Friday, December 27, 2002

Living With Liberals (
The most important electoral fact in the past 40 years has been the conversion of the South from a Democratic to a Republican bastion. Sen. Trent Lott's recent troubles led to a salutary unearthing of the history of that realignment, which was rooted not just in culture and religion but also, and importantly, in the politics of race. That Lott, immediately upon quitting, tried to change the subject back to culture and religion -- he said he always had enemies because he was a Christian from Mississippi -- cannot change history.

But this realignment had the unsurprising effect of Southernizing the Republican Party, both in its leadership and in its policies. The change did not go unnoticed among voters in the Northeast, in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Steadily since 1992, voters of these regions have shifted their allegiances away from the Republican Party. In New York, even formerly Republican strongholds upstate began throwing votes the Democrats' way, allowing Charles E. Schumer and then Hillary Rodham Clinton to win election -- and by large margins -- to the U.S. Senate.

It's worth remembering that Lott was finally forced out not by Democrats (or by non-Christians) but by the leaders of his own party, including the president of the United States. They acted because they are sensitive to Republican weakness in states that voted solidly for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. There were costs to whistling Dixie for so long, and so loudly.

The national Republican Party, of course, will never accommodate the Democrats as much as Michael Bloomberg and George Pataki have. In relative terms, New York is still a pretty liberal place. But Republicans in Washington and elsewhere may learn far more from Bloomberg and Pataki than either conservatives or Democrats would like.

This is the Democratic problem, Republicans win when they mouth the right words, regardless of their actions.

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