Sunday, March 05, 2006

How the South Was Won

For all its importance, though, the story of how the Democrats lost the South is also one of the least examined-partly because so many people seem to agree on what caused it. For most, it boils down to one word: race.

After World War II, the story goes, the national Democratic Party began to embrace civil rights, alienating racist Southern whites. Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy had made initial forays into pro-civil rights politics, but it was Lyndon Johnson who supposedly forfeited the region to the Republicans by signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Legend has it that as he put down his pen Johnson told an aide, ''We have lost the South for a generation." According to the conventional wisdom, that's exactly what happened, as white voters were soon gobbled up by Nixon's racially coded ''Southern strategy."

But a new book by a pair of political scientists aims to stand that conventional wisdom on its head. ''The End of Southern Exceptionalism" (Harvard), by Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia and Byron Shafer of Wisconsin, argues that it was economics, not race, that upended the Southern apple cart. As the South boomed and Sunbelt cities added millions of suburban residents, they argue, its burgeoning middle classes naturally tilted to the Republicans' fiscal conservatism, which promised tax cuts and smaller government programs.

Those excerpts are from an article by Clay Risen in today's Boston Globe. (If the extra work reader DavidU put me through worked, you should be able to click the title and read the rest in a new window)

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