We were only partially joking when we told Bob Moser that we weren't sure if anyone would show up last Wednesday to hear him read from his new book, Blue Dixie: Awakening the South's Democratic Majority. Democrats don't often announce themselves around here, even though Leflore is a traditionally blue county. In fact, we've noticed that there is surprisingly little talk of politics at all. Occasionally an old-timer will pass by the stack of Obama books and utter a bad joke, some repeated Conservative radio chatter. Mostly it's a polite evasion of the subject altogether.
Democrats, undecideds and at least one Republican showed up, and Moser read a section from his new book that reflected what the all-white crowd of locals already knew. He quoted a Democrat who had moved back to Natchez, Mississippi, from Chicago. The woman remarked, "I discovered that 'Democrat' is now a euphemism for 'black.' I'd be talking about somebody and say, 'He's a Democrat,' and people would say, 'Oh, no, he's white.' It's not socially acceptable to be white and a Democrat."
That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's mostly true. We've heard the term "Democrat" used as a racial pejorative, in an attempt at humor, even occasionally by Democrats themselves. It's just one of several interesting points that Moser touched on when describing his book, which untangles and explains some of these regional peculiarities and argues that the South is not as conservative as pundits and pollsters would have the nation believe.
A writer for The Nation, Moser is a North Carolina native who, contrary to his left-leaning parents, grew up Republican. In fact, Moser's book begins with the story of how he wrangled his father into taking him to a Richard Nixon and Jesse Helms rally in 1972, where they witnessed the long-held Democratic majority overturned.
"So commenced the single most destructive myth of contemporary American politics: the notion that the century-long Democratic 'solid South' had morphed, practically overnight, into an equally solid and enduring Republican south," he writes in the opening chapter, going on to cite how Southerners tend to elect Republicans for the big national offices like president and Senate, while empowering their local leaders from the Democratic side.
Moser went on to explain that the Democrats' major strategic mistake has been to buy into the simple-minded stereotypes of Southerners, dismissing the region outright as a pack of ignorant, racist, culturally stunted hicks who don't care about Democratic social agendas. This oversight, most recently committed by both the Gore and Kerry presidential campaigns, is enough to cost an election. He cited Gore's 2000 presidential bid in particular. The Bush campaign concentrated their efforts in Tennessee only after it became obvious that Gore was ignoring his home state, which he went on to lose by less than four percent.
There was a generous and good-natured back-and-forth among Moser and audience, who took particular delight in bashing the consultants and pollsters who seem to be more in control of presidential campaigns than the candidates these days. This trend may explain, to some degree, Barrack Obama's lackluster post-primary performance, agreed many in attendance, along with Moser.
As Democrats convene this week for their nominating process, they would do well to consider Blue Dixie, which is a fair read for political watchers of any persuasion. If Obama and the Dems fail, as past nominees, to take the complexities of the Southern vote seriously, they may very well end up, along with the rest of the country, in familiar straits.