Southern White Male Democrats, Where Ya At?
As the dust settles after another election year, here is a request to people who place missing persons on milk cartons: Could you help us find the real Southern white male Democrats? It is obvious that they are MIA when it comes to local and national politics.
Case in point: In the recent campaign by incumbent Democratic Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, he ran ads that said he was conservative and independent. He never once mentioned that he was the Democratic nominee for re-election. Many in the African-American community were upset and betrayed by this campaign tactic purportedly dictated by opinion polls. One prominent Democratic African-American official told me that his wife expressed outright rage when she first saw the commercial.
Unfortunately, this is not isolated to Mississippi. All across the South, white males that outwardly declare their Democratic pedigree are becoming increasingly scarce. They are constantly put in awkward positions on issues ranging from abortion to tort reform. They are not comfortable touting the party line, as their college buddies and co-workers shift their allegiance whole-heartedly to the Republican agenda.
They are being pressured to switch parties as the Democratic Party is labeled as "the Black people's party." This makes them uncomfortable and when we need them the most they turn up missing.
All this can be attributed to a successful campaign started by former President Nixon entitled "The Southern Strategy." Nixon initiated this strategy, when former Alabama Governor George Wallace made a somewhat successful run for president in 1968. Wallace, four years before his "Damascus Road" experience, targeted Southern white males who suddenly felt disenfranchised as African-Americans started to infiltrate the power structure of the Democratic Party.
Prior to the 1940's, Blacks were loyal to the GOP because it was considered the party of Lincoln, the alleged "Great Emancipator." The combination of Franklin Roosevelt's public policies and the deliberate targeted protests, led by grassroots leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, toward full political access, started the shift for Black Americans toward becoming almost monolithically Democrat.
This shift started to displace those white males who could not adapt to the times, and Wallace was able to reach them. Nixon saw this demographic as a gold mine, and sought to aggressively cultivate them. The culmination did not come to fruition during Nixon's political career, but the seeds had been planted. The initial beneficiary of this strategy was Ronald Reagan, as he took Southern votes from Jimmy Carter, a Democrat from the state of Georgia.
Since then, it has been a fight for Democrats to win the hearts and minds of Southern white males, who now felt at home with the GOP's subtle racist agenda. Under the guise of conservative family values, the Republicans have de-valued the need for hard-fought gains, such as affirmative action, and have escalated the level of fear by highlighting wedge issues like crime and religion. The current GOP has used the same manipulation tactics that slave owners in the 1700's and 1800's used to convince poor whites under their employ to commit atrocities against Negro slaves, and to later fight a war for "the noble Southern way of life."
This successful, yet invidious, manipulation of the "vox populi" has caused many Southern white males who claim to still be Democrats to become spineless jellyfish. Former Vice-President Gore's debacle of a presidential campaign is a classic case study.
Gore, from Tennessee, refused to allow his former running mate, President Bill Clinton, from Arkansas, to campaign for him in the South, because Clinton supposedly alienated other Southern white males, despite his apparent popularity with base Democratic voters. Gore went on to lose the South, including Arkansas and Tennessee. If Gore had won those states, Florida would never have been a factor.
Gore's need for acceptance by his white male counterparts cost him the most powerful position in the free world. How many more defeats will it take for Southern white male Democrats to realize that to win the war of ideology, they cannot act like the enemy?
That is why the candidacy of North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards has not energized the African-American community. That is why Southern Democratic governors are becoming an endangered species, election after election. More importantly, that is why blacks are becoming more disenchanted with the half-hearted efforts of the Democratic National Committee to address their issues.
When a team needs to change their losing ways, they make adjustments in their personnel and their play calling. If the Democrats want to start winning elections again in the South, changes have to be made. Southern white male Democrats need to re-discover their political backbone and challenge the misinformation campaign of the GOP head-on. If they can be found, that is.
Editors Note: Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove was defeated by Republican Haley Barbour, Tuesday.