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    November 10, 2006

    The South Falls Again

    Posted by: Chris

    Confederate_flagno When my liberal Yankee friends laugh dismissively at my backward, redneck region, I enjoy reminding them that the South has produced not only their sworn enemies, like George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Trent Lott — but some of their most prized leaders, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore. In fact, Democrats haven't elected a president from outside the South since JFK, and when the South went Republican "red" in the '80s and '90s, so too did Congress.

    Now comes a report from the Washington Post that the rising South within the GOP may have pushed the party too far to the right for those in the Midwest, especially. This week's election effectively ended the South's regional rule over Congress:

    Of the 28 House seats that Democrats picked up in the midterm elections, 10 were in the Northeast and 10 more were in the Midwest. They added five seats in the South and three in the West.

    The results produced a historic shift in the balance of regional power in Congress. The majority party in the House is now the minority party among Southern states for the first time since the 83rd Congress in 1953-1954. The same holds for the new Democratic-controlled Senate, except for a brief period in the 1980s.

    Being Southern is a central part of my identity, as it is for most native sons and daughters, but I welcome the waning influence nationally of our politicians. Their track record throughout American history, at least on social issues, is backward and mean-spirited.

    Even though the social conservatism of the Republicans' Southern leaders may have cost the party control of Congress, they may nonetheless wield greater influence in the GOP, further marginalizing the party. Many of the Republicans who lost their seats were moderates and liberals, including nearly half the members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a caucus of moderate GOP members.

    Some of my gay Republican friends, like Cyd Zeigler over at Dooryard, are hoping the Republicans see the election as a repudiation of the party's right-wing. But the loss of so many moderates in swing districts leaves the GOP congressional caucus more firmly in conservative hands. Still, if they're smart, they will focus their "return to Republican roots" on the fiscal conservatism  and robust foreign policy of Ronald Reagan, as the folks at Gay Patriot hope, rather than the divisive social conservativism of Karl Rove.

    The Democrats, on the other hand, are much more likely to move to the center. They know they owe their slim congressional majorities to a lot of first-term (i.e., vulnerable) members from swing districts, many of whom are moderate or even conservative on social issues:

    "We have to constantly remind everybody that members-elect have about 24 hours to celebrate, and then they are targets," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.). "They have to defend their seats, and they cannot do that unless they have performed for their constituents," who are not as liberal as many of the party's activists.

    Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said: "If you look at the folks who were elected around the country, we were contesting swing districts. By definition, candidates in swing districts lean to the middle. They ran in districts that clearly had Republicans" in large numbers.

    If conservatives solidify their hold on the GOP and moderates are ascendent among Democrats, then the ironic outcome of Tuesday's election would be a weakened position for liberals, including those who support gay rights legislation. Reaction among Democrats like those from Tauscher and Hoyer are typical, already warning progressives not to expect anything dramatic as long as Bush is in the White House and their control of Congress is so tenuous.

    Progressives' best bet would be to focus party attention on the Iraq War, while picking a few  less controversial bones to throw to the liberal base in the Northeast. Employment non-discrimination and hate crime laws would be two natural options.



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    1. Terrance on Nov 11, 2006 2:12:03 AM:

      As a "son of the South" myself, I'll just say that there's a reason often say of my hometown (Augusta, GA), "It's a nice place to be from. Far from."

      Much as it pains me to say it. I think you're right. Now that the Democrats are back in control of Congress, if they want to stay there, they will do better to deal with economic issues, health care, etc. and steer clear of the more controversial social issues.

      Unfortunately, I think that also means it will be much longer before things get better for our families, and that more of the kinds of awful stories I've tracked on my blog will continue to happen.

      Basically, we're on our own.

    1. Tim on Nov 11, 2006 11:27:42 AM:

      While you are here, pick up a copy of the Falls Church News Press which has a very interesting article about how the VA marriage amendment may have cost George Allen his seat and the GOP the majority in Congress.

    1. Terrance on Nov 13, 2006 3:35:24 PM:

      I've seen the article, and there's another theory that I think applies to the VA senate race and the amendment, and it's that the presence of the amendment on the ballot combined with suspicions about Allen's alleged racism combined the drive black voters in Virginia to the polls in numbers large enough to pass the amendment and defeat Allen.

      Something similar could be said about Wisconsin, where the anti-gay amendment passed, but also brought out both conservative Democratic voters who supported the amendment, and younger Democratic voters who opposed the amendment. The end result was that the amendment passed, but it's presence on the ballot may have had the effect of costing the Republicans control over the state legislature.

      So, have we reached a pass at which anti-gay marriage amendments help Democrats and hurt Republicans?

    1. Citizen Crain on Nov 14, 2006 11:06:59 AM:

      I actually blogged about that Falls Church News Press article under "A wedge turns into a wedgie?" ;)

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