Monday, 20 September 2004

Fear and loathing on the campaign trail

Commerical Appeal writer Bartholomew Sullivan does his best to put meat on the bones of claims that Republicans are planning an active campaign to “disenfranchise” black voters, but fails miserably, beginning with the subhead of his piece:

Paranoia strikes deep among black voters

“Paranoia” is defined as “a psychological disorder characterized by delusions of persecution or grandeur.” In other words, the Commercial Appeal is essentially accusing black voters of being collectively insane. But never fear: the CA is on the case to, er, ease those fears, perhaps. Sullivan goes on:

Although Bush-Cheney campaign officials say the perception is baseless and that efforts are under way to further diversify the GOP, the strictly nonpartisan vote-protection effort is aimed at thwarting tactics that are perceived to benefit Republicans by targeting black voters likely to vote for the Democratic ticket. [emphasis added]

Strictly nonpartisan? Of course, it’s led by the ACLU and NAACP, two groups known for their wide, bipartisan membership.

Mississippi, “for obvious historical reasons,” will have teams of poll watchers on the ground as one of 14 “Priority 1” states, said Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law public policy counsel Kim Alton. Arkansas and Missouri are also “Priority 1” concerns.

In other states, including lower-priority Tennessee, the coalition is asking people with voting concerns to report them at (866) OUR-VOTE – (866) 687–8683.

Nothing like “obvious historical reasons” to want to oversee a vote, though one would suspect that Tennessee might also have some of those “obvious historical reasons,” being a state that had Jim Crow and all.

[The efforts of these groups are] all in response to the perception that not-so-subtle efforts – and at least one overt plan – are under way to keep black voters, who traditionally vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, from having their preferences counted.

After that passage, one wonders if the purpose of this effort is to dispel or foment paranoia. Sullivan does go out of his way to quote a few moderately sensible figures, but manages to close with this quotation:

Asked about any such [voter intimidation] efforts in the Mid-South, Eliott M. Mincberg, legal director of People for the American Way, said: “We’ve seen very little from there or anywhere else in terms of concrete signs of plans for voter suppression and intimidation. But that’s not unusual because these plans are designed to operate under cover until Election Day, when they’re sprung.”

One suspects these “plans” are about as concrete and likely to be made manifest as John Kerry’s “secret plan” to end the war in Iraq.

Monday, 6 September 2004

A laundry list is not a critique

Both James Joyner and Robert Garcia Tagorda take note of John Hinderaker’s post on a recent Kerry press release, which purports to expose “four days of lies” at the Republican National Convention. The only problem with the press release? It doesn’t actually present any rebuttals to the “lies” it catalogs, apparently on the mistaken impression that “X is lying because I say so” is a legitimate argument in a debate.

Meanwhile, One Fine Jay catches the Dems (in the same release) engaging in the sort of petty, vile anti-southern bigotry that helps explain why their support has essentially evaporated among native whites in the region.

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

Hangin' with da Klan

Victor of The Dead Parrot Society is back from a trip to Mississippi with James Bates, who’s a photojournalist putting together a portrait of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Crosses and flags


Rather, just like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Confederate battle flag motif used in Southern state flags, it was a belated addition of the Eisenhower era. Both the cross and “under God” were added as part of a wave of religious iconography that swept the nation in the 1950s in response to fears of “godless communism,” while the Confederate flag was added to demonstrate contempt for the growing civil rights movement — and to rally local support for continued enforcement of Jim Crow laws.

(Minor) point of fact: the Confederate battle flag emblem was first incorporated in the Mississippi state flag on February 7, 1894—Mississippi’s legislators must have been quite prescient to forsee a conflict over civil rights arising in another six decades or so.* The only other state to incorporate the battle flag “motif” into its own was Georgia, which did so in 1956; however, the use of Confederate imagery in the Georgia state flag dates back to 1879. No other state adopted the battle flag in part or whole, although South Carolina put up the flag in 1962 over its statehouse, but never incorporated the design into its flag.

Friday, 11 June 2004

Mini-bottles and Ben Tillman

The always-engaging Geitner Simmons has an interesting post on the links between South Carolina’s backward alcohol laws and über-segregationist Ben Tillman, who was pretty much the intellectual forebear to folks like Strom Thurmond and Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo in the 20th century.

Saturday, 29 May 2004

Liberals get worldly

Matt Yglesias broadens his perspective with a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, with the following observation:

I’ve been surprised to discover that southerners really do say “y’all” all the time.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum discovers that people in different parts of the country refer to carbonated soft drinks by different names. There may be hope for John Kerry in flyover country yet…

Wednesday, 12 May 2004

Not even past

Conrad of The Gweilo Diaries notes the reopening of an investigation into the 1955 Emmitt Till murder; Till’s murder by white supremicists is generally regarded as a catalyst for the civil rights movement in Mississippi.

Today, the Clarion-Ledger website carried a long article on the reopening of the case.

Saturday, 8 May 2004

Civil discussions

Steven Taylor has apparently decided his life isn’t complicated enough, so he’s decided to rile up the legions of Confederate apologists in the blogosphere, using that whole “logic” and “documentary evidence” thing to prove—quelle horreur—that the Civil War, was in fact, about slavery, and there’s no way to explain it otherwise. Start here, then go to the front page, because there’s a zone-flood in progress.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

Why three-fifths?

Will Baude, at the prompting of Jacob T. Levy, ponders the Three-Fifths Compromise. I don’t have a better theory than Will’s; I always just figured that’s the offer the southern delegates proffered after a few rounds and that’s what stuck.

I suppose another possibility is that it reflected the assumed ratios of voting populations around 1787—so as to balance voting between relatively free North with the more populous but part-slave South—but I don’t have the numbers in front of me to prove it.

Sunday, 25 April 2004

Morons on parade

This may be a good nominee for this year’s Darwin Awards: Diver in contest feared drowned. And this wasn’t any diving contest—it was a belly-flopping contest, at Diamond Jim’s bar in Beloit, Wisconsin.

The loss to society is immense, for not only did the unidentified 52-year-old man have “a heart of gold, a caring nature and a pleasant outlook on life,” he was also one of the few residents of Rock County who is certified to roast pigs. (Silly me didn’t realize pig-roasting required certification.) But I think the key to the story lies at the end:

His friend [the man who is presumed drowned] was planning on driving up to Reedsburg next weekend to roast a pig for a wedding reception and had asked Quaerna for directions.

“He’s originally from Mississippi. I don’t believe he had been that far north before,” Quaerna said.

What Quaerna doesn’t understand, is why his friend jumped from the bridge.

“He doesn’t know how to swim,” Quaerna said.

This story reminds me of nothing so much as the final track from Lewis Black’s first comedy album, The White Album (which also involved rednecks doing incredibly stupid things, only those rednecks were in Arkansas and ammunition was involved). Fun and amusement for the whole family!

Thanks to Scott for the link.

Thursday, 22 April 2004

Say My 'Nam

Steven Taylor finds John Kerry discussing Vietnam in the oddest of places. My question: does the analogy make Cajuns “Charlie”?

Wednesday, 14 April 2004

More on "The Myth of the Racist Republicans"

As promised, I’ve had more of a chance to closely read and think about Gerard Alexander’s Claremont Review of Books essay, “The Myth of the Racist Republicans.”

The prècis of Alexander’s argument is essentially that, while Republicans were willing to run avowed and former segregationists on occasion as candidates in the South in the 50s and 60s, and while their candidates “from the 1950s on” for state and federal office were willing to “craft policies and messages that could compete for the votes of some pretty unsavory characters,” this conduct—which Alexander concedes is expedient—does not rise to the level of making “a pact with America’s devil”—selling out the Lincolnian principles the GOP was founded on.

Alexander says that proponents of the “racist Republican” myth rest their case on an accomodation with Southern racism that is based on “code words.” He concedes that Goldwater’s call for “state’s rights” in 1964 may have been an instance of Republicans pandering to segregationists, but argues that other allegedly “coded” appeals to racism, such as the positions of Nixon and Regan “on busing, affirmative action, and welfare reform” were designed to appeal to broad middle-class discontent with the Democratic Party’s approach to these issues, rather than being part of a deliberate strategy to court racists; more to the point, he writes:

In effect, these critics want to have it both ways: they acknowledge that these views could in principle be non-racist (otherwise they wouldn’t be a “code” for racism) but suggest they never are in practice (and so can be reliably treated as proxies for racism). The result is that their claims are non-falsifiable because they are tautological: these views are deemed racist because they are defined as racist. This amounts to saying that opposition to the policies favored by today’s civil rights establishment is a valid indicator of racism.

Of course, given the strategic choice that Republicans have made to “craft policies and messages that could compete for the votes” of racists—a choice that Alexander himself acknowledges the GOP has made—it would seem that, at the very least, emphasizing these issues over (say) lower taxes or increased spending on defense, shows a willingness to cater to racist sentiment, which in itself borders on racism.

He then turns to why the GOP gained support from disaffected Southern whites; here he is on stronger ground, as it is fairly clear that the Democratic Party abandoned the tacit “New Deal” agreement to soft-pedal racial issues in favor of a more aggressive pro-civil rights stance beginning in the late 1940s with Truman’s integration of the armed forces, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His argument is essentially that Southern racists came to the GOP “mountain,” rather than the other way around—an argument that would be stronger if he hadn’t already conceded that the GOP was tailoring its messages to appeal to racists and win votes from the Democrats in the South. The “mountain” moved a bit on its own—he quotes Kevin Phillips as saying that Republicans didn’t “have to bid much ideologically” to gain the support of Wallace voters—but they did have to bid something, which arguably included “go slow” desegregation (in opposing busing) and opposition to affirmative action programs.

Alexander then looks at the pattern of GOP growth in the South, noting that the GOP did better in the Peripheral South than it did in the Deep South; he argues that this is further proof that the “Southern strategy” was essentially benevolent, and that the GOP‘s ideology was too moderate to appeal to hard-core segregationists, but an alternative intepretation is that the slowness in Deep South segregationists to move to the Republicans was a result of historical antipathy toward Republicans—who were, after all, the party of blacks (at least, the minority who had managed to evade the barriers to participation erected by segregationists) in the South until the 1960s—coupled with state Democratic parties that were more tolerant of old-line segregationists remaining under the Democrat banner.

It is, of course, overly simplistic to say that Wallace voters make up the bulk of today’s GOP in the South—the typical Wallace supporter from 1968 is probably a Constitution Party voter today, assuming his or her racial views remain intact. Nor is it necessarily the GOP‘s fault that some segregationists support it, any more than it is the Democrats’ fault that they have some support from eco-terrorists like the Earth Liberation Front. But I think it is valid to criticize the GOP for the “Southern strategy” that even Alexander concedes the party has used—and I also think it’s reasonable to believe that at least some of the Republican platform is motivated by an interest in appealing to those with unreconstructed racist views. Does that mean opposition to affirmative action is racist? No. But it does mean that the GOP‘s sincerity in being a non-racist party is somewhat questionable.

I also find it interesting that Alexander manages to write 3500 words on contemporary Southern politics without mentioning Trent Lott, which seems like a rather important oversight; however, that’s neither here nor there.

Monday, 12 April 2004

Southern strategies

Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia takes on virtually all the existing scholarship on Southern politics in the latest Claremont Review of Books—and, IMHO, comes up a bit short of proving his point to my satisfaction, although a proper treatment of the article will have to wait until sometime tomorrow.

I will note that Alan Abramowitz came to virtually the same conclusion* in “Issue Evolution Reconsidered” (The Journal of Politics, 1994), which was a rebuttal to Carmines and Stimson’s Issue Evolution, which, along with Huckfeldt and Sprague’s Race and the Decline of Class in American Politics is probably the classic academic work that promotes the “southern strategy” explanation for the Southern realignment—the Black brothers, however, see dealignment rather than realignment to the GOP, and in a lot of their discussion, they actually support what Alexander says, at least to some extent.

Link via Lily Malcolm (a recent victim of a minor paring knife accident).

Monday, 5 April 2004


Everyone’s favorite ex-Klansman, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), is back in the news, on the occasion of casting his 17,000th vote in the United States Senate (rumors that the vote was the one completing the wholesale transfer of the federal government to West Virginia are greatly exaggerated).

As when Trent Lott got a bit effusive in praising the longeivity of Strom Thurmond, though, this has become an event where a number of Senators decided “to heck with nuance,” and got a bit too enthusiastic about all of Sen. Byrd’s life.

One such quote is from Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Ct.). Unfortunately, there’s a bit of controversy regarding the provenance of the quote. So, to set the record straight, here is the complete text of Sen. Dodd’s remarks, from Thursday’s edition of the Congressional Record:

Mr. DODD. Mr. President, I add my voice as well to my seatmate, if I may. I sit in this chair by choice. Senator Byrd sits in his chair by choice as well, but he makes the choice before I do. I wanted to find out where he was going to sit so I could sit next to him. I did that because I wanted to sit next to the best, to learn everything I possibly could about the ability of this institution to provide the kind of leadership I think the country expects of us.

Several thoughts come to mind. This is a day of obvious significance in the number of votes that have been cast, 17,000, but it is far more important to talk about quality than quantity. Quantity is not an insignificant achievement, but the quality of my colleague and friend’s service is what I think about when the name ROBERT C. BYRD comes to my mind.

I carry with me every single day, 7 days a week, a rather threadbare copy of the United States Constitution given to me many years ago—I can’t even read it well now; it is so worn out—I may need a new copy—given to me by my seatmate, ROBERT C. BYRD. I revere it. I tell people why I carry it because it reminds me of the incredible gift given to me by the people of Connecticut to serve in this Chamber, to remind me of the importance of an oath we all made, and that is to do everything we can to preserve, protect, and defend the principles upon which this Nation was founded. ROBERT C. BYRD, in my mind, is the embodiment of that goal.

It has often been said that the man and the moment come together. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great Senator at any moment. Some were right for the time. ROBERT C. BYRD, in my view, would have been right at any time. He would have been right at the founding of this country. He would have been in the leadership crafting this Constitution. He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this Nation. He would have been right at the great moments of international threat we faced in the 20th century. I cannot think of a single moment in this Nation’s 220-plus year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country. Certainly today that is not any less true.

I join my colleagues in thanking the Senator from West Virginia for the privilege of serving with him. He has now had to endure two members of my family as colleagues. Senator Byrd was elected to the Senate in 1958 along with my father. He served with my father in the House. I have now had the privilege of serving with Senator Byrd for 24 years, twice the length of service of my father. That is an awful lot of time to put up with members of the Dodd family. We thank Senator Byrd for his endurance through all of that time.

There is no one I admire more, there is no one to whom I listen more closely and carefully when he speaks on any subject matter. I echo the comments of my colleague from Massachusetts. If I had to pick out any particular point of service for which I admire the Senator most, it is his unyielding defense of the Constitution. All matters come and go. We cast votes on such a variety of issues, but Senator Byrd’s determination to defend and protect this document which serves as our rudder as we sail through the most difficult of waters is something that I admire beyond all else.

I join in this moment in saying: Thank you for your service, thank you for your friendship, and I look forward to many more years of sitting next to you on the floor of the Senate.

I yield the floor.

In any event, you can find potentially embarassing quotes from about half the Senate in the series of effusive comments about Sen. Byrd.

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

TMI about FGM

Kelley is shocked to learn that the Georgia legislature is proposing a law that will ban not only the barbaric practice known as “female genital mutilation” or FGM (which I’ll spare you the details of), but also female genital piercings.

Saturday, 6 March 2004

Toast comes to Dixie

As Steven Taylor notes in the latest Toast-O-Meter, there’s a primary to be held this Tuesday in Mississippi and three other Southern states. Democratic frontrunner and presumptive nominee John Kerry will be campaigning in Jackson tomorrow at a black church and Tougaloo College.

Friday, 5 March 2004

Dopey Yaleites go on a road trip

My theory about the history of the South is that every Southerner doesn’t know anything that happened before 1980 (except Sherman’s march to the sea) and every Northerner doesn’t know anything that happened since 1954 (except a bunch of blacks getting blasted with fire hoses). For the former, I rely on interactions with Ole Miss students; for the latter, I rely on this Yale Daily News piece, which contains the following quote:

“Tennessee has southern hospitality and a southern feel without having the antagonism of the deep South,” Elizabeth Dohrmann ‘06 of Nashville said. “Everything is so alive and the culture is still intact, but it’s probably one of the easiest places to visit in the South.”

One suspects Ms. Dohrmann’s experience of the South—a region that Nashville is about as much a part of as Seattle is—is limited to a viewing of Sling Blade and vague familiarity with the plots of Deliverance and Mississippi Burning. One also suspects Ms. Dohrmann’s knowledge of Memphis—a city that combines the best and worst of the deep South in one not-so-tidy community—is limited to knowledge that her beloved Tennessee Titans played a season in a shitty stadium in said city.

As for the alleged “antagonism of the deep South,” I’d rise to the defense of the region except I’m running late for my Meetup with Acidman and a few pals from the CCC.*

Thursday, 5 February 2004

On Southern Republicanism

Amanda Butler quotes from an op-ed by George WIll in today’s WaPo that’s mostly about whether Democrats can win without the South, but takes a foray through Republican fortunes as well:

Much academic and journalistic energy has been expended attempting to prove that Republicans became competitive in the South not because of positive change there but because of a negative change in the GOP —pandering to racists. But Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia notes that Eisenhower, like Richard Nixon in 1960, polled badly among whites in the Deep South. Eisenhower ran strongest in the “peripheral South,” the least-polarized part.

States representing more than half the Southern electoral votes have been, Alexander notes, “consistently in play” since 1952. That was before the Goldwater candidacy, before school busing and at a time when congressional Republicans were stronger supporters than Democrats were of civil rights bills. A higher proportion of Republican than Democratic senators voted for the 1964 and 1965 civil rights bills, and in 1968 whites in the Deep South preferred George Wallace to Nixon.

Beginning in the 1950s, millions of Midwesterners and Northeasterners moved to the South. But, Alexander says, instead of voting Democratic, they voted Republican “at higher rates than native whites.” Even today, “identification with the GOP is stronger among the South’s younger rather than older white voters.” Republican strength has been highest among persons young, suburban, middle class, educated, non-Southern in origin and concentrated in the least “Southern” high-growth areas.

Eisenhower was, at best, a reluctant desegregator, as his actions at the time of Little Rock in 1957 demonstrated—and I’m not at all certain Eisenhower could have carried Southern states in 1960, had he been on the ballot, even without considering Harry Byrd’s presence on the ballot in Alabama and Mississippi.

That being said, I think a fair assessment of Republican strategy in the south would recognize that racial issues were an undercurrent, but not the whole story, and that Republicans benefitted from the racial issue only to the extent that southern Democrats conceded their racially conservative positions. By the time of Eisenhower, the New Deal coalition’s papering over of the Democrats’ internal racial divisions was coming apart as the inherent logic of New Dealism, and more boistrous antisegregationists in the North, pushed the national Democratic Party away from segregationism. But southern Republican successes were rare while the Dixiecrats continued to stick with the segregationists, and most of the successes were the result of Democratic defections, not home-grown Republicanism—a division that persists to this day.

Compare, for example, Bill Frist and Trent Lott—Lott is essentially a Dixiecrat, born and raised, who defected to the Republicans mainly for electoral considerations; Frist, on the other hand, is much closer to the traditional national Republican mold, albeit with a southern flavor. And, as the Lott generation leaves politics, the Frist generation is taking over as the face of southern Republicanism—a change that hopefully will lead to the politics of race receding into history.

Monday, 2 February 2004

Loyalty Oafs

I think I’ll let Earl Black speak for me on this bit of unmitigated idiocy by South Carolina Democrats:

“It sounds like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve heard in a long time,” said Rice University political scientist Earl Black, formerly of the University of South Carolina. “This makes no sense at all. It just steps on the effort of South Carolina Democrats to create a situation to build the party.”

What idea is so stupid? According to The State:

Voters who appear at their polling places will be asked to sign an oath swearing that “I consider myself to be a Democrat” before casting their ballots.

Hey, why stop there? Take Jonah Goldberg’s advice and reinstate literacy tests. Better yet, set up a nice collection box at the door to collect everyone's poll tax. Good thing the state legislature didn’t take down that Southern Cross from its front lawn, since it seems mighty appropriate about now.

More on this story at Jeff Quinton’s place and suburban blight.

Update: The Dems dropped the loyalty oath today faster than most single women lose Dennis Kucinich’s phone number. And Ryan of the Dead Parrots wonders if the Democrats’ news release somehow got lost in the shuffle, as it was dated Sunday—so the damaging stories never should have run.

Monday, 19 January 2004

We're Number One!

Tyler Cowen finds evidence that Mississippi is the most corrupt state in the Union. You don’t say…

The scary part: the figures don’t even include the non-quite-illegal-but-downright-unethical influence peddling that goes on in these parts, like ex-attorney general Mike Moore’s long campaign to enrich his law school buddies.

Friday, 16 January 2004

Recess success for Pickering

As Will Baude (among others) notes, Charles Pickering got a recess appointment to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals today, bypassing the anticipated filibuster of his nomination by the Senate for now. While national Democrats have strongly opposed the nomination, he has attracted significant support from many Mississippi Democrats—who, unlike their national counterparts, usually need at least some support from moderate-to-conservative whites to stay in office.

Also, feel free to read my past Pickering posts.

Monday, 12 January 2004

The Reivers

Michael of Southern Appeal notes this WaPo piece by Jonathan Yardley on William Faulkner’s last novel, The Reivers—probably my favorite of Faulkner’s, even though it’s not quite written at the level of, say, Absalom, Absalom! or The Sound and the Fury. Yardley’s assessment is spot-on:

“The Reivers” is written in prose at once distinctly Faulknerian yet entirely accessible. It provides a way to accustom oneself to Faulkner’s language without becoming immediately lost in it, as can happen to someone who wanders all innocence into “Absalom, Absalom!” or “The Bear.” It gives you an introduction to the genealogy of Yoknapatawpha without overwhelming you in its intricacies. It sets forth many of Faulkner’s most important themes in clear, persuasive ways. No, it is not among his masterworks, but it is a lovely book, funny and touching and Faulkner to the core.

Read the whole thing—the book and the review.

Saturday, 3 January 2004

Book review

As I discussed here, I’ve been reading Black and Black’s The Rise of Southern Republicans, which is described by one blurb writer (Dick Fenno, I think) as the intellectual successor of V.O. Key, Jr.’s legendary Southern Politics in State and Nation. The Rise of Southern Republicans is both a descriptive account of, and an explanation for, what the Blacks term a “semi-realignment” wherein conservative southern whites largely realigned (permanently changed their party preferences) from the Democrats to Republicans, while moderate whites were dealigned from the Democrats (became more independent “swing” voters).

Suffice it to say that the Blacks’ book is generally quite excellent, and—like their other books—a must-read for anyone who wants to understand contemporary southern and American politics. That being said, there are a few noteworthy weaknesses:

  • The book almost exclusively focuses on elections to federal office (the House and Senate); there is little discussion of the continued persistence of majorities of Democrats in many southern state legislatures, despite realignment at the federal level, nor are gubernatorial politics discussed. Then again, the book is bulky enough as-is.
  • On occasion, I felt like I was being subjected to a “stat dump”: a long series of statistics from survey evidence about the attitudes and behavior of various subgroups of the electorate. This information would perhaps have been better presented graphically or in tabular form (Black and Black do make extensive use of figures to illustrate their points throughout; why these items weren’t presented that way as well is something of a mysery).
  • While some chapters discuss senatorial politics while others discuss elections to the House, the chamber being discussed isn’t clearly identified by the chapter names—as a result, you sometimes start reading a chapter and immediately think “hmm, isn’t this the same thing they were discussing in the last chapter?”

Still, these are all nitpicks. It’s definitely a worthwhile read, and—unlike most books by political scientists—it’s accessible to general readers.

Ford Theater

Robert Prather approvingly notes Radley Balko’s praise of Tennessee representative Harold Ford Jr. as one of his Libertarian Heroes of 2003. Quoth Balko:

Ford makes this list more for his rhetoric and his potential than his actual voting record. Ambitious and eloquent, he’s a fast-rising star in the Democratic Party. Ford has shown an admirable reluctance to wade into the partisan muck and mire. He’s a free thinker. His talking points aren’t dictated to him by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He has flirted with support for school choice. He’s generally supportive of tax cuts. And there are rumors around Washington that he may eventually support one of several plans to give Americans ownership of their Social Security taxes. Ford is likely bound for the U.S. Senate, if not higher office. If his voting record ever aligns with his rhetoric, he could emerge as an important voice of reason in a party too consumed with class warfare and entitlement culture.

Ford is in the relatively unique position of being one of the first of the “new generation” of African-American political leaders—and the only Democrat among them to have learned the lesson of the previous generation, which is that amassing a left-wing record in the House in a majority-minority district will guarantee you a permanent seat, and maybe even some committee positions of note, but it absolutely kills any prospect of attaining higher office. Ford, instead, has built on his father’s organizational and constituency service strengths, but adopted a more moderate voting record than his fellow black caucus members—which not only has improved the security of his seat against potential Republican challengers, but also has positioned him to potentially gain broad support among moderate white voters in future statewide contests for either the senate or the governorship.

That isn’t to say that Ford has strong libertarian credentials—he certainly doesn’t—but rather that he’s become one of the south’s first black “yellow dog” Democrats who effectively combines liberal social positions with moderate-to-conservative economic policy views. In other words, he’s the sort of candidate the Democrats need to remain competitive in the south in the face of a relative decline of the black population that means Democrats will have to broaden their appeal beyond the rump group of whites that still identify with the party for economic reasons.

Also of note: Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution critiques Balko’s list for its exclusive attention to politicians.

Update: AlphaPatriot has more on this theme (thanks to Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered for pointing the post out in an email).

Monday, 29 December 2003

Dean's lead

While Stephen Green points out that the latest Zogby numbers show Howard Dean in statistical dead heats in both Iowa and South Carolina (but with a commanding lead in New Hampshire), James Joyner retorts that Dean’s lead is more durable than the numbers indicate:

...this is now Dean’s race to lose. While he’s not running away with anything, he’s got a huge lead in New Hampshire and a small one everywhere else. Meanwhile, there is no consistent number two. More importantly, he’s absolutely dominating the money primary.

More to the point, the rules are such that you can effectively discount anyone not named Al Sharpton* unless they get double-digits, because the Democrats’ delegate allocation system works at the congressional district level—and, as I keep pointing out, you have to get 15% in a congressional district to win delegates from it. This effect will massively inflate Dean’s standing at the convention.

Like James, I’m becoming more convinced than ever that South Carolina will be pivotal. And, barring a seismic shift after Iowa, I can’t see any S.C. scenario that Dean can’t spin as a win—realistically, he needs to be blown out by 10% or more by a credible candidate (at this point, either Clark or Gephardt), which just ain’t happening with Edwards still in the race and a lot of Republicans coming out to vote for Sharpton. A narrow ABD victory gives Dean the line that he “polled well in the South,” even if he only gets a third of the primary vote.