The week before the South Carolina primary seems like a great time to discuss the influence the South plays in American politics. Obviously, a lot of history informs this topic. But, in my intro, I’ll focus on contemporary politics. The South is growing in influence in many ways, but becoming less important in others. By “the South” I mean the
13 eleven states of the old Confederacy. This includes Florida, although Florida is a bit of an outlier in its cultural and political orientations, but it excludes several semi-southern border states, like Oklahoma and Maryland.
I will explain:
- The South’s growing demographic weight, tempered though it is by a growing ethnic and cultural diversity, especially outside of the Deep South states.
- The South’s unique political “culture,” a blend of good, bad, and, in many but certainly NOT all respects, a bit ugly. I think a sophisticated (i.e., not simplistic) understanding of what drives Southern politics is vital to predicting what direction the region will take itself and the rest of us in the future.
- The importance of the (now completed) Republicans’ takeover of the South, and, just as important, the South’s takeover of the GOP. I’ll also explain why some people think the “GOP is now just a Southern reactionary party” idea is overstated.
The South is probably changing faster than the any other part of the country. I will briefly preview why, and then, during discussion, I hope we can focus less on history lessons and more on different visions of the South’s future and how it will affect the rest of us.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- How important is the South in national politics? Is that influence waxing or waning?
- How do the South’s political culture and preferences differ from the rest of the country? Are those differences narrowing or growing?
- How “southern” is the Republican Party? Does that strengthen the South’s influence or weaken it? Does the South anchor the GOP or will it ultimately sink it as a national majority party? .
- Can the Democrats afford to write off the South?
- What does the future hold?
- The South is growing in size and therefore in influence. But, it’s also growing more diverse and less exceptional.
- Lest we forget, southerners are not just right-wing or left-wing. Like every other region, they are a mix of different political “types.”
- The South is a waning force in national politics (2008 article). Do the 2010 election results and 2012 results so far make this prediction wrong?
- The GOP is a Southern reactionary party.
- No, the Tea Party is not just a regional phenomenon.
- FWIW, my view is that Fox News, talk radio, etc., have nationalized right-wing political philosophy to the point where it no longer matters if it began as a southern thing. It’s now a national thing.
- But – and this is key – it now exists in one party only, which is a sea change of enormous consequence. The open question is whether the new GOP will appeal to enough Americans when there’s no giant recession to be a national majority party. The Southern-origin ultra-conservatism may be a dead end nationally.