Blue Dixie explodes political myths about the South, perpetuates others
By Dylan Hales
Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority [Buy Now]
By Bob Moser
Times, 288 pages, $25
Conventional wisdom holds that the South is a solid GOP bloc, lost to Democrats forever, with a single stroke of LBJ’s pen.
By the time the ink dried on the Civil Rights Act, the states of the former Confederacy had turned as Red as the necks of its citizenry.
Like most unchallenged “truths,” this one is nothing but a media-generated myth that has had dire consequences for the democratic process.
In his new book Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority, Bob Mose explodes this myth, yet simultaneously upholds and promotes others that have equally troublesome consequences for our political landscape.
Blue Dixie does a great job of pointing out certain flaws in the popularly accepted narrative of GOP dominance below the Mason-Dixon. The South, for instance, has more registered Democrats than Republicans. Equally interesting are the hard numbers on state and local elections. They show parity between the two major parties.
Moser makes a strong case that the failure of Democrats to conceive of the South as a fertile ground for votes has mostly been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite Republican dominance in Presidential races post-1980, the actual attitudes and actions of Southern voters are far more complex.
Citing several polls that document the surprisingly left-of-center policy preferences of many Southern voters, and noting the Democrats’ willingness to take black votes for granted, Moser concludes that Republican-lite policies advocated by the Democratic Leadership Council, and other centrists party insiders, have turned off southerners who have a particular interest in the “kitchen table” economic populism of the pre-Clinton Democrats.
Though Moser exposes many half-truths and falsehoods about the attitudes and voting patterns of southerners, the book is not without fault.
The author perpetuates the popular myth that populism was the predecessor to progressivism, two terms he uses interchangeably (and favorably) throughout the book.
In fact the roots of populism were explicitly anti-bureaucratic. Reflexively opposed to “bigness” in all forms, the populists believed in returning power to citizens to combat the “moneyed interest” back in Washington and New York.
Unlike populism, which was born and bred on the farms of Midwestern and Southern Americans, progressivism was an outgrowth of the very urban centers so feared by the populists. Progressive politics were defined by an abiding faith in bureaucratic government in order to solve the broad problems of urban life, via hyper-regulation. Populism grew out of the Jeffersonian democratic tradition, progressivism out of the Lincolnian Republican ethos.
Occasional policy similarities were (and are) merely incidental.
This failure to understand the nature and background of populism also leads Moser to make a fundamental misunderstanding about the politics of race in the South. Though Southerners everywhere will thank Moser for pointing out that folks up North often use the South as a scapegoat for their own moral failings on the subject, his attempts to paint opposition to illegal immigration as “racist” ignores the very real economic concerns that drive much of the restrictionist movement.
Furthermore, Moser’s failure to discuss the disenfranchisement of African-Americans via the misuse of the criminal justice system is an oversight one would not expect from a progressive author writing on the unique racial dynamics of southern politics.
In the section of the book preceding the endnotes, the author admits that the book is “a mix of journalism and polemic.” While this is true of most contemporary American political writing, it is not something that’s necessary.
When Blue Dixie errs on the side of journalism and focuses on issues relating to political strategy for Democratic growth in the South, it is a compelling book for progressives, conservatives, and everyone in between.
When it errs on the side of polemic, it’s flat and historically dubious.
Nonetheless, Blue Dixie is a worthwhile attempt to reintroduce Southern Democrats to their populist heritage, albeit in an overly PC-fashion that would have been anathema to the party of Thomas P. Gore, Tom Watson, and William Jennings Bryan.
For all its failings, it’s a serious book with a serious message.
If the South wishes to rise again, its best platform may be the back of a donkey, not an elephant.