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Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South Hardcover – October 3, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Instead of "futile pandering to the nation's most conservative voters," in the South, Democrats should build a non-Southern majority to regain dominance, argues Schaller, a University of Maryland political scientist, in this focused, tactical account. The Republicans' Southern monopoly may have helped them achieve national majorities in the past, but it has never constituted a majority alone, Schaller explains. There are greener pastures for Democrats at all levels of elected government: the Midwest, Southwest and Mountain West. Schaller's demographic numbers buttress a solid argument, but he contradicts himself at times—as when he argues that many voters (deceived by Republican politicians) empowered "a radically conservative agenda" against their own interests but are "smart" enough to understand a nuanced Democratic platform on American liberties (e.g., connecting gun rights and gay rights). But the basic truth of the author's fight-fire-with-fire strategy is undeniable: a much-needed shot of realpolitik in the arm of the modern Democratic Party, whose greatest weakness lies not in the lack of good ideas but in compromising them. Charts, maps. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In this highly accessible book, political science professor Schaller points to political history and research on changing demographics to illustrate why the South is now openly hostile to Democrats, who tend to lack the proper "cultural credentials" to appeal to most southerners. The South is the most militaristic, least unionized area of the U.S., and voters are far more likely to weigh social and cultural concerns than economic ones when voting. Rather than trying to recapture the past when the Democrats could reliably count on the South for votes, the party needs to devise a strategy that concentrates on opportunities elsewhere, advises Schaller. Noting that the Republicans dominated politics in the decades between the Civil War and the New Deal without the support of the South, Schaller outlines strategies for how the Democrats can now capitalize on opportunities to expand in other areas even as the high population of blacks in the South will continue to provide the party with a toehold there. An absorbing look at politics and demographics. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743290151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743290159
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,083,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Stinson on October 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An overall good book. The author I think has a useful strategy, and lots of numbers to back it up. In fact, my main criticism of the book would be that Scaller is better with numbers than complex philosophical arguments. He can tell you a lot of useful information on the political situation in many places around the country. He analyzes the politics in the south very well. The historical analysis from decades ago is less interesting, though. There is a curious ommission with Katrina, and all the corruption that exposed. Maybe that was because he was trying to protect the line that it was a problem with the feds, not the local southern politicians - but if his thesis is that we're giving up on the south, that would give us free reign to criticize the southern politicians as well.

Later in the book, as he started talking about a non-southern political strategy, he could have said more about policy. There was one chapter on demography that read like a census report. Only one chapter was specifically devoted to policy, and I think there is more to say about that while still utilizing his tactical approach. In that chapter, I also picked up on some contradictions, like the Publisher's Weekly people. The chapter opens with a couple of on-the-money quotes about the Democrats being 'against' stuff, rather then 'for' stuff. Yet later in the chapter, he argues that NAFTA and CAFTA were perfect examples of where we should "plant a flag" in opposition, and show resolve. He never gives any positive examples of "flag planting."

This is the first book I've read in the 'genre' of partisan tactics, so perhaps many of these criticisms would apply to other books as well. But I think a good book on policy should address some of the political issues, and visa-versa. The author does have an insightful argument that the Democratic leadership should consider, and I still think it's a worthwhile read just for that.
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Format: Hardcover
I haven't read many Political Science books since college, but I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to make sense of modern political strategy. Whistling Past Dixie explains the figures and factoids behind all the punditry and wonkery--how Republicans engineered a political majority and how Democrats can take it back. Schaller offers more strategy than opinion which makes it a refreshing read for anyone interested in politics--right or left.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Schaller's "Whistling Past Dixie" offers a comprehensive look at where both parties stand relative to each other in today's politics. The insight and detail are wonderful and although it reads more like a textbook than a flowing narrative, Schaller has outlined where Democrats need to look beyond the South to win in upcoming elections.

One problem with "Whistling Past Dixie" is that it was published before the recent midterm elections and references to what might happen in the "upcoming 2006 races" are now history. One wonders why the author could not have held off having an updated version of this appear until after the November elections, therefore eliminating some of the guesswork.

"Whistling Past Dixie" is less of a hands-on approach for Democrats to win elections as it is an analysis of the current national political realties, but it is nonetheless pointed in its partisan appeal and renders some good advice for Democrats. It's worth the read if you can get past some of the now "old news" it offers.
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Format: Hardcover
Tom Schaller's book is a must read for all Democrats. It is extremely well-written and well-reasoned. Thirty-five years from now it will be cited as the seminal work outlining how the Democrats achieved majority status in the first half of the century.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was published just before the 2006 election and I'm re-reading it in January 2013 to see how well Schaller's analysis and prescriptions hold up in hindsight. Short answer: amazingly well. Early 2006 was a high point in Republican fortunes and even though there were emerging indications of trouble to come (see Schiavo, Terri), most observers seemed to be settling in to a new normal, hopefully or with dread as the case may be.

The Republicans had captured the nation and the South had captured the Republican Party - President George W Bush, Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and House majority leader Tom "The Hammer" Delay. Bush ruled as a Southern oligarch of old, Frist aspired to the top office, and Delay menaced "activist" federal judges with impeachment, all now fallen from grace and almost from memory. At one point George W Bush is described as the first Southern conservative elected president since Polk in 1844, and 2006 seems almost that long ago, so quickly have things changed, and in the direction Schaller has laid out.

His main thesis is that the South is solidly and increasingly Republican and that there is no point in Democrats mollifying those neo-Confederate voters. They are dead to the message and appeasement serves only to annoy reachable voters in other parts of the country. Better to craft a message resonating with an emergent majority in the rest of the country.

In a stunning chart on page 167, he divides the states into three columns based on their choice for president in 2004: Democratic-leaning (over 5% margin), competitive, and Republican-leaning (over 5% margin). Obama carried the first two columns both times and several states in the Republican column (Virginia twice). If anything, he has understated the pace of change. Without doubt, he identified its direction and from an early vantage point, just as it was starting to emerge. That is all you can expect from a political analyst, rare though it is.
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