Much of this is not Obama's fault. Southern whites of course vote based on race more often than any other white voters in the nation. Moreover, the national media which is made almost entirely of elites in New York and Washington who look down upon the South, have not picked up on the use of code words by John McCain. Calling Obama a socialist is like throwing red meat to white southerners. "Socialist" in Southern political lingo means "for the blacks." Southern whites fear Government programs and interference will help poor blacks: that's why code words like welfare and crime are often used also in Southern campaigns. Some examples of the socialist terminology:

  • In 1964 when Hayden Burns was running against Robert King High in the Democratic Primary for Florida Governor, Burns from Jacksonville attacked High from Miami as a "socilaist." His justification? High supported civil rights for African-Americans. Burns won the primary.
  • In 1966 George Wallace accussed Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers of "bringing socialism to Alabama." Flowers crime? Enforcing federal civil rights laws that protected blacks.Flowers got the ultimate revenge sending his son, future Olympian Richmond Flowers Jr. to the University of Tennessee to play Football. The younger Flowers became the Alabama Crimson Tide's biggest nemesis for the next few seasons.
  • In 1964 Strom Thurmond in his speech leaving the Democratic Party accused President Lyndon Johnson was "moving the country towards a socialist dictatorship." Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • In 1967 John Bell Williams was elected Governor of Mississippi as a Democrat despite attacking the National Party as a " Soviet Style Socialist Party." Williams would become a loyalist to Richard Nixon years later.
John McCain has been an honorable man in the past. But being from Arizona a state that was largely settled by Southerners and that has the reputation of being the most reactionary and perhaps the most racist state since the 1960s (which is why McCain voted against the MLK Holiday while many Southern Conservatives voted for it) McCain knows what he is saying and is being done to provoke a specific reaction from the South. This appeal is likely to work. I do not expect Obama to carry Florida or North Carolina, and I firmly believe Virginia could also fall to McCain thanks to this naked race baiting. Arizona Republicans used race to achieve local political goals. McCain voted against several Civil Rights acts that even former Segregationists John Stennis and Robert Byrd openly supported. McCain allies Fife Symington and Evan Meachem prevented Arizona from honoring the MLK holiday even after its passage and lost the state revenue and business over this racially charged stand. McCain stood with the Arizona GOP during this period.

Senator McCain has now added to his legacy as a typical Arizona Republican by race baiting his way to a potential Presidential victory. For someone who served his country so honorably in the past it is a sad way to conduct what could be his last campaign.


Anonymous said...

Sadly you appear to be correct. Florida and North Carolina have gone from Obama leads to dead heats since McCain started running on this theme. The national polls have not moved. So this is in fact a Southern Strategy.

Anonymous said...

Wow, good post.

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.