Obama's Problems in the South.

Via TPM, Roll Call notes how unpopular President Obama is throughout the South. That has given Bill Clinton a chance to be useful again, since he's a well-known big gun who can come into Southern states and help Democratic campaigns for 2010. That's especially true in Arkansas, where Clinton is still immensely popular and Sen. Blanche Lincoln's re-election campaign is in trouble. 

In the TPM post, Josh Marshall  takes issue with the original Roll Call article, which hesitated to blame Obama's unpopularity on race.

To chime in, the problem with analysts who are reluctant to blame all of Obama's unpopularity among Southern whites on race is that they don't truly understand the nuanced role racism has played -- and continues to play -- in the South. Granted, it's not as though all white people look at Obama and say they dislike everything he does because's he's black. Some whites say they just want a smaller federal government and more local determination in their politics. But this political orientation itself has deep roots in the South's history of slavery.

In the South, ideas about the proper role for the federal government have been intertwined with race since the right to own slaves was a central question in the debate over federal versus state power. Fights over the balance of power from before the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement had everything to do with slavery, segregation, and the economic systems they supported. Even after slavery fell, the political tensions between local and the national government remain. But racism in Southern politics persists as more than a manifestation of historical memory: When Southern whites protest taxes, a lot of it has to do with whom they imagine benefits most from that money. The Republican party has done a really good job of convincing them for a generation that it is "welfare queens" who don't want to work hard.

When progressives try to discuss the role racism plays in the anti-government rhetoric, it's always with the caveat that no one can know what's in a person's heart. But the contents of an individual person's heart doesn't matter: He or she may not even recognize the role race plays in their objections, which can't be separated from history.  The fact is any Democratic president would probably be meeting resistance and anger, but that's also because the Democratic party is associated with helping minority populations and whites in most of the South have switched to the Republican party because of it. Obama's race amplifies the racism, but it's all racism nonetheless. It's just not as straightforward as you'd imagine.

-- Monica Potts

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