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Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South Paperback – January 1, 2008
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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.
Shaller's critique of the Democratic Party is overall fairly solid; however, he is either missing, or lacking in a few things, such as how the party is going to curry the support of gun owners. The party can and does, but on a case by case basis. It's also confusing where Shaller stands on Dean's 50 state strategy. In one chapter he praises it, while in another reemphazing the need to cut on the South.
Overall, worth reading. This book would have been fairly solid if Schaller had written a 20-30 page introduction about the demise of the Democratic Party in the post-civil rights era, culture wars, etc instead of a major section on it. After the introduction gone on to the problems of the South, electoral strategy, etc.