End of the Southern Strategy?

Two NY Times articles today suggest that the Southern Strategy — the Republican party’s coded appeals to racist working-class whites to peel them away from the Democrats — may now be dead.

Less than a third of Southern whites voted for Mr. Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally. By leaving the mainstream so decisively, the Deep South and Appalachia will no longer be able to dictate that winning Democrats have Southern accents or adhere to conservative policies on issues like welfare and tax policy, experts say.

That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics — which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South — appears to have ended.

“I think that’s absolutely over,” said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist who argued prophetically that the Democrats could win national elections without the South.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.

Wow.  Could this really be true?  It’s been an infuriating constant in my adult consciousness of national politics that the prejudices and whims of racist Southerners have always exerted a disproportionately determining influence on elections.  And this electoral dynamic has surely allowed this racism to flourish, since it in effect normalized it and rewarded those who practiced it.

It didn’t occur to me until someone else pointed it out that McCain’s obsession with Obama’s “socialism” was linked to this tradition, since “redistribution” of wealth has often been code for “giving money to black people.”  I had been bemused at why on earth working-class folks would be upset by Obama proposing to raise the taxes of people earning more than a quarter million a year.

What a great thought, that racists in Mississippi who believe that an Obama victory may mean that that there will “be outbreaks from blacks” will be marginalized and mostly ignored in national elections.  It’s very satisfying to look at the “racism map” that shows the relatively small Southern region that supported McCain more strongly than it did Bush in 2004.  (Satisfying to see how self-enclosed and cut off that region is from the mainstream, not Sarah Palin’s “real America” in the least.  And of course, satisfying and a relief to see that Indiana is definitively not part of that region.)

Here’s a related Op-Ed piece.

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