If you’ve ever been moved to wonder why otherwise enlightened liberal intellectuals can be positively dimwitted when it comes the South, you’d have found a pretty powerful clue on the front page of their go-to information source, The New York Times, one week after the election.
On Nov. 4, you may recall, an African-American with a Muslim-based name managed to do what two of the whitest Democrats in recent history, Al Gore and John Kerry, could not: make inroads in Dixie. This wasn’t merely a matter of “unprecedented black turnout.” In the process of winning 55 electoral votes in three former Confederate states, Barack Obama claimed more white votes than Kerry (with his North Carolinian running mate) in all but four Southern states.
To some of us, those results signified two clear things: One, the South will no longer be the exclusive political playground of faux-populist Republicans. Two, a growing number of Anglos in Dixie are willing and able to punch their ballots for not only a Democrat but a Democrat of color.
Which only goes to show, once again, that we just don’t get enough learnin’ down here. Reporting on Nov. 11 from that most representative point on the contemporary Southern map-Vernon, Ala., the 86-percent Caucasian home to 2,143 souls-Times correspondent Adam Nossiter set us straight with a story headlined “For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics.” Nossiter’s key finding: “By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama-supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush-voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, experts say.”
Just in case Nossiter’s “experts”-including Whistling Past Dixie author Thomas Schaller, who’s long advised Democrats to forget about winning votes in the intractably racist, xenophobic and “militaristic” South-looked a tad suspect, the fellow had a map to back him up, highlighting Southern counties where McCain outperformed Bush.
This map made Texas look like a vital constituency for the latest outbreak of white supremacy. And if there were any correlation between geography and votes, there might indeed be cause for alarm.
But a little context, as usual, goes a long way here. While Kerry lost by 23 points in Texas last time, Obama closed the gap to 12. Of course, the fact that he wasn’t running against a Texan has to be factored in. But overall, McCain won 11,000 fewer votes than Bush in rural Texas.
And those blotches of blue? They happen to include the largest and fastest-growing counties in the state, where Obama’s gains were breathtaking: 115,000 more votes than Kerry in Harris County, 87,000 more in Dallas and 64,000 more in Bexar, to name a few.
Meanwhile, the places where Republicans gained ground tended to be small and disproportionately Anglo. Take Loving County, way out west. McCain won exactly two more of the county’s 79 votes than Bush ’04. Very ominous indeed. The only Texas counties with more than 100,000 voters where Republicans did better this time were Galveston-where Hurricane Ike displaced large numbers of Latino and African-American voters (see story on page 8)-and Jefferson, out east, where Obama still carried the county.
The real election-day story in Texas, and most of the South, was that hoary stereotypes of Southern voters are fast going the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Or ought to be. There remain some “experts” and reporters who will apparently cling to those stereotypes until the area they can still identify as “characteristically Southern” shrinks to the size of a walnut. Or the size of Loving County.