Much has been written about the Democrats’ drastic decline in the South since Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu was trounced by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in their runoff election last Saturday. Most liberal commentators are pointing to a precipitous falling off in support for the party from white voters. Their simpleminded computation: White + Conservative + Southern = Racism. The formula has the advantage of fitting in nicely with the narrative that the left has developed that paints all southerners as goober-chewing, tobacco-spitting, bible-thumping, gun-worshiping yahoos.
It doesn’t matter if they believe it or not. It’s an easy sell to their coastal strongholds, where they are successful in stoking white guilt and portraying Republicans as a cross between Bull Connor and a rope-toting Kluxer.
Former U.S. editor of The Guardian Michael Tomasky thinks that Democrats would do well to write off the South entirely. After portraying the hapless Landrieu as a “blind, toothless dog” who needs to be euthanized, Tomasky lets loose a tirade against southerners that’s shocking in its ignorance and brutality:
A toothless dog is a figure of sympathy. A vet who takes pleasure in gassing it is not.
And that is what Louisiana, and almost the entire South, has become. The victims of the particular form of euthanasia it enforces with such glee are tolerance, compassion, civic decency, trans-racial community, the crucial secular values on which this country was founded… I could keep this list going. But I think you get the idea. Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)
With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good. Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise. The Democrats don’t need it anyway.
Note the not-so-subtle comparison of southerners to Nazis, as in a vet “who takes pleasure in gassing” the helpless dog. Could it be that Tomasky’s attitude toward southerners is Exhibit A in the case against racism being the primary reason Democrats have fallen off a cliff in the Old South?
The fact is, Tomasky and his fellow liberals advancing this theme rely on the rather ridiculous but widespread belief that the further north you travel, the less racism there is. Since the end of Jim Crow in the South, there has been a chest-thumping sense of superiority on the part of northern whites, suggesting that they’ve outgrown racism, and only ignorant southerners are still afflicted with it. It’s a convenient narrative to advance but totally false. Justice Clarence Thomas caused a firestorm last year when he said in a speech that northern liberals are more racist than southern conservatives:
“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites,” he said. “The absolute worst I have ever been treated. The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”
Thomas is not alone among black Americans to believe this. It is difficult to think anyone can quantify the level of racism based on ideology, but it should be clear to all but the most willfully self-deluded that racism knows no geographical or ideological boundary. To posit the notion that one region of the country is more racist than another — or, as Tomasky seems to be saying, that only one region of the country is so racist it should be cast out by Democrats — ignores history and reality. In Chicago, just as there are areas where a white person should never walk, so, too, are there neighborhoods where blacks take their lives into their hands if they enter.
But Tomasky’s sneering condescension toward southern whites — an attitude that if rarely given voice by Democrats, nevertheless can be sensed in their rhetoric — is only part of the Democrats’ problem in the south. Republicans have successfully tied all Democrats to some of the more odious rhetoric emanating from liberals in recent years.
1. Elitism. Southerners aren’t necessarily any more plebeian in their attitudes toward others than any other American, but the elitism demonstrated by the eastern urbanites and left-coast intellectuals rubs southerners the wrong way.
2. Belittling patriotism. The one place where an American can display their patriotic feelings without fear of ridicule or disapprobation is in the south. For liberals to denigrate and even condemn this simple, loyal devotion to country is political suicide.
3. Mocking religion. Do liberals believe there are no consequences to “Jesusland” jokes and campaigns against supposed homophobia among evangelicals? Some devout Christians may use the Bible to justify their own bigotry, but is that the fault of Christianity or the small-mindedness of human beings?
4. Big government. Regional differences among Americans have been fading for 60 years, but if there is one trait that a prideful South embraces it is the notion of individual liberty that is sustained best by a small government. It may be too small for liberal tastes, but the wild expansion of government with its multiplying social programs has been directly tied to Democrats. They are the party of big government trying to run in a region that embraces small government. Just what result are liberals expecting?
5. Aggressive efforts to enact gun control. There’s a lot of sound and fury coming from some gun-rights groups about Democrats wanting to “take away” the guns that Americans are constitutionally allowed to own and carry. It hardly matters whether it’s true or not. The incendiary rhetoric for strict gun control, as well as belittling people who actually like guns and like to hunt, is enough to convince most southern whites that even if Democrats don’t want to disarm them, they definitely don’t share their values and don’t empathize with what’s important to them.
National Journal‘s Scott Brand writes of the problems with white voters experienced by other southern Democratic Senate candidates:
It’s part of a regional trend. Though Landrieu was considered a strong candidate with a personal brand that might be able to cut through the partisan trends in Louisiana, her performance in 2014 mirrored B-list Democrats running in noncompetitive races throughout the South. The un-touted Democratic Senate candidates in South Carolina got the same share of the white vote as Landrieu, according to exit polls, while Mississippi Democrat Travis Childers pulled in 16 percent of whites in his blowout loss. Michelle Nunn in Georgia won Democrats’ highest share of white voters in the South: 23 percent, not nearly enough to claim a victory over incoming GOP Sen. David Perdue.
Meanwhile, those white southern racists elected a black man, Tim Scott, senator in South Carolina. Scott won an astonishing 88% of the white vote. What does that do to the liberal narrative regarding racism? It’s simply a different ballgame when you place an “R” after the candidate’s name on the ballot.
Racism as an excuse for Democratic defeat in the South is too easy, too pat. But it has the benefit of allowing Democrats the luxury of being able to ignore the real reasons why white Southerners have so completely rejected their candidates. Liberals are apparently incapable of conducting the introspection necessary to arrive at the conclusion that their attitudes toward those they feel superior to contributes far more to their electoral defeats than some kind of nebulous racism that doesn’t exist in any greater proportion in the South than it does anywhere else in the country