A now familiar but still remarkable fact about 21st Century America:
Obama’s favorability-unfavorability rating in the South is 28-67, while it is 68-23 in the rest of the country.
America is not just two countries right now; it sometimes feels like two universes.
DiA at The Economist:
So what has put the South into this season of discontent? I would offer a couple of suggestions. First, obviously, the South skews Republican and both the White House and Congress are Democratic. (During the Bush years the Northeast would have suffered from similar malaise.) Second, a lack of national leadership. None of the key players in the health-care debate, for example, are Southerners. Outside of DC, you occasionally hear the name of Newt kicked around, but with Rick Perry focused on his gubernatorial campaign, and Bobby Jindal still laying low, and Mark Sanford doing the same, you don’t see a lot of Southern leaders onstage these days. Third, relatedly, a muted national profile: an issue like climate change affects all of us, but it does not have a particularly southern angle. And the states that are getting the most individual attention are places like Michigan and California and Nevada. Not that you would want to be in the news for having an especially bad economic meltdown, but it does seem that the South has been largely ignored for about the past year. Maybe even longer, as states in the deep South were not battlegrounds in the last presidential election.
And more DiA:
IT HELPS to be outside the South to realise this, which is why perhaps my colleague in Austin forgot to mention it. Southerners haven’t lost their country, but they have lost power—a power they disproportionately enjoyed for nearly the entire Clinton-Bush II era.
I’m a southerner myself, but I’ve spent the past 12 years outside the region (in Britain and in New York). When away, I realised in a visceral way, watching news from home, just how southern the top tiers of Washington had become. Everyone had the drawl of my high-school teachers. Bill Clinton (Arkansas) and Al Gore (Tennessee) duked it out with a Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich (Georgia, who admittedly has no drawl), Dick Armey (Texas) and Trent Lott (Mississippi). Then Mr Clinton gave way to George Bush (Texas), and after the Senate went briefly Democratic, it went Republican again, with Mr Lott giving way to Bill Frist (Tennessee) and Mr Armey to Tom DeLay (Texas). It was southerners in every position of power for an unusually long time.
In 2006, things started to go wrong. Nancy Pelosi (California) and Harry Reid (Nevada) took over the top jobs in Congress. Then Barack Obama (Illinois) was elected president, and declined to balance his ticket regionally by picking a southerner.
But the Republican leadership shifted too. The party ran two non-southerners for president and vice-president in John McCain and Sarah Palin. The RNC is now run by a black Marylander, Michael Steele. The House minority leader, John Boehner, hails from Ohio. The whip’s job has gone to Eric Cantor who, though Virginian, is an atypical southern Republican in being Jewish. Only Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, is the stereotypical white Protestant southerner. His whip and assistant, John Kyl, comes from Arizona.
“I want my country back,” has become a conservative-populist rallying cry. They have not truly lost their country, but have seen a wild swing of power north and towards the coasts. It won’t last, either. But it’s a painful reality right now for a region that once revelled in separatism, then dominated the country as a whole for an oddly long stretch.
Despite the oceans of ink spent analyzing the electoral shift in 2006 and 2008, I continue to think this transformation has been underappreciated. The Old South has punched above its weight in American politics ever since 1787, and during the few times their influence has temporarily waned (Reconstruction, the 60s) it drove them crazy with fear and persecution mongering. So it’s not really surprising that it’s happening again.
It’s hard to say what’s next. Republicans are the party of the South these days, and sure, the GOP will regain power eventually. But will they be able to do it if they remain a party dominated by the culture of Dixie? Demographics suggest pretty strongly that they can’t, which means that eventually the South will have to come to grips with the fact that they no longer hold the whip hand in American politics and probably never will again. This means acknowledging that they’re just another region, one with influence that waxes and wanes but basically corresponds to their population. I wonder how long it will take for them to do that?
Nor does the Republican South look ready to mount a quick comeback. The major candidates in 2012 look to be an Alaskan (Palin), a Minnesotan (Pawlenty), and a Bay Stater (Romney). Mississippi’s Haley Barbour and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal might throw themselves into the mix, but the days when the region dominated either party’s politics or seemed crucial to winning the presidency appear to be done.
This was true for so many years that the politician archetype in pop culture was always some middle aged white dude with at least a modest southern accent.