In search of a Southern Strategy for Democrats.

BEYOND BUBBA “New Strategies for Southern Progress” was the name of a recent conference of regional Democratic political leaders and others in North Carolina. According to reports, their goal was to “identify pragmatic and innovative solutions to the region’s toughest problems” and more boldly, to “chart a new progressive vision for the region.” According to The Nation magazine, the “attendees left visibly conflicted on some fundamental questions: What kind of politics can - and should - win in the region? And what are our bedrock values and long-term vision for the future?”

If these well meaning folks are hoping to come up with some new ideas on how to jump political hurdles with white, Christian fundamentalist voters in Dixie, they’ve got themselves a heaping helping of challenge on their plates. The task of politically endearing the majority of the South to anything other than misguided conservatism will be a struggle for even moderate candidates.

Wide swaths of the Southern population have checked out to the hinterland. While urban sprawl has been around for years, in this era of Bushification with double speak buzzwords like “ownership society” and “people of faith”, this lifestyle choice has taken on new disturbing dimensions. It is particularly admired and desired in the reddest Republican states.

Abandoning the city centers from which their incomes are derived, many middle class Southerners have established frontiers of denial in which political, economic, and religious diversity is feared and loathed. The outskirts are not complete without a Christian mega church to provide a one-stop center for all social interaction and to reinforce the idea that doing the Lord’s will means voting Republican. Typically, when these remote pieces of heaven become aging, congested, hamlets filled with parkways of strip malls and fast food outlets, God once again comes a’calling for the congregations to move on to farther environs in order to seek harmony with their own kind.

The attempt to capture the imaginations of this segment of the Southern population will be a tough nut to crack for progressives. Some have suggested that the discussion of religious faith will cause the base of the Democratic Party in blue states to bolt; however, in the South, references to religion will be unavoidable, as it is the overarching force within the culture. As a matter of fact, Democrats should use the parlance of religion to their advantage.

For example, take the word “saved”. A word commonly used by Christians to describe spiritual status should be used to discuss the nation’s temporal status. We should save America from perpetual war. The nation’s sick children should be saved from suffering by being given healthcare. We should save Social Security so seniors can live with dignity instead of in poverty.

When Howard Dean, the newly elected chairman of the Democratic Party showed up in Mississippi last week, it was a fresh start for progressive politics. Because he understands its gravity to the voters, Dean talked about issues in terms of moral and religious choices. Engaging in dialogues by communicating with language that matters will be the first step in persuading Southerners to rethink their attitudes and to realize that living the American dream is our salvation, but in order to have it, we must work for the general welfare of the entire country and greater good of all.


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