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"Southern Democracy": Can Yellow Dogs and Blue Dogs Rekindle Their Romance?

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Yellow Dog Democrats don't like Blue Dog Democrats!

No warm hugs or sweetly-whispered terms of endearment here.

"DINO!" "GOP-Lite!" "Traitor!" And lately, among other, unprintable expressions of disgust, a hearty round of "Good Riddance!"

In earlier posts, I've commented on the bad blood between Yellow Dogs and Blue Dogs. Now, I'll elaborate on this troubling family feud and its possible impact on the future of Southern Democracy.

Background on Southern party pedigree.

The term "Yellow Dog" is an honorific reference to faithful partisans who would vote for a yellow dog before pulling the Republican lever. It goes back to the blind allegiance of the Solid South to the Democratic Party after the Civil War; and it is reserved today for unabashed champions of progressive politics. By comparison, the "Blue Dogs" are a relatively recent incarnation who practice moderate-to-conservative politics, much to the consternation of the party core.

Yellow Dogs consider themselves the heart and soul of the Democratic Party in every Southern state. They believe in the old-fashioned party religion; and they are convinced that loud-and-proud optimism is the recovery formula for Southern Democracy.

Perhaps Southern Democrats can pull off an amazing comeback in the next few elections by proclaiming a clear progressive message, energizing their grassroots, and getting some help from GOP mistakes. And certain situations in some locales will advantage Democrats. But, as stated in my last post, I'm not sure whether either approach will work in the immediate environment; I suspect that most situational dynamics throughout the region will prove adverse to rapid recovery.

As you can probably guess, I'm especially concerned about the lingering and permanent wounds from Election 2010.

A dog-family purge.

Election 2010 was a drastic and ironic development for Southern Democracy; and Republicans weren't the only partisans rejoicing in the GOP tsunami that swept the South that year.

In earlier times, many Yellow Dogs and Blue Dogs got along fairly well. It never was a torrid love affair; you might describe it as a functional fling. However, the loyalists eventually soured on the relationship; and their attitude has shifted toward outright contempt over the past few years.

While it is arguable about whether the soured relationship impacted campaign support, the Republican wave on election day was also cheered -- less boisterously but just as gleefully -- by much of the Democratic Party core in the South. Throughout the region, progressive activists, journalists, and bloggers openly proclaimed their "Good Riddance" to vanquished politicians who had waved the moderate or conservative banner despite the "D" behind their name.

So a central question today is whether Yellow Dogs and Blue Dogs can repair their relationship.

Rekindling puppy love.

Of course, this is more than an issue of simple romancing.

The hitch is that there are few Blue Dogs left out there to be wooed. Election 2010 purged moderate-to-conservative Democrats at all levels in the South.

Take the Congressional Blue Dogs, for example. Just a couple years ago, there were 54 members of the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition, mainly from the South and a powerful presence in the U.S. House. Now, only 25 remain. And it gets worse; a few are retiring and a handful face difficult campaigns. The ranks of Blue Dogs in Washington could be very, very slim next year.

Patterns are similar at state and local levels throughout the South. These moderate-to-conservative officials fell like flies in 2010; and the Democratic Party now faces Election 2012 relatively lacking in experienced, effective, incumbent politicians.

Moreover, it may be difficult for Democrats to recruit new, electable candidates of this persuasion into their camp in the future. Many officials and wanna-be politicians remember the purge and sense the lingering enmity; and they may not be interested in such prickly relationships.

Can Southern Democracy survive this feud?

I firmly believe that it takes both Yellow Dogs and Blue Dogs for Democrats to win in most Southern elections; and relatively liberal and relatively conservative partisans worked together in the past. But I'm not sure the contemporary problem can be fixed quickly or effectively.

Moreover, this doggy discord is not the only troubling item on the regional party agenda. Just as volatile is a possible challenge from the national party that could derail any hopes for the resurgence of Southern Democracy.

Will national Democrats dump the white working class in Election 2012? That's the topic for my next post.

Author's Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts about the future of the Democratic Party in the South.

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