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Southern Revival: The Coming New Democratic South

Posted: 10/23/2012 5:53 pm

Now that the dust from the Convention has settled, the buttons and papers stored away, and we have debates under our belts, we can ask ourselves at a slight remove: are there any long term implications from the "Charlotte Convention Bounce" for a New Democratic South?

The answer (spoiler alert) is "Yes, absolutely." The debates and the election itself will be topical, but the long term implications for the South of the Charlotte Convention will remain signal.

What Charlotte was.... To paraphrase North Carolina's dearly departed Andy Griffith,"What it was ... was Revival." If Southern Democrats went to the sacred mall in Washington in January of 2009, they came home to revival in Charlotte in September of 2012.

The face of the Charlotte Convention was the face of joy -- joy in the gathering, joy in diversity (just look at how North Carolina's folks were seated and the looks on their faces), and joy in the speeches (Mayor Castro is a joyous man, to be sure). Charlotte itself was smiling, vital, and solidly Democratic. Tampa's vitality was expressed in its Democratic mayor in welcoming the GOP to his city -- but the joy was over-shadowed by the Republican message.

If the rah-rah symbol of the Democrats was a fired up Governor Jennifer Granholm, showing that Phi Beta Kappa status is not a bar to high spirits, the symbol of Tampa was a droll Dirty Harry showing that an empty chair is the best straight man for the last Rugged Individualist. Duval Patrick is face forward; Marco Rubio is face backward.

What Charlotte was not. The Charlotte Convention was not an exercise in character assassination. Democrats even gave applause to Gov. Romney for being generous to his church.

Not that there was not an array of strong Democratic personalities: the women of the Senate (soon to be joined by Elizabeth Warren) and of the House were dynamic and forceful. The vignettes, particularly of women persevering through poor pay, military injury, and the challenges of health services before Obamacare, were inspiring.

The Charlotte contrast was between ideas: Romney's "holding on" vs. Obama's "moving forward." Professor Clinton made the contrast clear, Coach Biden symbolized the resolve and fortitude and President Obama voiced the vision.

The First Debate Confirms the Convention Images. There are at least three messages from the Romney debate performance:

First: product redesign. As a "turnaround" specialist in business, Gov. Romney knows that his own candidacy, as a product, needed to be redesigned to adapt to a market that was rejecting his candidacy. This he did, with great intensity, during the debate. This type of radical re-design is a pattern for Governor Romney. But "redesign" in politics suggests lack of conviction.

Second: selling of self instead of product. A wily used car salesman learns to sell himself so strongly that the customer will pay no attention to the car --self-promotion. Self-promotion is not really playing by the rules, but it makes quick sales. Honest, painful, complicated answers are just not as much fun as glitz -- saying "Trust me" is a lot easier to sell than "trust yourself" when times are hard. But if the "me" is caught misleading, he loses credibility.

Third: KISS -- keep it short and simple. Short answers connote confidence. Complicated answers beg more questions. But multi-faceted problems require multi-faceted approaches. Time reveals the need for complete answers, and not merely short answers.

The Charlotte Convention maintains the product line without redesign, focused on the product instead of the salesperson, and showed that the arithmetic worked for the Democratic approach. Not as glitzy, not as good for a "quick sale", but true to self and comfortable with being studied and tested - good things for an honest presentation.

What Charlotte symbolized. Honest connection. We live in an increasingly interdependent society, polity and economy that has to move forward to do well. We need a muscular, American-made new car that gets great mileage, not a fancy used car that guzzles gas. We need honesty in our strengths and where we can improve.

The honest connectedness was evident in the faces in the hall and on the stage -- the Democratic Party looks like America because it personifies an optimistic America. If you're going to bet against America, get lots of points because America always beats the spread. Obama bet on GM and the GM workers for all the right reasons.

The old-style "Company Man" ideal symbolized by Gov. Romney, and in North Carolina by former Charlotte Mayor McCrory, works no better in this rapid transition, multiple employer world than the Dirty Harry model works in law enforcement or on the national political stage.

Romney and McCrory are "Old South" with the stereotypical Mill Owner's disdain of workers and fervant desire to keep things just as they are -- "holding on" as opposed to "moving forward."

Moving forward means that voters don't have to pass literacy tests, own property, or have a government ID to vote any more - regardless of the Old South Tea Party's genuine desire to turn back the clock one hundred years and limit the franchise.

2012, under-36 voters and North Carolina -- coming late to the party. The "party" starts in North Carolina on October 18 with Early Voting -- the youth vote, which is patently non-institutional and which made so much difference in North Carolina in 2008, is just now waking up to what's at stake in this election, taking advantage of registration opportunities offered, and getting ready to go out and vote.

For "Company Men" like Romney and McCrory, serving on a board, for instance of Habitat for Humanity, is what its all about. For the under-36 crowd, going out and swinging a hammer, i.e. voting, is what it is all about.

Under-36 voters don't answer land-lines, don't answer pollsters, and have to be over-sampled to hit the demographic marks for a representational poll -- the institutional younger voters that do have land lines and answer pollsters tend to be more cautious i.e. Republican. Just looking at the demographics for the CNN flash poll immediately after the first debate shows that Republicans will answer the phone and the questions more than Democrats -- that is why the sample was skewed and why better polls in days following were more reflective of the lasting impact of Romney's radical self-redesign.

In the real world of voters, if the Obama driven registration drives' numbers are any indication, look for a surge in Early Voting in NC, as in other Southern States, to boost Democrats' numbers. It is folks coming late to the party, but voting early because they can schedule voting easier. Republicans love mail-in absentee voting because it is easier -- but it is also more susceptible to manipulation. The Tea Party in North Carolina, through its primary corporate sponsors, is processing absentee ballot applications that it solicits. Democrats favor early voting because it is face to face and less susceptible to fraud.

The "why" of under-36 support for Democrats is fairly obvious: GOP enmity toward gays is weird, GOP abandonment of public education is antithetical to American prosperity and cuts at the ability of younger voters to ever get ahead, and GOP dedication to health insurance company practices is absurd.

There has been no significant movement to Romney from the first debate because younger voters know that glitzy redesign and self-promotion will not grow the economy, educate their children, provide for their parents or for empower themselves economically or personally.

The core of the Romney-McCrory philosophy of self-promotion rings as hollowly to under-36 voters as it does to Hispanic and African-American voters. As the 70's song puts it "Smiling faces sometimes they don't tell the truth."

2012 -- helping our unbelief. 2012 pits the competing American principles of interdependence and individual liberty against each other as E.J. Dionne points out so well. The challenge for America's future is achieving a balance between the two, but a political world of polarizing partisan Congressional and State Legislative seats is not conducive to finding any middle ground.

It is as though we are collectively imploring our leaders, as any Southern Bible Belt person would recognize from Mark 9:24, saying "I believe (in America), help my unbelief."

The "Old South," "Company Man," just-hang-on-to-what-we-got ideas of the GOP stand in stark contrast to the joy and zeal evidenced in Charlotte at the Democratic Convention -- the Charlotte crowd and the Charlotte speakers helped assuage our lingering FoxNews-inspired doubts in America and helped our unbelief.

The "New Democratic South," in all its many faces and origins and hopes, genuinely believes in a new, dynamic, successful America -- that may be the lesson from Charlotte: belief in America and belief in a New Democratic South. The people so well represented in the Charlotte Convention have no desire to be in Romney's ballyhooed 47 percent -- they want to make enough money to pay their fair share into the community chest.

Going Forward. The implications of the Charlotte, New Democratic South will likely be event greater in 2014 and 2016 than in 2012. As nascent groups like Blue South and Project New America gather steam and learn from 2012, they will combine with a continually shifting demographic to bring increased Democratic victories across the South.

The GOP's attempts to restrict the franchise will fail and the more organic leadership models of the Democratic New South will prevail. In stark contrast to a quick-sale artist's pitch, North Carolina's transition will not be slick or smooth, but it is inevitable and will be lasting.

And that is the real "Charlotte Bounce."

 
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