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01 April 2005

"Southern strategy for Feingold" -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

I had known he was planning to go back to Alabama, but when I read this, I remembered again why I wanted Russ Feingold to be the president.

Highlights, of course:
Along with jobs and health care, he repeatedly brought up the deficit and trade, suggesting both issues could be used to win back conservative and blue collar voters upset by the nation's growing debt or the loss of jobs overseas. He argued that the environment could be a winning issue in red states, especially if Democrats linked it to hunting and fishing and conservation, something John Kerry sought with mixed success to do in 2004.

The notion that the national Democratic Party is culturally out of step with most Southern voters was an unsurprising but constant refrain among Feingold's hosts during the trip. One Democratic activist who met with Feingold summed up the problem as the "heart" issues, or "God, guns and gays."

Culture and values trump economics and issues, many Alabamians told Feingold.

"This is the Bible Belt part of the nation," said Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon, Feingold's host for a day.

"They're not going to vote for you because they agree with you. They're going to vote for you because you understand them," said University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Larry Powell, who came to hear Feingold speak.

Some of this we've all heard before. How red states vote against their economic interests in favor of cultural and social views they agree with. But here's the thing: no matter how often I've heard that said, until Sen. Feingold went on this trip, I hadn't heard of any Democratic politicians who had made a real effort in understanding this divide. We can't just say, "Oh, well, that's how they make their decisions, so let's just write off Alabama etc." Instead, we need to do exactly what Feingold is doing, which is actually listening to the concerns of those who don't feel represented by the Democratic Party.

I'm certain that if "God, guns, and gays" hadn't been involved in 2004, Kerry would have won in a landslide. Unfortunately, we got bogged down by this stuff, and the issues that we, as progressives, view as important were ignored while cultural issues were argued. Feingold, by searching for common ground with others, may be able to neutralize these issues come 2008.

The article continued...
Throughout the trip, he criticized the tone of Bush's harshest critics, saying that "some of the language I heard Democrats use was very bad. . . . Don't say, 'I hate the president.' Don't say things like, 'We need regime change in the United States.' "
Here, I'll come out and admit, I too am at fault. Not here, but on other blogs or in other mediums, I've said some rather harsh things about the people of this administration. Unfortunately, the more of that we do, the harder it is to convince those who voted for President Bush last time that maybe they should vote for someone else next time. While I think the Republican leadership, from Newt Gingrich to Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, are primarily to blame, we also helped to create the division and tense political atmosphere we have today.

2008 is a unique opportunity, because there will be no one from the current administration running for president, with Cheney stating that he's not interested. It won't be a referendum on the incumbent or the challenger, because there won't be an incumbent or a challenger. So we've got to stop attacking Bush and start attacking bad ideas presented by his party.

Obviously, I like reading most articles about Sen. Feingold, since nearly all at this point have been positive (and I've been saving them to use in response when the slanderous attacks come). However, this article says a lot that I've been thinking and been unable to articulate. We think of Michigan as a blue-leaning battlegound state, which would never turn red for an extreme conservative like President Bush or Sen. Frist. But many forget, in the last election 48 percent of voters chose President Bush, which is a higher amount than most expect. Independents in Michigan were split 49-47, barely in favor of Sen. Kerry. We aren't as blue as we think.

Most people outside the state (and, sadly, some in the state) forget that there's a lot to it outside of metro Detroit. I live in Lenawee County, where Bush received 55 percent of the votes, a sizable majority. Lenawee County, in some ways, is more like the south than the north that we're in the middle of. My hometown-- the second largest in the county-- has about 8,000 people in it. Outside the city limits, you see a lot of farm fields, a lot of farm equipment, and housing developments creaping outward, as property prices in Ann Arbor and the Detroit area rise. Here, "liberal" is a bad word and Democrats get elected if they're conservative, "pro-life" Democrats. And, of course, "God, guns, and gays" sums up a lot of people's opinions too.

Sen. Feingold's trip might not swing Alabama into the blue state column. But the ideas and strategies it generates can help solidify Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, and maybe flip Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, West Virginia, and others. It's not a "Southern strategy," it's a rural strategy. No, more than that: it's an American strategy.


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