A man without a party

November 18, 1994|By Pat Truly

HERE I AM, all dressed up and nowhere to go. A man without a party. Two years after my hopes were raised by the Democrats -- they threatened to rehabilitate themselves by not nominating another Yankee liberal for president -- I find myself alone again in the political middle.

I was warned. Polls taken before the recent elections indicated that very few white men identified themselves as Democrats. The figure was extremely low for white males in the South. Their granddaddies, of course, were spinning in their graves, but the fact is that a lot of white men believe that it has been open season on white men, and they blame Democrats and minorities in general (even when one minority is women, who are a majority).

Anyway, around here we always had a saying about "yellow dog Democrats" (those who would vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for a Republican). Now we have "yellow dog Republicans."

And now I have no party. Just as the national Democrats once went off on a favorite-cause-of-the-week binge, now the Republicans have gone absolutely bonkers in the other direction, with their holier-than-thou-and-trickle-down bullcorn. There is no place left for a Southern white male of moderate inclination.

I blame most of this on a combination of minority empowerment and air-conditioning.

Nor am I sure that this exodus of Southern whites from the Democrats to the Republicans could have been prevented. It was inevitable, ever since Franklin Roosevelt lured black Americans away from the party of Lincoln, that in the continuum of American political history the "big tent" Democratic Party eventually would take a leading role in trying to make sure that all Americans, and not just white Americans, enjoyed the basic civil rights promised in the Constitution.

And it followed that things would then go beyond that to affirmative action to achieve opportunity for all. As a result, it's hard to find a white person who doesn't know somebody who didn't get a job because "it had to go to a minority." Or a woman. Righting one wrong with another is a chancy game. And that's part of how the Democrats managed to alienate many voters. Bill Clinton seems to have alienated the rest, to his bafflement.

But at first the change to the GOP was hardly noticeable. You still had conservative and moderate white Democrats representing the South. The best of them adapted to serving not only whites but also Southern blacks as they began to vote in large numbers.

Then the Republicans got smart, borrowing the "Southern strategy" of Alabama's George Wallace. They realized there were votes, like pecans, lying on the ground waiting to be picked up by talking about smaller government (which some listeners translated as less government help for minorities). They were aided by the migration of jobs and people (many of them Republicans) from the North to the South, which by then was made more livable by the spread of air-conditioning.

And, finally, a black desire to see more blacks elected became a bonanza for the GOP. Voting rights rulings -- affecting the South but not the North -- led to sure-fire minority-win districts. This meant district lines that segregated black voters from white voters and thus also created lily-white districts that could elect Republicans who could safely ignore black concerns. Ask not for whom the bell tolled. It tolled for Democrats and they helped ring it.

The result: Across the South, state legislatures and House delegations are being Republicanized. Politically, we are almost as separated by race as we were when minorities were prevented from voting. Thanks in part to congressional redistricting and its help to the GOP right wing, there will be almost no black influence in the next Congress (Republicans will ask, "Mfume Who?"). And there may be no place for white moderates in either traditional party.

There should be a lesson there for students of Murphy's Law, political miscalculation and other natural disasters.

Pat Truly is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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