Naturally, and what explains entirely their party’s fading significance in Louisiana, leading state Democrats and their fellow travelers have no clue as to why they have become the minority party in the state, possibly permanently. Allow me to assist them in their understanding.
The legacy media finally are starting to notice the profound shift in demographics in both the base and in the elected officials among Louisiana Democrats, and one such outlet went to a number of individuals to ask how the party had gotten to where it is and what it could do about it. Most whiffed entirely, believing in a “magic bullet” candidacy, that if you could just find a “moderate” candidate that could appeal to whites and blacks on issues, then problems would be solved.
To believe this shows no understanding of why Democrats prospered in the state, nor its political history and culture. Louisiana abandoned Democrats later than most southern states, who did so because of the fundamental disconnection between social and economic issues. Historically, southerners were conservative on the former, but, being from the poorest region of the country from its beginnings, always were the most enthusiastic of all regions about the use of government to redistribute wealth their way. So long as Southern Democrats could present a conservative social front but liberal economic policies favored by white voters, it could control the South.
But the disconnection emerged beginning first with national Democrats taking up civil rights, which made white Southerners question the party. Still, it wasn’t until at the national level Democrats launched into a liberal social agenda – pro-abortion, expanding criminal rights while attenuating gun ownership, sexual permissiveness, downplaying if not becoming outright hostile to organized Christianity, and the like – that widespread conversion of voters to Republicanism began happening.
However, and especially in Louisiana, holding back enough conversion to threaten the party’s majority status was the populist persuasion. As long as elected Democrats could frame the economic debate in terms of “us vs. them,” dividing rather than uniting, enough lower- and middle-class voters could be convinced redistribution was necessary despite their growing wariness of its social values. That Louisiana had turned to this in the 1930s (after a flirtation with it just before the 20th century commenced) all the more ingrained it into the state’s political culture.
The reversal began when conservative economic ideas, validated by the superior economic performance compared to liberalism’s prescriptions tried beginning in the 1960s, in the 1980s began to gain wider explanation and understanding. More and more of the lower and especially middle class began understanding policy that did not concentrate on division but instead on creating optimal conditions for all to succeed to the best of their abilities and rewarding them in proportion to their contribution to society promised the fairest and most lucrative future. Increasingly they saw national Democrats as plunderers rewarding key constituencies where adherence to values of hard work, thrift, and self-reliance were lacking, groups who claimed they were exempt from this creed because of victim status blamed upon conspiracies for which evidence seemed lacking, if not manufactured and self-serving.
As national Democrats became progressively more enthralled with the politics of division that fuel liberalism, state Democrats not longer could hide from the consequences as it became clearer to Louisianans that not only had Democrats generally abandoned social conservatism, but also their advocacy of economic liberalism no longer was an advantage. In some constituencies, those who credibly could switch to the GOP began doing so; some of those who could not found themselves defeated or forced into retirement.
What these Democrats and their fellow travelers solicited for their views do not understand is you cannot square the circle. For decades the party was able to run a confidence game, which, like all such endeavors, fails when the intended victims get too much information. Voters in the main now have come to this point of sufficiency of information, not just because of national forces but because of national policy.
Together, these showed not only the lack of congruity between the majority’s issue preferences in Louisiana and Democrats but also, through general economic advancement in part caused by successful Republican policy, created greater capacity for being able to distinguish between Democrats’ and Republicans’ issue preferences and to understand the Democrat emperor on policy matters of importance had no clothes – especially as more and more voters realize they won’t be the beneficiaries of redistribution, but its victims. The blindfold is off now, and no matter how wealthy, attractive, or glib a Democrat candidate will be, enough voters now have the capacity not to be fooled into putting it back on.
Some, however, argue Democrats ought to purify themselves, especially as liberal black leadership ascends electorally even as the party remains ossified with a white leadership that has paid little attention to the black liberal wing other than taking it for granted. (In fact, one such white party official who used to send me intemperate notes about my posts explaining why Democrats were failing electorally in the state, who advocated for a more purely liberal party by likening the party to a ship and recent elected defectors as rats leaving it making it easier to steer, recently himself became a different breed of rat who jumped ship for a similar job in a place where Democrats command an overwhelming majority.) But while these observers have a better understanding of the dynamics involved, their strategy rests on an untenable assumption in some ways similar to the others – that persuasion can bring them victory.
Here, the persuasion is not so much on the personal characteristics of the candidate, but is based on ideology. A purer party, they think, won’t have a muddled message and therefore makes the liberalism to be preached more convincing. Yet they fail to realize that, at an intellectual level, data, history, and right reason demonstrate that conservatism has far more validity in explaining how the world works than does liberalism. So when you have knowledgeable conservative candidates who can translate well their philosophy into clear preferences, open-minded voters who can think for themselves disproportionately will gravitate to that candidate – and that kind of voter increasingly is becoming common in Louisiana.
After all, this isn’t 50 years ago, where all a Louisiana Democrat had to do was promise a bunch of goodies that others would pay for while asserting he was a good Christian and against federal government interference in Southern society to win elections, and the electorate would buy it. The nature of the electorate today demands he has to explain why government should take more of the money you earn to pay for many things to which you don’t see a lot of value and for programs that encourage people to be takers rather than makers of wealth, and also why government gets to tell you how to live your life in a number of ways yet lets others impose their values on you and others. And when a Republican tells you how government should get out of your life, except to provide aid to the most vulnerable and to those truly needing help, and not force you through money or tolerance to subsidize lifestyles and bad choices of others, you can see where a majority of Louisianans, taking the culture as it is, will pledge their voting fealty.
In short, to explain how Democrats have put themselves into this predicament, it’s the issues, stupid. And thus the only way they can reverse this slide is if Republicans prove unwilling to pursue conservatism and/or succumb to corruption, to allow them an opening to make a big move to the center and hold themselves out as the party you can trust to do what you want. Better personalities can’t change the losing message, and purifying a losing message makes it even less persuasive. When you have unilaterally disarmed yourself ideologically, waiting for the opposition to make mistakes is about all you can do.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 07:45