Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Demise of the Southern Veto

As a region, the South is more politically isolated right now than at any time since the Civil War. For most of our nation's history, the South has been so disproportionately powerful that the section has wielded a "Southern Veto" over U.S. politics and policy. A brief and admittedly oversimplified history of the Southern Veto over the years would include the following:

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson was forced by delegates from Georgia and South Carolina to remove a clause from the Declaration of Independence condemning the African slave trade.

During the drafting of the Constitution, the Southern states insisted on being allowed to include their slave populations to determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College. The Northern states objected of course, since they had few slaves. To break the impasse, delegates from North and South agreed to count three-fifths of a given state's slave population in determining that state's representation. This shifted the balance of power in the Electoral College to the South in such a way that it routinely swung antebellum presidential elections in favor of candidates that were acceptable to the South.

When the modern Democratic Party organized itself the 1820s, it decided to require a two-thirds majority in order to nominate a presidential candidate. This gave the South an effective veto over any Democratic presidential nominee. For over a century afterwards, the Democratic Party existed as a coalition between Southern slaveholders and segregationists and the big-city machines of the North. Thanks to the two-thirds rule, every Democratic presidential nominee and his platform had to be acceptable to the South.

As a northerner, FDR found his New Deal initiatives severely constrained by the Southern Democrats who controlled key Senate committees. For instance, to get Social Security passed, FDR agreed to exclude agricultural and domestic workers from the program, leaving huge numbers of Southern Blacks out of Social Security entirely.

Other than Obama, the only non-Southern Democrat to be elected President since FDR was JFK. His domestic social agenda, which included civil rights and Medicare, went nowhere until after he was assassinated. His Southern successor LBJ pushed through both initiatives, turning the "Solid South" over to the Republican Party in the process.

Today, with Obama in the White House, the G.O.P. boasts electoral strongholds only in the South and in the sparsely populated Plains states. The Southern Veto, and especially its power over the Democratic Party, appears to have been finally overridden, at least for the time being. For example, there was only one Southerner among the "Gang of Six" centrist Senators in this summer's health care debate: Mary Landrieu from Louisiana. It is instructive that this lone Southern moderate hails from a state with a polyglot, cosmopolitan culture and history that sets it apart from the rest of the South.

Barack Obama is the gravest threat to the political power of the South since Lincoln. Viewed against this backdrop, the current town-hall-birther-deather-teabagger freak-out makes a bit more sense to me.


Anonymous said...

Technically Barak is 'Equitorial'
Hawaii & all. So this North/South Freshman high school history lesson is moot blather. I pay a lot in taxes. I do not want to pay one more penny for a broken government, reguardless of party affiliation. The virus of Washington D.C. has corrupted a great nation to the brink of downfall. You mentioned T.J. How 'bout we actually follow the Constitution & give the rights BACK to the states! You loveable pinko brother of mine

Chris said...

Appreciate the comment, O Bacchus of 42nd Street. It is generally best to avoid speculating on someone's "true" motives for protest. And the Southern angle occurred to me after an extended period of no sleep, which may explain the blather. Still, some of the teabagger signs and slogans are pretty darned wacky.

Mike said...

The population and demographics have changed dramatically in the south since FDR and even JFK. The South has been transformed from its plantation style farming, sparsely populated rural environment to one that is more commercial based. Major cities such as Atlanta, Memphis, Charlotte and Jacksonville have even affected voting outcomes in those states. Also the government's responce to recent events such as Hurricane Katrina has altered alot of opinion in that part of the country.

Chris said...

Good points, Mike, and thanks for the comment! The South is definitely changing, and has been for a long time. Still, I do think that we are nearing the end of the useful life of the GOP's "Southern Strategy."

Post a Comment

HTML Tag Instructions

Bold: To make text bold, tag it as follows:

<b>text you want to appear in bold</b>

Italic: To italicize text, tag it as follows:

<i>text you want to appear in italic</i>

Links: To add clickable links, like say to a Wikipedia article on baseball, tag it as follows:

<a href="">text you want to link from</a>

Related Posts with Thumbnails