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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Realignment

It is taught by some martial arts that the way that one gains a tactical advantage over one's opponent is to use his energy against him, by taking his attack and using it to put him at a tactical disadvantage. We see this often in boxing when a pugilist leaves his jab hanging too long and exposes his chin for a nice left hook, an error for which many Muhammad Ali opponents paid a dear price. Today's political environment bears a striking resemblance to such a set of circumstances, such that the strength of the Republican Party over the last generation could become its undoing.

Lyndon Johnson conceded that the South would be lost to the Democratic Party for a generation because of his efforts to ensure Jim Crow's death, wielding executive, legislative and judicial powers to see it through. When many conservatives lambaste "activist judges" they really hearken back to the judges in the 1960s who put teeth into the various civil rights initiatives - many civil rights laws had been on the books since Reconstruction a hundred years earlier, they simply lacked executive enforcement. Once Lyndon Johnson took a stand and wielded the full power of the federal government against the remnants of the South's "peculiar institution" the South immediately realigned itself with the Republican Party, and Richard Nixon reinforced that realignment with his execution of the Southern Strategy in 1968. Ronald Reagan would also employ it successfully in 1980, solidifying the realignment. The realignment was completed in 1994 when the Republicans overtook Congress - many Democrats In Name Only from the South switched parties once the Republicans were in control and the South became pretty close to pure crimson.

Twelve years later, that's a problem for the Republicans.

While my favorite right-winger, Charles Krauthammer, would like to minimize the significance of the 2006 midterm elections by asserting that the number of seats which swapped parties is about average for midterms in the second term of an incumbent president since 1930, he misses the point that the number of seats in play in 2006 is about an order of magnitude less than was the case in 1930. Today, gerrymandering is the norm such that less than 10% of House seats are in danger of switching parties in any given election, and most of those are due to retirements. What makes the 2006 election different is twofold: Democrats won virtually every Congressional race that was in play and the Republicans were routed outside of the South.

The extent of the Democratic victory is significant, winning at least two out of every three House races that were in play, but even more significant was the fact that the moderate wing of the Republican party was all but eliminated from Congress. With a few notable exceptions (Chris Shays et al.) the only remaining Republicans in Congress are those with an Old South heritage or mindset. The Republican leadership in the Senate consists of a senator from Kentucky, one from Mississippi, two from Texas, and one each from Nevada and Arizona. The GOP's House leadership is a bit more geographically diverse, but it still looks pretty concentrated compared to the scatter-shot of the Democratic party - spanning the breadth and width of the nation. It is indicative of one central truth that is emerging from this election:

Republicans can no longer win outside of the South.

Sure, there will be a Republican here or there outside of the South winning an election, just like there have always been Democratic pockets in Mississippi and Texas, but by-and-large the Republicans are losing the votes of suburban and increasingly secular Whites outside of the South, and that trend looks to continue and not abate.

Here's the point:

Democrats, if they're smart (insert your own joke here), will capitalize upon this by emphasizing their secular credentials, much the same way that Republicans have won elections in the past by emphasizing their religious credentials. The new divide will become those who are overtly religious against those who are not, in large part pitting those who are epistemologically conservative against those who are epistemologically liberal. While this would seem to be a slam-dunk for the Democrats there is one caveat that they will likely ignore and that will cause them to lose a series of elections that should have been theirs for the taking - most Blacks, especially church-going Blacks (who also tend to be the ones that vote), are epistemologically conservative and overtly religious. If the Democrats push their secular credentials too hard, as many are wont to do already, they will alienate many Blacks and drive us into the Republican Party, the Chocolate Migration. The Republican Party, if it is smart, will be ready for the Democrats to over-reach and will open its tent in earnest to church-going Blacks, but it will take a great deal of political skill and finesse to merge Blacks and Southern Baptists into the same camp, a total eschewing of White Supremacy that is in no ways limited to rednecks in sheets. It may be that no such political skill or good will exists and that Blacks will simply have to suck it up and deal with functionally atheistic Democrats if we still find Old South Republicans to be too strange a bedfellow, but it will be an interesting journey over the next four to six years to see how this realignment actually plays out - libertarians migrating to the Democratic Party and Blacks returning to the Republican Party. However, if Barak Obama becomes the Democratic nominee for president then all bets are off...

Barak, boma ye!

Emancipated by Athanasius @ 9:00 PM

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