Readers argued with me about this during the Democratic primary, but I maintained then that I thought it would be very difficult for a non-Southern Democratic candidate to get any southern state, and that without any of the South it would be difficult to win the election.
Since Jack Kennedy was shot in 1963, all successful Democratic presidential candidates have been southerners: Johnson, Carter, Clinton.
This is because image and marketing matter more in US presidential elections than substance, and white male southerners just mostly are only going to vote for one of their own.
My family has roots in Virginia and I apologize about this, but Virginia is just not going to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008, unless Bush has so driven the country into the ground that Americans want anything but a Republican.
The Democrats need to find a southern governor with a southern accent who is a Baptist. (I don’t mean the Deep South. Its upper stretches are more malleable).
They also need to start defusing deadly cultural and “moral” issues that have been so effective for the Republicans. And they need to be sly about it.
For instance, a lot of Democrats would like to see gay marriage or at least civil gay unions passed into law. This is a matter of equity, since gay partners can’t even get into a hospital to see an ill partner because hospitals limit visits to close family.
This issue scares the bejesus out of the red states.
But if Democrats were sly, there is a way out. The Baptist southern presidential candidate should start a campaign to get the goddamn Federal and state governments out of the marriage business. It has to be framed that way. Marriage should be a faith-based institution and we should turn it over to the churches. If someone doesn’t want to be married in a church, then the state government can offer them a legal civil contract (this is a better name for it than civil union). That’s not a marriage and the candidate could solemnly observe that they are taking their salvation in their own hands if they go that route, but that is their business. But marriage is sacred and the churches should be in charge of it.
If you succeeded in getting the government out of the marriage business, then the whole issue would collapse on the Republicans. You appeal to populist sentiments against the Feds and to the long Baptist tradition of support for the US first amendment enshrining separation of religion and state.
But the final result would be to depoliticize gay marriage, because the Federal government wouldn’t be the arena for arguing about it. If states didn’t marry people, then there wouldn’t be any point in arguing about it in Congress. The states could offer gays the same civil contract status as it offers straight people who want to shack up legally but without the sanction of a church. As for gays who wanted a church marriage, that would be between them and their church (remember, the government is not in the business, but would go on recognizing church-performed marriages as equivalent legally to the civil contract). The Unitarian Universalists could arrange it for them. The red states’ populations can be hostile to the UUists all they like, it wouldn’t translate into a victory at the polls for a Republican president.
The final outcome would be both more progressive (the government should not in fact be solemnizing a religioius ceremony like marriage) and also advantageous to the Democrats, and it would leave gays actually better off.
There are other such strategies that could be adopted. But it seems clear. In 2008, the Democrats have to find a way to get back a couple of big red states. They can’t do that unless they find canny ways to defuse the cultural issues the Republicans have been deploying so effectively.
And actually they don’t need to win entire states. In Ohio, it would probably be a matter of a few counties. Why don’t the Democrats have county data bases as good as Karl Rove’s?