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archsegregationist and Strom Thurmond crony who helped mastermind Nixon’s Southern strategy, was roostering about the new “Solid Republican South,” the eleven former Confederate states had already elected 665 blacks to local and state offices. \(Nowadays, more than two-thirds of the nation’s black elected to-progressive governor calling for racial reconciliation and “lift-all-boats” economic reforms. In Florida, young governor Reubin Askew was hailing the emergence of a “humanistic South, which has always been there, just below the surface of racism and despair, struggling for a chance to emerge:’ In Arkansas, Democratic governor Dale Bumpers was promoting a “future … shaped and shared by all Arkansansold and young, black and white, rich and poor.” South Carolina’s new-breed Democratic governor, John C. West, pledged a “color-blind” administration and followed through by immediately appointing a black adviser to a top staff position, a first in that state. “The era of defiance is behind us,” announced Virginia’s new governor, Linwood Holtona moderate Republican, no less. Even Wallace, re-elected in 1970, was whistling a new tunepostelection, of coursethat was most certainly not “Dixie.” Eight years after his “segregation forever” address, Wallace delivered a startlingly different inaugural message: “Our state government is for all, so let us join together, for Alabama belongs to all of usblack and white, young and old, rich and poor alike:’ “We in the South have an exciting opportunity,” wrote Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1972, “to prove that, ultimately, black and white have only one enemy: not each other, but those economic, social, educational, and political conditions which cause and maintain hunger, neglect, bigotry, and disease.” One of the giddiest signs of progress had come in Georgia two years earlier, when voters had replaced Democratic governor Lester Maddox, a clownish Wallace wannabe who had gained statewide fame by chasing blacks away from his fried-chicken restaurant with an axe, with the relatively liberal Jimmy Carter. Carter had run a classic populist campaign, trying his damnedest to shake every hand in the state. In a precursor to his 1976 grassroots presidential campaign, he tallied some 1,800 speeches to small-town civic groups, schools, and agriculture associations, inveighing against Georgia’s entrenched power brokers and big-money interests. Carter made one campaign gesture to the old-line white Democrats, coming out against “forced busing” to integrate schools. But he steered clear of demagoguing on race. And on his inaugural day in 1971, surrounded by monuments to both Confederate soldiers and legendary bigots like Eugene Talmadge \(“The Negro belongs to that echoed across Dixie: “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.” When a near-solid Southall but Virginiapropelled Carter to the presidency in 1976, it looked as though the Democratic dream could, just maybe, become a reality After Carter accepted the nomination, the strains of “We Shall Overcome” echoed around New York’s Madison Square Garden as an unlikely smorgasbord of Democratic luminaries crowded the stage, singing and swaying. Up there with Carter were Coretta Scott King, Ted Kennedy, congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas, andcould it be? Yep, singing right alonga wheelchair-bound George Wallace. Old wounds were binding. Tears were flowing, especially among the Southern delegations. As Time magazine had declared earlier in that first postJim Crow decade, “the region is abandoning the fateful uniqueness that has retarded its development and estranged its people:’ A progressive, post-Jim Crow South, at long last, was announcing its arrival. But Carter’s star-crossed presidency, hampered by stagflation and doomed by Iranian hostage taking, failed to live up to its promise on nearly every count. Carter’s economic policies strayed far from the progressive populism he had championed back home. Rather than reinvigoratingor reinventingthe New Deal spirit that had brought together blacks and whites in office signaled the start of the Democratic Party’s slide toward a feckless, defensive posture of “moderation.” Meanwhile, a right-wing political revival among evangelical Christians was delivering another chunk of traditional Southern Democrats into the Republican camp. There was more than a touch of irony in this, of course, since Carter had been America’s first “born-again” president, a Sunday school teacher throughout his adult life. But the Deep South Baptist lost evangelical votes in droves in 1980 to the Moral Majority’s new hero: Hollywood actor, divorce, former union president, and faithful non-churchgoer Ronald Reagan. The Republicans’ Southern populismwith its exclusive focus on cultural wedges and distractionshad left the Democrats an opening: Translate the South’s economic populist tradition into a forward-looking, class-based politics with broad appeal across the races. And run, as Southern Democrats have continued to do on the state and local levels, on progressive “good-government” issuesbetter schools, better roads, better jobs. While Republicans had latched on to the fearmongering, “watchout-for-Washington” style of traditional Southern populism, the Democrats had a chance to adapt the equally appealing, vote-getting substance of economic populism. Instead, they ran from it. “The party abandoned its New Deal legacy as a positive force for change and hunkered down behind a defensive shield,” lamented journalist John Egerton, author of The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America. “The leaders failed to comprehend that Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson died for their sins, and in so doing freed the Democrats to reclaim their heritage as the fountainhead of egalitarian opportunity.” In 2008 and beyond, Democrats have a historic opportunity to snatch back some of their old Southern turf. Howard Dean and Barack Obama’s 50-state strategies have reanimated moribund party organizations across the South and caught up with Republicans’ long-superior OCTOBER 17, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15