Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., pumps his fist as he speaks at a rally in Jacksonville, Fla., on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008. In one small but brilliant maneuver, Obama was able to reverse the trend of Southerners voting Republican that Lyndon Baines Johnson had predicted when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (AP photo/Jae C. Hong)
|A federal marshal reads a court order halting a planned voter registration protest march at Selma, Ala., on March 9, 1965. The order was read after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — standing behind fellow marcher Andrew Young, who has his arms folded — led about 2,000 persons from a church to a bridge over the Alabama River. The strength of Obama’s support in Southern states on Tuesday provides a strong indication that while the journey isn’t over, a new day has dawned in America. (AP photo)
It seems so long ago, back in February, when Barack Obama surprisingly won the Iowa caucuses, that his ability to organize a winning campaign in an overwhelmingly white state was overshadowed a few days later by comments his wife made.
Michelle Obama was in Wisconsin the day she had the nerve to utter words that some conservative critics considered at best un-American, and at worst, heresy.
“For the first time in my adult lifetime,” Michelle Obama said, “I’m really proud of my country.”
No telling what Michelle Obama thinks now, especially about American presidential politics.
After all, she was only talking about Iowa, a state that she predicted would make or break her husband’s candidacy. At the time, national polls showed her husband trailing behind New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination, even among black voters.
But the Iowa primary win pales in comparison to the landslide victory that Obama was able to achieve against the GOP on the national level on Tuesday night.
For the first time in recent memory, a Democratic candidate was able to win the presidency without having a so-called “Southern strategy,” a euphemism made infamous by Richard Nixon for the way politicians sought to placate the racial views of Southern politicians in order to gain the White House.
Conventional political wisdom and calculus required a Southern strategy, largely because the 11 states that seceded from the Union over slavery and fought against the North during the U.S. Civil War had a combined 150 electoral votes. Though 270 are needed to win presidential election, no modern president has been able to win the White House without them.
Obama didn’t win them all, as Bush did in 2000 and 2004. But he won Florida, Virginia and possibly North Carolina — as of the Banner’s deadline, that state was still too close to call.
As it turned out, he didn’t need all 11 anyway. But that was part of Obama Southern strategy — to take the fight of racial inclusion to the GOP heartland of the Southern states. Oh, and to win Ohio and Indiana along the way.
In one small but brilliant maneuver, Obama was able to reverse the trend of Southerners voting Republican that Lyndon Baines Johnson had predicted when he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination.
Before Obama, even Southern Democratic U.S. senators couldn’t win their home states in presidential elections. Al Gore couldn’t win his home state Tennessee in 2000. Nor could vice presidential nominee John Edwards deliver North Carolina for John Kerry during the 2004 election.
That all changed on Tuesday night.
The term “Southern strategy” has entered popular political parlance in recent years, but its use really started with slave owner George Washington. According to historian Kenneth O’Reilly, the nation’s first president started the pattern of placing political calculations over moral principles when he refused to consider a Quaker petition to discuss the injustice of slavery.
It went downhill from there. Abraham Lincoln was an exception — especially in comparison to Andrew Johnson, an avowed racist. But Lincoln, who firmly believed in sending slaves back to Africa, was far from perfect himself.(p2)