The Reason The South Has Rejected Democrats? Their Message Sucks

Demonstrators are arrested during "Moral Monday" demonstrations at the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, July 22, 2013. Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer/AP

Demonstrators are arrested during “Moral Monday” demonstrations at the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, July 22, 2013.
Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer/AP

Earlier this week I penned an article titled “No, Democrats Should Not Abandon The South,” and the response to it was disheartening to say the very least. Sadly, I expected the replies that came, even though I hoped that Democrats and fellow progressives would prove me wrong.

One after another, people who very likely didn’t even read the op-ed felt the need to make comment after comment that painted everyone who lives south of a certain line as idiotic, racist, backwoods rednecks who hate women and progress, so why should Democrats even bother trying down here anymore?

Self-professed liberals and progressives who often kvetch about stereotypes fell all over themselves to repeat stereotypes about how Southerners were all bigots, ignorant and living 150 years behind the enlightened bastions of liberalism that they so smugly announced that they lived in. You’d think that people who are liberal or progressive who were such staunch opponents of profiling and stereotypes would eschew those actions, but alas, they couldn’t unleash their own disdain and vitriol toward people like myself fast enough.

Despite the fact that there are many liberals and Democrats who live in states like North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas or Louisiana that aren’t conservative or bigots, there was a deluge of comments like the ones that follow.

This one was left in the comments section on my article:

The folks in the south prove over and over that we should have let them leave in the 1860s. As an independent free thinking woman, I would never go there and certainly never live there. Sorry, until they prove that they aren’t racist, anti gay, anti women, anti science and anti diversity, I want nothing to do with them. They have made our country look like a bunch of ignorant hateful fools

Here are a few from the Forward Progressives Facebook page:

Enjoy north carolina.  I lived there for a decade.  Its a shithole for religious zealouts, racists, gun nuts, and people who have never left the state and don’t want to because their wittle minds cant handle the truth.  Enjoy.

Go ahead and secede.  It would increase the quality of life in the remaining states and increase the collective IQ.

Wow … Your mad cause people stereotype the south ? Nothing like stereotyping northerners!

Sorry, Manny, but those red State residents don’t endear themselves to me by calling me a libitard, or by suggesting that the President should be shot. They remain willfully ignorant and intolerant. They don’t have to move to (New York, San Francisco, Seattle) to become informed. All they have to do is turn off FOX News and open a newspaper. If they want to secede, let them go. The USA is not in the business of forcing people to remain US citizens.

You can’t afford it because you choose to live in the south. Move. It’s a shitty place full of shitty people.

Screw the South. They are so proud of their ignorance they’re a blight to the rest of the country. They get voting power by building prison blocks to inflate their populations (and congressional/senate seats) and use it to enforce their Christian Taliban idea of morality on people whose idea of life, liberty and happiness differ. I don’t even feel bad for the women. After all, they help vote in the men who turn around and take away their rights. Stupid gets what stupid deserves.

I wonder how many of these folks commenting realize that there are liberals, progressives, Christians and even *gasp* moderate Republicans who live down here who don’t identify with right-wing politics? There’s my friend Reverend Mark Sandlin from The Christian Left and the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, and there’s Arik Bjorn in South Carolina with our weekly Sunday progressive Christianity column. There’s my friend Lamar White, Jr. from who stood with Wendy Davis in Texas and was subsequently smeared as “a prop” by conservative media because he has cerebral palsy. There’s also my friend Robert Mann in Baton Rouge writing for and he didn’t take too kindly either to Michael Tomasky’s bitter, juvenile “screw you guys, I’m going home” suggestion that Democrats give up on the South.

While Tomasky’s bitter words might appeal to some Democrats, his advice is reckless.

For starters, while the Democratic Party appears dead, the rumors of its demise are exaggerated. In the United States, political parties are almost always adept at reinventing themselves.

In some Southern states, especially along the Eastern Seaboard, demographic changes are prompting profound political changes. The black population of every Southern state, save Louisiana, is increasing significantly faster than its white population. Latinos are also a growing proportion of those states’ residents. (Source)

These are just a few of us that don’t live behind the “Blue Wall,” and writing off everyone who lives in the South as an ignorant redneck is not only ironically ignorant in and of itself, but it also shows an amazing level of arrogance and short-sightedness. This election year was bad for Democrats not just in the South, but throughout the United States. Blaming Southern voters alone out of frustration for the stinging defeat is petty.

The reason Democrats have lost seats in 2010, 2012 and again in 2014 is that they’ve run away from President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Instead of a media blitz explaining what Democrats stood for and repeatedly debunking Republican lies, most candidates instead curled up in a ball and let Republicans run roughshod over them. It also doesn’t help when liberals, progressives and moderate independents here have to hear over and over again from smarmy, self-righteous liberal pundits that they’re part of the perceived intellectual and cultural wasteland that comprises the states inside of the Bible Belt. Despite all of the hand-wringing by Democrats over Mary Landrieu’s loss, there are some important things to take away from this map from Politico. Out of a state with a little over 4.5 million people, she only lost by about 150,000 votes, and she beat her opponent in New Orleans by 70 percentage points. It wasn’t that Democrats have lost the Deep South, certainly not Louisiana. It’s just that Democrats and moderate independents aren’t bothering to go to the polls, and that speaks volumes to the party’s message – it really sucks right now.

Going for ideological purity and demanding that all candidates and voters share the exact same mindset as the smug, self-appointed oracles of all things liberal is not the way forward for the Democratic Party. I don’t know about you, but we don’t need more polarization and gridlock in Washington, and writing off everyone in the South will only make our current situation worse. It’s time for a lot of liberals and Democrats to get off their high horses and join their Southern brothers and sisters in the political trenches – we’ve got a lot of work to do. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about all of us.


Facebook comments

  • Rob Banks

    Hi there.
    I have to keep explaining this. Progressives like you first need to understand a response to right wing extremism is a RESPONSE. It’s not smug to say, “hey stop shitting on me”. It’s anger and it makes me wonder how you wrote this article without noticing the violent angry protests taking place on this planet over right wing extremism?
    This isn’t just the US. It the world. Realize that we aren’t “liberals”. We are centered. Then realize the frame “liberal” is meaningless. It is bandied about willy nilly to pigeon hole anyone who isn’t foaming at the mouth in favor of making the scum bag wealth slobs of this world more wealthy. And it’s done through a corporately controlled media, through a white male dominated right wing political party structure, through astro turf sock puppeteering and lastly through the complacency of people who know better.

    Let’s go down a list of issues that progressive KNOW need to be changed but the change that is happening isn’t helping the middle class people of this country. The change happening is strengthening the suppression of the middle class, but again, RIGHT WING EXTREMISTS.
    . Stagnant wages, vote supressions laws, HEALTHCARE, racism, equal pay, outsourcing of jobs, Education (vs anti education of the right), anti science (vs the anti science of the right), forcing religious beliefs on people through laws and schools, Union busting, Alternative energy, the environment, infrastructure, unjust wars, scapegoating the President for things the former administration did, just to name a few.
    And on and on and on and on.

  • BigTulsa

    Great article Manny. I live in Oklahoma (obviously from my screen name) and am a progressive. I don’t have sex with my siblings. I don’t chew tobacco. I am not religious (even slightly). I know more like me in this state. I hate it when Northerners lump all of us in one stereotype. Keep on sending the message.

    • bluecrane1

      You need to start doing all those wonderful things or you need to move to someplace in America.

  • Russell Smith

    I am with ya! I vote each and everytime! It is a fundamental right! Unfortunately I live in Gomerts district. I am hopeful Texas will turn blue. One of the main problems are the lies from the right and the people believing them! I wish more people would push back against the untruths! I know i do! The unfortunate thing also is most on the right are indoctrinated early to perceive Democrats and anyone on left as being evil communist dictators.When in actuality it is the left trying to ensure healthcare for all and some kind of personal happiness like higher wages.

  • strayaway

    “The reason Democrats have lost seats in 2010, 2012 and again in 2014 is that they’ve run away from President Obama and the Affordable Care Act.”

    Go for it!

    “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44% of Likely U.S. Voters have a favorable opinion of the health care law, while 52% view it unfavorably. This includes 17% who have a Very Favorable view versus 36% with a Very Unfavorable one.” -rasmussenreportsDOTcom 12/8/14

    • Matt Cook

      The same Americans who approve of the ACA but condemn Obamacare. Polling can tell you what you want it to. When you poll people on the individual aspects of the ACA they love every bit of it. Any unfavorability is merely successful rightwing propaganda that Democrats have let go completely unfettered.

      • strayaway

        I like the parts about being able to keep our doctors and existing policies and the promise that the cost of the average family health care plan would decreases $2,500 annually by the end of president Obama’s fist term.

        ““In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in—you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed, okay. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass… -Jonathan Guber, an architect of the (un)ACA

        You’re right. Guber agrees with you. It’s “really, really critical” for the press to “fetter” transparency to get those polling numbers up.

      • Matt Cook

        There’s a couple Fox News talking points you forgot to bring up. Hello.. Death panels?!

      • strayaway

        To be a top rung progressive poster you must learn how to get Faux News,”it’s Bush’s fault, the Koch brothers, and “because he’s black” all into one sentence without using any facts. Keep trying.

      • Matt Cook

        I’ll give it to you.. You managed to string more than 7 words together about politics without saying socialism (while simultaneously not know what the word means).

      • strayaway

        Corporatism, not socialism. People like Liz Fowler, the Bushes including Jeb, Obama, and Hillary represent corporatist, not socialist, interests. Any socialist schemes they offer are a sideshow or something to lock in corporate profits. When do you think the average family health care plan’s cost will decline by $2,500 as Obama promised by 2012? Gruber was just more honest than Obama and other promoters. Insurance companies are presently lobbying to have their corporate subsidies extended as the numbers haven’t worked out as well as expected. That’s corporate welfare not socialism.

      • Matt Cook

        The ACA was not even fully in effect by 2012. I have no idea what promise you’re referring to. But yes, I agree. It was a corporate profit scam. that’s more a statement of fact though.

      • strayaway

        “I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.”

        -Barack Obama from speech “A Politics of Conscience,” June 23, 2007

        December, 2014: Still no $2,500 savings.

      • Matt Cook

        2007? LOL. Tad bit of straw grasping there.

      • strayaway

        Repeat, 2014 -still no $2,500 annual savings. Your man lied or was hopelessly confused. As Gruber said, “call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass…” Even more pathetic are those who look at the lies that sold this dog like the $2,500 lie, and “you can keep your doctor and present policy” and still think someone gave them the Brooklyn Bridge. Good sheep.

      • Jim Bean

        I’ll give it to him. He managed to accurately pigeon-hole the Left in one sentence.

      • Jim Bean

        ‘Death Panel’ is just a non-politically-correct term for “Independent Payment Advisory Board” (IPAB) which is alive and well in Obamacare. It ‘has the explicit task of achieving specified savings in Medicare without affecting coverage or quality of care.”

        Note the Gruberish qualities of that mission statement. Some would think anybody could figure out that you can’t arbitrarily reduce what you’re paying someone else for a service and still expect to get the same level of service.

        But Gruber knew there were many who could be deceived.

      • rossbro

        Most American voters are uninformed and too lazy to learn . Most vote what they’re told to.

      • strayaway


      • James Eugene Albert

        Congress approved the ACA NOT the “American voter”. The “American Voter” wants MEDICARE for everyone.

      • strayaway

        “The American voter” is the term Gruber used to describe (un)ACA supporters some of who voted for Obama twice. If the “”American Voter” wanted MEDICARE for everyone”, “the American Voter” should have instead voted for someone who supported that instead of the (un)ACA.

        “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass…” -Jonathan Guber, an architect of the (un)ACA

  • OldCowboy

    Democrats will never win the South by trying to act like moderate Republicans. The Democratic Party needs to swing hard to the left with a well crafted populist message. Republican lite is not going to do it.

    • You’re right, but at the same time don’t get your hopes up too much on that approach either. The cultural divide here is in many ways too huge for economic populism to bridge; it’s going to take time, patience, education, and, bluntly, perhaps just waiting for some people to die off.

      • Marc83

        Ironically, people dying off is what has cost us the South. Older southerners were populists. The new crowd is unthinking in its support of deregulation, right to work laws, and the enshrinement of a plutocracy. The South just doesn’t churn out any conservative, populist Democrats anymore. There’s no room for a Huey Long or members of congress like Glass and Steagall (Va and Al respectively) that are willing to fight entrenched powers. The last crop that was getting elected did so by not rocking the boat and ponying up for Wallstreet and other interest groups that are enemies of the American people.

      • The Dixiecrats used to be economically populist, but cultural issues trump economics; that’s why Johnson’s prediction about losing the south for a generation came true, and why the Southern Strategy worked. Some of the party switch happened when the most stubborn old Dixiecrats died off, but most of it happened as they just plain switched parties. “I didn’t leave the Democrats, the Democrats left me” was the common refrain, and they weren’t talking about economics.

      • Marc83

        I don’t think it’s just the social issues trumping economic issues. Listening to most of the white southerners I know, there isn’t an iota of economic populism left. Social issues started peeling them off from the 60’s to the mid 90’s, but we’ve lost any last foothold with them. Around the 90’s was when you stopped seeing economic populists in the ranks of southern Democrats.

      • Right, but what I’m saying is that this was accomplished mostly by changing their minds more than them dying off. A generation’s minds were changed, in crude terms because it’s easy to convince an ignorant racist that Big Government is the cause of all his problems, if he sees government helping a black man. Particularly a southern racist who hasn’t yet conceded the Civil War.

        Then of course the next generation grew up republican and never knew any different.

  • Sea

    Last three paragraphs are spot-on: if democrats offer ‘more/better’ answers for our country, and get the majority to vote every election, the regressive republicans won’t lead this government!

  • Jason France

    Excellent piece, Manny. I’ve been seeing this pattern a lot lately on just about any topic you can imagine. Democrats and Republicans hate each other so much i don’t see them ever reconciling or things ever getting better as long as we keep with our two party system. It’s too easy to be polemic and paint yourself as a saint and the “other” as the Satan.

  • Troy Preuss

    Hey I live in The South, and I will tell you the biggest problem I have with Democrats is they do not stand behind their Message, they don’t call out The Hypocrisy of the supposed Party Of God and Family Values, they refuse to fight fire with fire. As good as honor is we are dealing with a Republican party that has no honor, and therefore they have rigged the rules of the game, and maybe it is time we use this to our Advantage, because we do have a platform that is inclusive, we have a message, but we need more Elizabeth Warren’s, and even Bernie Sanders to get the message out, and we need to take ti these Republicans, put it on Camera, call them out at every turn on tv on the radio where ever. I am a Southernor but these folks have twisted being Southern into being a pos, buying stupid Duck Dynasty Lies as if it was The gospel. I fight daily down here with these folks, and they get but hurt real quick when you use facts to put an end to their arguement’s, and i have lost a lot of friends because of my views, but I stand behind this Democrat Party, and there are others in my boat. The last thing I will say is part of the problem is the Republican party is constantly buying air time on the radio, and tv, so that is the only message they get, and they don’t investigate anything. We need the Democrats to invest in the air waves in the south to get the other side of the story out. These folks don’t even seem to realize how hand tiedPresident Obama is with this Congress, especially after January. The message needs to be strengthened, and if they hear our side, and if they actually go on shows, and call out these Republicans on their Lies, we can change this, but only then can it happen.

    • Jim Bean

      How ‘hand-tied’ this President is after January is entirely the product of his own arrogance and lone-wolf-super-hero delusions. He single-handedly destroyed his own Party. Not that it bothers me.

      • bluecrane1

        No Jim, he didn’t do it himself. He was born black. (Oh yeah, here we go again with the race card when we all know the nice South isn’t Republican because of race.)

      • Jim Bean

        The reason he is hand-tied is because he’s black? I don’t think I agree with that and you come across as very racist. That would suggest we would be crazy to elect another black president until the Left agrees racism is no longer a problem. And that’s at least 700 years off in the future.

      • James Eugene Albert

        Jim Bean: Racism is DEFINITELY a problem. Moreover, people like you with blinders on continue to propagate it.

      • bluecrane1

        LOL – always quaint when a racist Republican is called a racist. In the last dozen years or so they’ve been conditioned to point back as the accuser and say “you’re a racist” even when there’s no sense in that at all. Just more Just more fascist verbal-fluff to try to mask reality.

  • FuzzyBunnyFeet

    Democrats did not loose seats at the Federal level in 2012. Democrats gained 2 Senate seats and 8 House seats that year.

    Although I agree that Dems running away from the president this year was very frustrating. Dems won’t win, and they can’t govern, if they are simply Republican Lite.

    I also agree that giving up on the South, as well as making sweeping derogatory generalizations about Conservatives, does nothing to further the progressive cause.

  • lindylou

    If those in the deep south chafe at the image that has become a meme for “liberals from the north”, they need to get out and vote progressive and stop voting for people who are racist, anti-science swill-speakers who get elected because they say God and Jesus a lot.

    • Sharon McClellan BelieveinaCur

      Your stereotyping makes you sound just as ignorant as the people you rant against. I’m one of “those people” born and raised in the south, have chosen to live here all my life, and I vote in every election. Guess what? I also get out and do volunteer work in campaigns. Guess what else? I work for, support, and vote for progressive candidates–Democrats!!! Get off your high horse.

  • Sharon McClellan BelieveinaCur

    Thank you for speaking up for the rest of us Southerners who are NOT ignorant nor illiterate nor rabidly conservative rednecks!!! I am appalled and deeply offended by the self-righteous stereotyping evident in the posts you’ve quoted here. I was born and raised in the south, have chosen to stay here, and have many friends here who are just as liberal as I am and are proud Democrats–as well as friends who are not. Interestingly, I have friends from other parts of the country who are just as conservative, narrow-minded, religious-right fanatics as anyone here in the south!!!!

  • rossbro

    Vote, Goddammit ! V O T E !!!!!!!!!!

  • James C. Mobley Jr

    I thought you were right on with your article about why the Democrats can not give up the South. I agree that Democrats have been afraid to stand up for what they believe in and contest the lies put forth by the Republicans and the right wing pundits. They need to grow a back bone and fight back. If they really care about people fight for them. They may not win on everything but at least their opponent would know they were in a fight and respect them more.

  • Jim Bean

    I live in the North (PA) but have always loved to recreate in the South and am close enough to do it frequently. I’m going to like it all the more now that they have finally seen the Right down there.

  • RustbeltRick

    Communications is complex, hard work, so don’t think that simply parroting Liz Warren talking points is going to win the day for Democrats in red states. If I’m running for Congress as a Dem in Alabama, it’s not enough for me to say we need an FDR-style New Deal to repair infrastructure; I also need communication machinery behind me to combat the Right’s network of talk radio hosts, Fox News, Koch-sponsored think tanks, attack ads from third-party groups, and an opponent who labels any federal spending as socialism. The reason the Right has won the communications war in the South and much of the Midwest and Southwest is because they have spent decades assembling an impressive communications infrastructure that gets their talking points and their slant out quicker and more effectively than the Left. I would hope the DNC would be working on that, but the results of November show me that we are dreadfully outmatched on messaging and dissemination.

  • SGM

    yes, yes, YES to all of what has been said. I live in alabama and it ticks me off that the democrats in my state have abandon us. this is a state that use to vote for democrats as governor as recently as the 1990’s so it is possible to win down here. we just don’t have any fearless democrats any more. they are afraid to stand by the president and his message and rather than point out all the good he has done, they run or in our case not run for public office.

  • exfl

    Southern states are not totally “red”. South Carolina, where I live right now, is perceived as the ultimate red state, but typically votes 60/40 red/blue. Many so called “blue” states run more like 40/60 red/blue. The differences are not that great. There are two things that keep democrats from doing better in the South: (1) the perception that the party caters entirely to unions and to poor people “dependent on government” and (2) the fact that a proportion of white republicans belong to their party because they perceive it as the “white” party. I am not sure what you can do about the latter, but republicans are vulnerable on their catering to billionaires. Much of the South is made up of non-union workers and small business people who are hurt by republican policies that favor the mega-rich. Democrats have to be seen as advancing the needs of the people in the middle, or they will never get to the point where they can tip these states to be 51/49 blue.

  • eulerckt

    Liberalism has wandered from a belief set that is tolerant and supportive of cultural differences to one of intolerance. My way or the highway. Differences must be rubbed away. Only one belief/behavior set is acceptable. The very basis of a facist dictatorship.

  • Chris Coleman

    It is true that “Neo-Liberals” have just about destroyed the Democratic Party with their “Republican Light” philosophy. When the party fought for the working man and woman and was perceived as such, it was strong. Since the eighties however, it has been in bed with Wall Street in one way or another. A clear example of this is its promoting of job killing programs like NAFTA and the TPP, which benefit the billionaires who control both parties and no one else.
    The other side of the equation is massive election fraud via electronic vote manipulation on the part of Karl Rove and his minions, which no one in the media wants to look into. Since the 2004 Presidential election, when he manipulated the Ohio voting results to 2014, where Rove turned neck and neck senatorial and gubernatorial races into Republican “landslides” with instant electronic manipulation of computerized results, Rove has perfected a massive system of voting fraud. This is on top of all the other dirty tricks that Republican politicians have become so skilled at in obstructing voting rights and registration. Wake up; we no longer live in a Democracy. This is an oligarchy, pure and simple and unless we go back to paper balloting and get the money entirely out of politics, it will remains so.

  • Gene R Long

    Texas could turn blue, the demographics are there. Texas Republicans have very successfully slashed the voting rights of a large chunk of our voting block, just as they have gerrymandered the state into unbreakable Republican districts. Liberal Austin has 5 congressmen, 4 Republicans and 1 Democrat. I live in a district, in between 2 of the largest cities in the nation, and my GOP congressman lives almost 200 miles away, connected by a thread less than a block wide for most of the distance. Wendy Davis runs a lousy campaign for governor, attacking all the wrong issues and hiding any message that could have won. Why run away from Obama? The people that hate him won’t vote for you anyway! If she had made the campaign about the ACA and expanding medicaid in Texas, she could have inspired registration. Progress Texas brought in clueless outsiders to run a campaign, and failed to coordinate with local campaigns, end result, lots of money wasted, big salaries paid, no cohesive message delivered. All the while, progressives patting each other on the back, saying ‘we’re going to go blue this year’, obviously with no real UNIFIED strategy to do that. Texas can turn blue, but only behind a progressive, populist message that will inspire people to fight for their voting rights and register.