Election 2014  
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What if Liberals and Progressives Could Learn to Talk to White Southern Men?

Southern comfort with the GOP is predictable -- but not necessarily inevitable.

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I have argued before that there is an ancient strain of populism in the South – particularly in places like North Carolina – that Democrats could tap into to speak to the white Southern man in terms that might appeal to him. But the truth is, the Democrats have been marinating in their own pro-business snake oil for so long that they have often forgotten what they might have in common with the unemployed mill worker or the Wal-Mart check-out guy. FDR did not make that mistake. He turned on the electricity at my granddaddy’s tobacco farm and I can tell you that the man, as conservative as he may have been, never forgot it. Instead of hating the white Southern man, why can’t Democrats take a little more time to talk about what they actually might do for him?

The white Southern man, even GOP-leaning, has never liked fatcats. Reuters/Ipsos polls during this election cycle throughout the Bible Belt reveal a large chunk -- 38 percent –who say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is "very wealthy" than one who isn't. That’s a lot more than the 20 percent who admit that they would be less inclined to vote for an African-American. Evangelicals were once among the country’s most hard-core economic populists, fighting against Anglican elitists all the way back to the founding era. A distrust of money men is still in their DNA. It’s there, if you know how to speak to it. But have Democrats really done this? All too often, they push regressive taxes and tear away at the social safety net, protecting the big corporate interests that back their campaigns. FDR literally turned on the lights for my grandfather. Barack Obama says he's on the same page with Mitt Romney when it comes to Social Security. See any problem?

I think by now many of us can see that a real mass movement that can take hold across the country is the only way to make real inroads against the elites who are pushing us towards a barbed-wire economy. But regional antagnoisms are not going to get us there.

Where business Democrats fail, the true lefties could step in and talk about shared economic interests. But they’re usually too caught up in the hot-button cultural issues like gay marriage and religion to have a civil conversation. So the fatcats and the Billy Grahams who do their preaching take full advantage (Billy Graham is doing just that in NC right now). If you want to talk about labor unions, how about doing it without denigrating the cultural touchstones that give the white Southern man his sense of pride and place in the world? As soon as you've scorned a man's god, you can have no further conversation with him. One of the reasons that NC doesn't have much in the way of unions today is that labor organizers from other parts of the country have not been able to have an inclusive conversation with the working class white southern man. Can you look at the rebel flag on his truck and think for a second that he might have pride in the military service of his ancestors and understand that this is not entirely blameworthy? Possible? I"d like to retire the Stars and Bars, too, but I don't want to end the conversation the second I see it. Can you sense his innate hospitality and understand that it might well extend to a feeling of shared responsibility for those you want to help? I"m not saying that this doesn't take patience and the shedding the satisfying feeling of self-righteousness that protects us from our own doubts. It's hard. And sometimes you're just banging your head against the wall. If you don't feel like trying, then you can just continue to rail against the white Southern man. And think about how that's working out for you.