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The End of the Southern Strategy

What Next For Democrats?

by ANDEW LEVINE

With the midterm elections behind them, Republicans are riding high. It won’t last; the next election could do them in.

2016 is shaping up to be like 2012, only more so.

Two ideologically like-minded parties with different constituencies pulling in opposite directions will again be at each other’s throats.

In American politics, money talks – louder than ever, since the Supreme Court decided that political corruption is “free speech.” This is why it hardly matters, in the larger scheme of things, how voters pull one party or the other. They both serve the same masters and come out at pretty much the same place.

It does matter, though, around the margins – in ways that affect peoples’ lives a little and the fortunes of politicians a lot.

Thus Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was, as pundits and pop historians say, “transformative.” It dragged the GOP and therefore the country to the right.

Thanks to its success, the “solid South,” once solidly Democratic, is now solidly Republican – increasingly even at the state and local levels.

This transformation has been remarkable, not least because it left everything the same – except, of course, that outright segregationists are gone. This is a major advance, but it hardly redounds to the Republicans’ credit.

Thanks to developments beyond the control of politicians in the South, it would have happened no matter which party got the lion’s share of the white vote.

Indeed, it was because it was already happening, and because the national Democratic Party was perceived, more or less correctly, to be on the side of people struggling to make it happen that Nixon and the strategists around him got the idea for the Southern Strategy in the first place.

The white voters that make the South solid still constitute voting majorities in most areas. The GOP panders to their concerns, and is repaid with their votes.

But the South is changing; old school Southern reactionaries aren’t getting any younger, and new people are changing the demographics of the region. Immigration has brought diversity to a South that is no longer only black and white.

In a few Southern states, politics is changing too – driven, in part, by Hispanic and Asian immigrants. It is plain to everyone that they could change Southern politics more if they asserted themselves more forcefully. This is bound to happen before long.

Desperate to hold on, Republicans have lately gone in for voter suppression – targeting African Americans and other Democratic-leaning constituencies.   They have had some success, but their insistence on voter-ID laws and the like has not gone as well for them as they had hoped.

Despite their efforts, the African American vote throughout the South and elsewhere is more important than ever, and other likely Democratic voters are still turning...

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