August 26, 2005
Ed Kilgore's got a good post on the "Who Lost the South?" debate that folks interested in the subject should probably read. I think his points lines up well with my argument that the Civil Rights Act destroyed the region's Democratic identification, but it's the culture clash and the Party ID, not the racial politics, which still hold us back years later.
The reason McGovern matters, though, is that 1968 and the McGovern convention really pounded that split home. It was right after Wallace had peeled off our supporters and suddenly we were running a guy who, for all his other attributes, struck this region as an alien life form. As Kilgore notes, Jimmy Carter provided a welcome interruption by being a Southern, religious, former naval officer, but his perceived wimpiness in the executive's chair ended up reinforcing our problems -- even when we run a tough guy, they'll govern like a scared child. Reagan, of course, codified the split in 1980, creating Reagan Democrats, who today are Bush's treasured white males. Anyway, you guys have heard this before. Kilgore's post is quite good, and you should read it.
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McGovern struck them as an alien life form? He's undoubtedly a Christian, from farm country (NOT from a coastal or urban area,) and won the Distinguished Flying Cross in the second world war. Maybe we should ask how the line on McGovern became "amnesty/abortion/acid," and what role the MSM and the "moderates" of the party played in destroying his candidacy. This might be a better lesson than beating people with the "McGovernism" stick forever...
Posted by: mischa | Aug 26, 2005 2:20:35 PM
If you don't know that racial politics were at the core of Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, then you need to look again.
Where did Reagan start his campaign? What did he say in his kick off speech?
I was working for the Carter re-election campaign in Ohio, and I did quite a bit of door to door in white middle class and white working class neighborhoods. The dominant theme of the Reagan supporters, who were soon to begin identifying themselves as Republicans, was anger at blacks and women. In his campaign, Reagan talked more about the ERA than about abortion. His 'welfare queen' stories were a campaign staple. One man told me, "I've always been a Democrat, but I'm voting for Reagan because he will but the n-----s back where they belong."
Who led the Republican comeback of the 80s and 90s? Do you know how Jesse Helms built such a loyal following? Or how Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond became leading senators? Do you think that the beliefs they held for most of their lives simply changed or went away in the 1990s?
The only thing that is as common and pervasive as the race factor in American politics is the strident denial, usually be a southerner, that race is a factor.
The Civil Rights Act and feminism, along with widespread movements toward what is now called diversity, were direct attacks on the white, Protestant patriarchy that dominated America from its founding. White supremacy is a key component of America's founding mythology; it justified and explained the enslavement of one people and the genocide of another.
White middle class and working class males reacted to civil rights and women's rights as an attack on their status. They still do. It is what made Rush Limbaugh rich.
One change wrought by the civil rights movement is that it is no longer possible for serious politicians or pundits to be openly racist. No more 'segregation now, segregation forever!' What is referred to as the 'culture clash' is nothing more than how we talk about racism in public.
Posted by: James E. Powell | Aug 26, 2005 2:22:28 PM
What might also be a lesson, and a bitter one, is to review the manner in which the Democrats that we would now refer to as Beltway or Establishment Democrats, worked against McGovern. For example, George Meany very vocally took the AFL-CIO out of the 1972 race, all but openly supporting Nixon, blaming 'reforms' in the Democratic Party. Those reforms, by the way, were designed to give blacks and women great roles in the party. Meany's move was one of the key components of Nixon's landslide.
These same Democrats and Democratic Party supporters later led the insurrection against Jimmy Carter. An insurrection that began before Carter was even inaugurated, and culminating in an unprecedentec "Midterm Convention" in Memphis in 1978. This was before the Iran hostages, before the gas lines and before the Great Inflation.
Posted by: James E. Powell | Aug 26, 2005 2:29:27 PM
Yeah that's actually what I meant; not just individual party leaders, but also labor and other parts of what had been the party "establishment." That's what I meant to get at. And of course we also see the slimy hand of Bob Novak popping up way back in '72, what with that "amnesty/abortion/acid" line...
It's an interesting contrast to look at how us on the farther left side of the party just choked it down and campaigned for Kerry. I voted for Kucinich in the primary, but backed Kerry as the "lesser of two evils" come november. Could anyone have imagined the DLC getting behind Dean? (A faux-liberal, anyway, but that's another discussion.) The DLC, New Republic, the MSM, chances are that there would've been a lot more defections for Bush (or stay home) than we saw in 2004.
Posted by: mischa | Aug 26, 2005 2:45:47 PM
Dean isn't and wasn't a liberal and I think I recall him challenging that label in the earlier months of his campaign. For most of us liberals and lefties, he was a centrist that we felt we could live with, that we could trust to at least take on the Republicans.
Then, too, in a speech he gave here in Los Angeles, he said, "I want the country that we were promised in the 60s." I believe that he was the first Democrat in recent memory who cited the 60s in a positive way. I don't know whether he actually believed it, but to me he was reaching out to the left instead of shitting on us and telling us to shut up. That was and remains a big thing for me.
Posted by: James E. Powell | Aug 26, 2005 2:56:36 PM
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