Monday, October 22, 2012

What about the Democrats' Southern Strategy?

In the debate about racism in America, liberals refer incessantly to the "Southern Strategy", which is the purported plot by the Republican party to capture racist Southern voters who were disenchanted with the civil rights acts of the 1960's.

The argument is bizarre. Republicans had been supporters of civil rights for blacks since Lincoln, and Democrats were the party of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and the KKK.

Civil rights legislation in the 50's and 60's was passed by Republicans over strenuous Democrat resistance. In all civil rights legislation of the era, it was Republicans, not Democrats, who were essential to passage.

So why would racist Southerners leave the Democrat party, to join the Republican party, which had a 100 year history of fighting for civil rights?

The fact is that racists didn't leave the Democrat party. Nearly all Dixiecrat politicians remained Democrats until they died, and the South remained substantially a Democrat plantation until the mid-1990's. In fact, the only time the South voted for a Republican presidential candidate before 1996 was when the Republican won a landslide (Nixon in 72 and Reagan in 80 and 84, and Bush in 88). Nearly all states in those years voted for the Republican for president. When there was a split, the South went Democrat, at least until 1996. Southern congressional and Senate elections and local elections continued to go heavily Democrat until the mid-1990's.

Of course, now the South tends to vote Republican. Why?

The answer is obvious. When racism was a big part of Southern politics, Democrats got Southern votes. After the Republican-led civil rights revolution of the 50's and 60's, race gradually became less of an issue, in the South and nationally. Alabama is a very different place today than it was in 1960. Gone are lynchings and segregation and the Ku Klux Klan. Gone are Democrats.

When race receded as an issue in the South, the Democrat monopoly on the South ended. Southerners began voting based on other issues, on which they tend to be religiously conservative and economically pro-enterprise. They tend to be Republican, that is.

Southerners tend now to vote Republican, because race is not a big issue.

So what to make of allegations of a racist Republican "Southern Strategy"? Republicans have captured the South by diminishing the importance of race in politics, and emphasizing the importance of social values and economic freedom, traditional Republican issues.

The irony is that there has been a "Southern Strategy" in politics for a very long time, but it was a Democrat strategy. Ever since Reconstruction, the only hope Democrats had of winning national elections was to stoke the Southern base, which was aggressively racist. Even non-racist Democrats courted and serviced the Southern bigot Democrats, because it was the only way to win national elections. Jim Crow, the KKK, black voter suppression were the Democrat Southern Strategy for a century.

As Dan McLaughlin notes:

The real “Southern Strategy” was the one pursued by the Democrats, especially under FDR, to keep conservative white Southerners in a liberal party.

Yet ironically, or I should say outrageously, Democrats accuse Republicans of doing precisely what Democrats did shamelessly for a century.

Republicans gained the South by advancing civil rights and by diminishing the importance of race in politics.

When Republicans won the fight for civil rights, and racism in the South receded, they began to win the South. Republicans have fought for a century and a half for a color-blind society, in which men are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  Unlike Democrats, Republicans mean what they say about civil rights-- they oppose segregation and affirmative action, which are merely two sides of the same racist coin.

Republicans still fight for a color-blind society, and race-baiters call them racists for it. 


  1. It's amazing how all those Northeasterners, Midwesterners, and Westerners (including net numbers of black individuals and families) become part of the Great White Nixonian Racial Conspiracy Election Cycle Rile-em-Up "Narrative" when they move to the Southeast. As they must have done, since quite a few people have moved to warmer (and freer) climes since 1976.

    Must be all that sunshine. It gets to ya, dude.

    BTW, there's a great interactive migration map at the Pew site that even a fourth grader or Obama supporter can comprehend.

  2. Super old post. I just wanted to comment, because I see this post get used from time to time in political debates.

    The democrat who lead the democrat resistance to the civil rights movement was Strom Thurmond. Let it sink in... Yes. Strom Thurmond was the deomcrat who lead the resistance to the civil rights movement.

    Also - the Civil Rights movement was fought along geographic lines - not party lines. TheUnion states favored it, and the Confederate states did not. Further, In the Union states, more Democrats favored the CRA, relative to Republicans. In the Confederate states, more Democrats favored the CRA relative to Republicans. The North favored the CRA, the South did not.