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Remember ol' Dixie

One of the quirks of American politics in the '90s was that though power changed hands in Washington a number of times, the region in power remained pretty constant. Washington, as Kevin Drum notes, was almost completely controlled by Southerners: Clinton, Gore, Gingrich, Armey, Lott, Bush, Frist, and DeLay.But in the past few years, Dixie has fallen out of favor in Washington, and fast. A blogger at the Economist -- and could the Economist please let their bloggers sign their names? -- recaps:

In 2006, things started to go wrong. Nancy Pelosi (California) and Harry Reid (Nevada) took over the top jobs in Congress. Then Barack Obama (Illinois) was elected president, and declined to balance his ticket regionally by picking a southerner.

But the Republican leadership shifted too. The party ran two non-southerners for president and vice-president in John McCain and Sarah Palin. The RNC is now run by a black Marylander, Michael Steele. The House minority leader, John Boehner, hails from Ohio. The whip's job has gone to Eric Cantor who, though Virginian, is an atypical southern Republican in being Jewish. Only Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, is the stereotypical white Protestant southerner. His whip and assistant, John Kyl, comes from Arizona.

"I want my country back," has become a conservative-populist rallying cry. They have not truly lost their country, but have seen a wild swing of power north and towards the coasts.

Nor does the Republican South look ready to mount a quick comeback. The major candidates in 2012 look to be an Alaskan (Palin), a Minnesotan (Pawlenty), and a Bay Stater (Romney). Mississippi's Haley Barbour and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal might throw themselves into the mix, but the days when the region dominated either party's politics or seemed crucial to winning the presidency appear to be done.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 5, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
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Posted by: redwards95 | November 5, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Another thing worth noting is that even when the Democrats were in charge of Congress, the committees were overwhelmingly dominated by southerners, because they had seniority.

One of the things that made 2006 such an important shift was that for the first time since the 50s, southerners were not holding the levers of power in Congress (granted, George Mitchell was from Maine and Tip O'Neil was from MA, but the underlying seniority-based power was held by the south almost non-stop for 50 years).

Posted by: constans | November 5, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"but the days when the region ... seemed crucial to winning the presidency appear to be done"

I'd like to see a plausible GOP electoral college map that doesn't include Texas.

(Though, IIRC, Nate Silver did make a bunch of models like that, a few months ago. "Operation Gingo," I believed he called it.)

Posted by: UberMitch | November 5, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Thats "Operating Gringo," here:

Posted by: UberMitch | November 5, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

You left Mike Huckabee out, and I'd all but assume that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee, and more than likely will win the 2012 election.

He'll need a regional counterbalance of someone exactly like Mike Huckabee, so this is a trend which will regress to the mean when Huckabee or someone like him is VP and Eric Cantor becomes House Speaker(though he's Jewish he sounds at least passably southern and that will be enough for that bunch).

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 5, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

As a Southern Protestant slowly recovering in New York, it's been wild to watch the old country wall itself off in irrelevance. Since before the Declaration of Independence the South has occupied a unique and troubled place at the American table.

As the writer ZZ Packer recently noted: "And yet we also can't forget that the solution to the problem -- the sit-ins, the marches, the hope of better days -- began in the South as well. Every other region can jam its fingers in its ears and shake its head and tunelessly chant 'Not in my backyard,' but not so the South. The South *is* the backyard. And as backward as we've been portrayed -- or as backward as we've sometimes betrayed ourselves, slipping behind a curtain of innocent and naive agrarianism, rural somnolence, and sleep everlasting vowels -- the truth is that every awful and beautiful thing that has happened in America happened in the South first."

And at least we didn't give the country Joe Lieberman.

Posted by: scarlota | November 5, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Ridiculous cherry picking. From 1994 to 2006 both Houses of Congress were controlled what was already becoming a regional party, naturally leadership would be Southern. But lets take post-war Speakers:
Sam Rayburn, Texas
John McCormack, Mass
Carl Albert, OK
Tip O'Neill, Mass
James Wright, Tex
Tom Foley, Wash
Newt Gingrich, Ga
Dennis Hastert, Ill.
Nancy Pelosi, Ca
Of these only Gingrich is really from the Heart of Dixie and neither Albert or Wright really met the definition of Dixiecrat.

Democratic Senate Leaders
After Johnson, again not a Dixiecrat, we see a string of states: Montana, Maine, West Virgina, South Dakota,
On the Republican side after Taft of Ohio, we have Calif, Illinois, Penn, Tenn, Kansas before a string post-Gingrich: Miss, Tenn, Kentucky

Senate Appropriations:
Losts of people from the West Coast with Hawaii, Oregan, Washington and Alaska all represented
House Appropriations
Okay you got arch Dixiecrat Whitten of Miss holding the Chair from 1979 to 1993 but otherwise the pattern doesn't hold that well

Obviously there is some validity to the argument but the suggestion that the South actually dominated Congress for a 50 year period is just to stretch the facts a bit. Northerners and Westerners re-elected their reps pretty regularly as well.

I am sure there are Committees dominated by the South for a long period of time, Senate Armed Services was helmed by a whole series of Southern Defense Hawks but even that can be explained as the result of parochial interests due to the large number of military bases in the Southeast rather than some structural lock by the South in Congress overall..

Posted by: BruceWebb | November 5, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse


Why "Cherry picking"? Ezra is talking about the 90s. Who cares about Sam Rayburn and John McCormack?

From '94, when Gingrich took over the House, up through '06, when Pelosi took the Speakership, the House was dominated by Southern leadership. Yes, Hastert was the Speaker, but the common thinking was that DeLay was really the one in charge.

Sure, the South is vital for the GOP. But it's no longer possible to view the region as important for "crucial" for Democrats. If it's crucial for one side only, that means it's not really crucial. And yes, a Democrat would have a very hard time winning the Presidency without California, but you don't see pundits saying that a Californian _must_ be on the ticket.

Posted by: rick_desper | November 5, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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