Skip to main content
ABC News
Healthcare Goes South

I try to raise non-southern strategy arguments from Whistling Past Dixie as infrequently as possible. But blame this post on two colleagues, each of whom sent me a recent link about healthcare and the South I now feel compelled to mention in tandem.

The first was from Chris Kromm. Chris is executive director of the venerable Institute for Southern Studies. Although we have had some public disagreements about whether Democrats should invest resources to win elections in the South–you can intuit his position if you know mine–he does not hesitate to report and opine about how decisions made in the South or by southern politicians affect the progressive movement, of which he is a key leader in the region.

Here is an excerpt from his recent analysis of the votes on healthcare reform:

…whether or not HR 3590 should be put on the same level as, say, the Civil Rights Act, one point is indisputable: Yesterday, as in 1964, the South ended up on the wrong side of history.

The numbers tell the story:

*Out of 140 House members in 13 Southern states, only 31% voted “aye” to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which passed 219-212.

*Only one Southern state had a majority of its House delegation vote on the winning side: West Virginia (two out of three).

*Two Southern states–Alabama and Louisiana–had zero “yes” votes; Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi each only had one representative voting with the majority.

The reluctance to embrace reform included Southern Democrats, whose stubborn opposition–and vacillation–gave [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and the White House fits in their frantic push to secure votes last week.

Overall, 70% of Democrats hailing from Southern states voted for reform, delivering 43 votes crucial to the bill’s passage.

But it was a shortage of votes from Southern Democrats that put the bill in jeopardy, forcing Democratic leaders into last-minute negotiations to win over abortion opponents led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan.

Maybe those Southern legislators were listening to economists in their respective states/region?

That may sound silly, but this blog post, sent to me by a journalist friend, is an analysis by Menzie Chinn of Econbrowser of the regional breakdown in public positions taken by university or think tank economists on reform. Same pattern.

For those unfamiliar, my argument has never been that Democrats should try to lose seats in the South or aim for a de-southernized coalition. And, of course, African American and Hispanic Democrats in the South vote pretty reliably with the majority and/or for progressive legislation. My point is only that if Democrats had a majority coalition of, say, 250 seats, they’d want the share of those seats from the non-South to be as large as possible–and for precisely the problems of coalition-building and stalemate Chris talks about.

My related point is also that a non-southern majority is more likely to survive a political downturn for Democrats. I will be writing about that at some later point–and we will get a key test of that proposition this November.