The South's political identity is in crisis, writes George Packer in the New Yorker.
Packer argues that for many decades, southern presidents dominated American politics and the South represented a kind of 'real' American identity -- but now the South appears to be losing influence on Washington and the rest of the country.
The Southernization of American life was an expression of the great turn away from the centralized liberalism that had governed the country from the Presidencies of F.D.R. to Nixon. Every President elected between 1976 and 2004 was, by birth or by choice, a Southerner, except Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed a sort of honorary status. (When he began the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, scene of the murder, in 1964, of three civil-rights workers, many Southerners heard it as a dog whistle.) A Southern accent, once thought quaint or even backward, became an emblem of American authenticity, a political trump card. It was a truism that no Democrat could win the White House unless he spoke with a drawl.
Now the South is becoming isolated again. Every demographic and political trend that helped to reelect Barack Obama runs counter to the region's self-definition: the emergence of a younger, more diverse, more secular electorate, with a libertarian bias on social issues and immigration; the decline of the exurban life style, following the housing bust; the class politics, anathema to pro-business Southerners, that rose with the recession; the end of America's protracted wars, with cuts in military spending bound to come. The Solid South speaks less and less for America and more and more for itself alone.
Guests on The Daily Circuit on Thursday, Jan. 24 are David Woodard, a professor of political science at Clemson University and author of "The New Southern Politics," and Thomas Schaller, an associate professor of political science at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South."