President-Elect Barack Obama: an End to the GOP’s Southern Strategy

After nearly four decades, the Democrats have overcome the Southern Strategy.

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President-elect Barack Obama's win is so cataclysmically historic one knows not where to begin. First, his victory signifies the death of the Old South and President Nixon's infamous "Southern Strategy," which the GOP has used successfully for almost four decades to win presidential elections:

When President Lyndon B. Johnson championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some Republican strategists saw a potential bonanza in the South. They thought their party could reap the votes of white people uneasy with Democrats, or downright hostile to them, for advancing the cause of black people.

Does it mean racism is dead in America? Not quite, but it's certainly on life support. It means what former Sen. George Allen and later McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer referred to as the "real Virginia" (in which Virginia politics was dominated by the state's conservative southern region) has been replaced. This southern revolution is driven by the politics of liberal northerners from outside the state who have flocked in great numbers to the Washington, D.C., suburbs known as Northern Virginia and who now dominate state politics. The same is true all over the South, including North Carolina, where in Raleigh, the third-fastest-growing city in the United States (home to former archconservative Sen. Jesse Helms), Republicans find themselves outnumbered by northeasterners moving in in droves.

It also means Americans will finally have the chance to figure out what President-elect Obama means by his two campaign slogans: first, "Change We Can Believe In," later tweaked to read, "The Change We Need."

Sen. John McCain argued unsuccessfully that Obama's version of change meant a reversion to 1960s and '70s-style liberalism—or, in the phrase made famous by former President Ronald Reagan, "tax and spend" liberalism. Obama promised scores of new federal programs including an effort as large as FDR's public works program that pulled the country out of the Great Depression. He also promised not to raise taxes on 95 percent of American workers. It will be impossible for Obama to fulfill all those promises. So politics watchers will be scrutinizing him to see which ones he fulfills and which ones he breaks.

Meanwhile, the GOP needs to go back, lick its wounds, and reconfigure. My hunch is the Christian conservatives who've had a lock on the party's policies for the past eight years need to give up control to moderate Republicans. The GOP needs to revisit the "Big Tent" vision of the late Lee Atwater or be strangled by the current leaders who envision a return to the Old South. It's not happening.

  • Click here to read more by Bonnie Erbe.
  • Click here to read more about Campaign 2008.