Several years ago, I attended a forum here in Beltway territory about religion and politics, featuring a presentation by one of the official voices of the Democratic Party establishment -- E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post op-ed page. This was about the time that he released his book "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right."
During the question-and-answer session, I identified myself as someone who grew up as a moderate or conservative Democrat in Texas, back when that was the dominant political worldview in that state. In other words, this was before the whole red zip codes vs. blue zip codes phenomenon was identified, also famously symbolized by the "Jesusland vs. The United States of Canada" cartoon.
I asked Dionne if Gov. Mike Huckabee was nothing more than an "ordinary pre-Roe v. Wade populist Southern Democrat." This would explain, for example, why a secular libertarian like Rush Limbaugh detests Huckabee so much.
Dionne thought about it for a second and replied that it would be very hard to argue against that thesis.
This brings me a piece that ran recently on the McClatchy wire -- "Democrats are all but extinct in the South." This news story was, timed, I am sure, to be relevant after the long-awaited fall of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the last Democratic senator in the old South (or as many journalists prefer to say, the old Confederacy).
Let me stress that this was not marked as an analysis piece, even though it quotes only sources and experts on one side of this major trend. So what is happening down South, a region that has experienced more population growth and change than any other in recent decades? Let's see if we can catch the big idea in this piece.
The Louisiana race is emblematic of the trouble Democrats faced in 2014 and are likely to confront for years. The party is widely regarded in the South as “hostile and indifferent” to the interests of white working-class voters, said Merle Black, a Southern politics expert at Emory University.
Landrieu, a three-term senator, won 42 percent in the Nov. 4 election. Cassidy got 41 percent, and conservative Rob Maness won 14 percent. Because no one got a majority, the top two finishers vie in Saturday’s runoff.
November’s exit polls illustrate Landrieu’s challenge. Four of five Louisiana voters were worried about the economy, and Landrieu won only 38 percent of the ones who were. She barely got 1 of 5 white votes, about two-thirds of the electorate, and 94 percent of the black vote.
Those patterns were repeated throughout the South. In nine other Southern states with Senate race exit polls, Warner did the best among whites, winning 37 percent. Five Southern Democrats got 22 percent or less.
And continuing with this theme, linked to the unpopularity of President Barack Obama:
This year’s Democratic stumbles were the latest chapter in a drama that’s been building for 50 years. Democrats had a stranglehold on the “Solid South” through the 1960s. But as President Lyndon B. Johnson famously said after he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”
Now, only a fool would argue that the politics of race have played no role in the South's political earthquakes. However, it would be just as crazy to ignore the role that religion and cultural issues have played, as well. There were many, many pro-life Democrats in the Sunbelt after 1964. The fall of the old political order escalated, shall we say, after Woodstock. These days, if Republicans find black votes down South, they know to hunt for them in the pews of culturally conservative superchurches.
The McClatchy piece does say, simply, that the Democrats became the part of "social change."
So what was the big idea here? I think that columnist Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast stated the same thesis, but in a more blunt and candid manner. Hang on.
What is his view of the modern South?
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.
Hey, this scribe knows some Southern people and he likes them!
Anyway, how can anyone deal with this very important change in the landscape of American politics and ignore the role of faith on both sides of the political aisle and in a wide variety of sanctuaries -- white, black and, in many evangelical and Pentecostal settings, increasingly multi-racial?
McClatchy needed to talk to some other folks who have visited the Bible Belt in the past few decades or so.