‘The Democratic Party is not finished in the South’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With few prognosticators or even partisan Democrats betting on a strong showing in the South for Barack Obama this fall, two key black Democratic figures told Human Events last week that a changing population and a fresh approach to economic issues will, sooner rather than later, make the Democratic Party very competitive in the South once again.
Both Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988, and Jonathan Metcalf, past political director for the Obama presidential campaign in South Carolina and nationally, spelled out just how they expect their party to rebuild itself in a region that has trended strongly Republican for the past generation.
“You’ve got to look at the demographics,” said Metcalf, who got his political start as Jackson’s campus coordinator back in 1988 and was a major operative in Obama’s winning 2008 effort. “The number of retirees and immigrants is growing, and there will be a smaller white constituency (in the South) in the coming years.”
Metcalf also pointed out that young people, black and white, were “absolutely” responding to the Democratic Party and recalled how he brought in 15,000 youthful volunteers for Obama in the critical South Carolina primary four years ago in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.
Separately, Jackson cited “a ‘New South’ that has been created largely by the civil rights marches and then by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which President Johnson got passed through Congress in 1965.” One far-reaching effect of the Voting Rights Act, said Jackson, “is that politics have changed in the South. Jefferson Davis Democrats became Goldwater Republicans and the Lincoln Republicans became Johnson Democrats.”
Both Jackson and Metcalf agreed that a winning tactic on the part of the new Democratic coalition they envision is full-scale combat with the tea party conservatives and their agenda to cut government.
“45 percent of South Carolina’s economy is related to the federal government,” said Jackson, “The interstate highways are federal, and the seaports are federal. This state’s rights talk (about privatizing government programs and outlets) doesn’t stand up.”
Metcalf agreed and specifically pointed to the “talk from the tea party in the South Carolina legislature about getting rid of corporate welfare, or what they call ‘crony capitalism.’ You watch how folks react when they realize that they are talking about state government helping some of our major employers, such as BMW.”
“It’s not the economy per se, but addressing people’s personal economy that will help the Democrats in the South. The party that speaks to that is going to win.”
The former top Obama operative did, however, concede that in South Carolina, the “tea party (is) already very strong, better-organized and better-funded that the civil rights and anti-war movements were at this time in their history.”
As Jackson did in appearing before reporters at the convention’s press center, Metcalf said that Southern Democrats would also weigh in strongly against voter ID laws, such as that in his homestate of South Carolina which is now being challenged in court. In his words, “Politicians used to urge people to vote. Now they want to pick the people who vote.”
Metcalf recalled how Obama “actually carried three Southern states in ’08: (Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia)” and how Vincent Shaheen, a South Carolina Democrat and white, “gave (Republican) Nikki Haley a close race for governor in 2010. These are signs today that the Democratic Party is by no means finished in the South.”