Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Democrats lost the South through culture war and elitism

By Timothy P. Carney

Fritz Hollings, John Edwards, Zell Miller, Blanche Lincoln, John Breaux, Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu. These eight Democrats have been senators from the South in the past decade.

If not for Southern Democrats, Republicans would have nearly had a filibuster-proof Senate supermajority after the 2002 elections, giving George W. Bush some real clout. Without Southern senators, Democrats wouldn’t have taken over the Senate with Jim Jeffords’ party switch in 2001. If not for Southern Democrats, Obamacare wouldn’t have become law.

For the foreseeable future, though, Democrats will have make do without Southern senators.

With Mary Landrieu’s gigantic loss on Saturday, following Hagan’s surprise loss and Pryor’s thumping, the Southern Democratic senator is officially extinct. In the House, there are no White Democrats from the South.

Why did it happen?

In short: Democrats waged a culture war against the South, trying to force Southerners to stop “clinging” to their guns and to God. When you try to make it illegal for people to conduct their own affairs according to their conscience, you tend to lose their votes.

The self-soothing story the Left tells itself is that it’s all racism, that Democrats have lost the Southern vote because they’re not as willing to be racist as the Republicans are. Liberal columnist Michael Tomasky cheered the Democrats' loss of the South, which he lovingly called “one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment.”

Any full accounting of Southern politics has to involve race and racism, but it isn’t a top reason for the realignment.

Tomasky and other liberals may not have heard of Sen. Tim Scott, the first black Southerner elected to the U.S. Senate since reconstruction. South Carolina not only elected Scott to the Senate in a special election this fall, it gave him 757,000 votes — 85,000 more votes than his South Carolina colleague Lindsey Graham received the same day.

South Carolina’s voters re-elected their Republican Governor, Nikki Haley, nee Nimrata Nikki Randhawa. The state that defeated Mary Landrieu has had an Indian-American governor since the 2007 elections.

White racism can’t explain the GOP takeover of the South.

The best explanation comes from the mouth of President Obama himself. Speaking to San Francisco donors in 2008 about white voters in the Midwest, Obama lucidly expressed his low opinion of all non-rich voters in flyover country: “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.”

Naturally, Democrats and the Left have tried to pry Southerners away from their guns and religion. Gun control has largely been a culture war effort for Democrats. “Some of the southern areas have cultures that we have to overcome,” was Congressman Charles Rangel’s explanation for why gun control was both needed and difficult.

The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten cursed the Second Amendment as "the refuge of bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches."

Obama and his party waged this culture-war crusade with glee — and failed, but not before making it clear that they disapproved of the way Southerners live.

And the Democrats have made it clear that they are willing to use government to impose their morality on others. Through the courts, the Left has banned prayers at high school football games and forced states to remove the Ten Commandments from public grounds.

The Obama administration, through its birth-control mandate that includes abortifacient drugs, has told Christian employers that they can’t run their businesses as Christians.

There’s no mystery here, and no need to assign widespread racism to why Southerners have rejected Democrats. It’s simple: Democrats and the Left have tried to outlaw Southerners’ way of life.

Here’s a related factor in the realignment: Democrats have given up on being the populist party, and — as they have increasingly won over the wealthy suburbs and the college-educated — have embraced their status as the party of the economic elite.

As crony capitalism and corporate welfare have grown, and as the Washington region has sucked in more and more of the nation’s wealth, Republicans have started to take up the populist mantle.

Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, whose populism flares up in many ways, joined Louisiana’s David Vitter in co-sponsoring a bill to break up the big banks. Sens. Landrieu, Hagan and Pryor all campaigned unsuccessfully on their support for the Export-Import Bank (a federal agency that subsidizes U.S. manufacturers and the banks that finance them).

Democrats have become the party of Hyde Park and Chevy Chase — elitist on culture and economics. It’s no wonder they can't also be the party of Charleston and Shreveport.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on