Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Methinks Fowler Doth Protest Too Much

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 3, 2007

Over at Tapped, Tom Schaller of Whistling Past Dixie fame had a little run-in with DLC royalty the other day:

 At the lobby at the Washington Hilton at the DNC winter meetings, I headed over to a conversation between political columnist Roger Simon and former DNC Chairman Don Fowler of South Carolina. (Not to be confused with Donnie Fowler, his son, who ran for DNC chair in 2004.) I had come over to say hello to Fowler, whom I interviewed a year ago December in Columbia at a South Carolina Democratic Party Dinner.

By pure chance, Fowler was explaining how the Deep South states are fundamentally different from the Outer South states and, consequently, that a Democrat could win the latter in 2008. He started to say, “There’s some book out there saying we can’t do this…” at which point I interjected, “You mean Whistling Past Dixie?” Yes, he said, so I politely introduced myself as the author. Then Big Don lost it.

Looming over me with his long finger pointing at my chest, he called me an “asshole” several times, including “f—ing asshole” at least once. I could hardly get a word in edgewise, especially after my bete noire, Mudcat Saunders, joined in to let Fowler know that he (Saunders) had told me to kiss his rebel ass once. (Apparently, that’s now Mudcat’s claim to fame.)

Fowler’s sole point — he repeated it again and again — is that Democrats have no majorities without the South and no Democrat has ever won the White House without carrying a southern state. I didn’t deny that, because it’s true — if barely so. I tried to point out that Al Gore (New Hampshire) and John Kerry (Ohio) came one state away from doing so. He then claimed that Jim Webb was the decisive victory to give Democrats their Senate majority, as if the other six seats they won in 2006 contributed nothing to that majority.

Methinks Fowler doth protest too much.  This reminds me of Joe Klein’s fit of staged Technicolor public outrage when Jacob Weisberg dared mention the reams of evidence showing Klein wrote Primary Colors.

Things to note:

1) Who was Fowler (and apparently Mudcat as well) chatting with and sucking up to when Tom introduced himself? 

Roger Simon. 

The Republican media cheerleader Roger Simon

The guy who writes for Pajamas Media.  (Yeah, so does David Corn — but Corn’s their token “lie-beral”, picked by them specifically to be used as a weapon against other liberals.)

And then these guys wonder why we don’t trust them?

2) Commenter Nemo said pretty much everything else I wanted to say, but I note that the Schaller-haters are ignoring the points made by Nemo and others — it seems that the two key strategies of Schaller’s most vicious attackers (cough*DavidMizner*cough) are defective reading comprehension and putting words into people’s mouths — so I’ll mention them again:

But what Schaller said is not that Southern Democrats in general are holding the party hostage, just “people like Fowler and Saunders.” People who say the Democrats need to become Republicans Lite in order to appeal to the worst aspects of Southern culture (and rural and suburban culture everywhere).

They’re not just saying that the Democrats can’t win without the South.  They’re saying the Democrats can’t win without talking and acting like Republicans.  That is definitely holding the party hostage.

As Schaller points out, the South contributes very little when the Democrats do win. And as the previous commenter points out, the Republicans controlled the White House almost all the time for 70 years without the South: from the Civil War to the Great Depression.

Guys like Fowler and Saunders are indeed trying to hold the Democratic Party hostage — it’s their bread and butter. They are more powerful in a weak Democratic Party than in a strong party.

3)  The Fifty-State Strategy is not incompatible with honoring core Democratic values.

Schaller’s not saying “Don’t spend any money in the South” (though that’s what Fowler and his fellow travelers want you to think).  He was all in favor of Dr. Dean’s reviving the party structures in places like Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama. 

Schaller’s saying is that Democrats need to stop aping Republicans and Southern/DLC/BlueDog Democratic candidates need to stop hurting the Democratic Party for short-term personal gain by running against the Party’s core values and strongest members.  (How do we win as a party when Southern Democrats use the GOP’s bash-Pelosi/Kennedy/gays/etc. playbook?)

By the way, while the Don and Donnie Fowlers of the world have made their peace with Howard Dean, the Paul Begalas and the James Carvilles, the same guys who claim to be The South’s Bestest Friends Evah, attacked Dean and (in Carville’s and Begala’s cases, anyway) still openly attack him for doing this — even though it paid off dividends by getting more Democrats elected at the local and state levels.  “Being nice to the South” for them apparently means aping Republicans, not beefing up Southern state party organizations. 

3 Responses to “Methinks Fowler Doth Protest Too Much”

  1. Charles said

    I have a different interpretation. My guess is that Don Fowler had had one too many. At his age, one could be one too many.

    He is actually pretty liberal and warm toward Howard Dean. For example,

    Former DNC Chair Don Fowler says [of Carville’s complaints], “This is is nonsense… Democrats won a great victory on November 7; control of the United States House of Representatives, control of the United States Senate, majority of Governors, and majority of state legislative bodies. Governor Dean deserves to continue as DNC Chair.”

    Or this:

    Don Fowler, former state party chair of South Carolina, observed: “Asking Dean to step down now, after last week, is equivalent to asking Eisenhower to resign after the Normandy invasion.”

    Fowler is of the FDR/Truman generation that grew up with the need for alliance between northern liberals and southern and western populists as the central revelation of political life. Granted, many of the southern populists were racists, but many were not. And it’s still true that crucial Democratic Senators come from the South and could be removed if the Democratic Party stumbled: Nelson (FL), Mary Landrieu, and Blanche Lincoln, for example. From the West, seats in New Mexico, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Montana are vulnerable. Even deep blue California can be won statewide by the right Republican. So, in that sense, the people who worry about the ascendance of coastal liberals have a point. There has to be room inside the Democratic Party for three key groups: Catholics and evangelicals, nationalists, and libertarians. The main issues that these represent are abortion both pro-choice and con, defense of middle class living standards, respect for the military and for authority, public displays of religion, gay rights, and guns.

    Collectively, they can swing a significant fraction of the vote. They have various degrees of importance in the south, midwest, and west. They fit within the general Democratic framework. For example, one can point out that unwanted pregnancies and abortions can be reduced by jobs at good wages. No Democrat is against good wages. A lot of Republicans are. That’s the wedge issue that splits them away from the center, while abortion rights tends to split us from the center.

    I think there’s a lot of sense to trying to keep the south in the party. But we may need to negotiate pay for performance– for example, committee chairmanships to those who build state parties.

    As for Roger Simon… all these guys know one another. Washington is one endless schmooze. I would be completely unsurprised to learn that Russ Feingold goes bowling with Virgil Goode. It’s time to elect new Democrats and shake things up.

  2. Oh, the Fowlers have indeed made their peace with Dean, Charles. But Donnie Fowler — backed by his dad — ran a pitched battle, based on what DC insider types were telling them, to keep Dean from becoming DNC Chair in 2005.

    And again, nobody — aside from a few yahoos who I almost suspect of being agents provocateur — is arguing that we kick the south out of the party. What we are arguing (as Nemo points out) is that we stop thinking that acting like Republicans is a winning strategy.

  3. I think there’s a subtle point of misunderstanding here. It’s not a question of thinking or acting like Republicans. It’s a question of celebrating diversity of points of view.

    Each region has its own mental dialect. If you talk to people in their dialect, you can talk about any idea that you like. If you talk a different dialect, they will reject your ideas out of hand.

    Let’s take a simple issue. The Democrats chose as one of their issues in the 1990s the assault weapons ban. The Republicans were able to use that as a wedge issue by persuading people that this was the first step toward taking away everyone’s gun. Clever southern politician that he is, Clinton very publicly went out and hunted. In urban areas, the assault weapons strategy worked well. In rural areas, it provoked backlash. Clinton won two terms, but Democrats were put into the minority.

    But none of this would have been necessary if Democrats had framed the issue differently. If the issue were framed using gun safety instead of registration as the basis for doing the background check, it would have been more palatable. Rural southerners would have had no objection to assault weapons bans inside of cities, where a weapons discharge is far more dangerous than it is in the country. And then there was the issue of criminal gangs involved in the sale and transportation of automatic weapons. Southerners are big on law and order, especially when it doesn’t apply to them personally.

    We think of Clinton as being the master communicator, but he really wasn’t. He never won a majority of votes. For that matter, no Democrat back to 1976 (including Al Gore) has done so in the presidential race, and Carter only by a tenth of a percent. LBJ was the last clean win.

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