By Matthew Tyson
Beginning in the 1960’s, the Southern Strategy brought about a war between the Republican and Democratic parties in Alabama. That war dragged on for decades. Then, in the early part of the 21st century, the GOP took down Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and clinched a Republican-controlled State House and Senate for the first time in over a century.
The effects of that victory are still very prevalent today. The chances of a Democrat unseating a Republican in any election is highly unlikely. And while certain events—such as the recent turnout to Bernie Sander’s rally in Birmingham—offer some hope for the future, Alabama is, for now, as red as the day is long.
Being a Democrat in Alabama is rough. I should know. As both a proud Alabamian and staunch Democrat, I’ve dealt firsthand with the frustration of living in such a divided house. Thanks to the burning rhetoric and idealism of the right, Democrats in the Heart of Dixie might as well be card-carrying communists.
The GOP has so successfully predicated us as big government, freedom-haters that we can’t even have a constructive conversation without the dark cloud of presumption hanging over our heads. And worst of all, we’ve been forced to sit and watch as two decades of total Republican leadership have pushed Alabama even deeper into economic turmoil.
Alabama is consistently ranked at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to healthcare, education, poverty, and unemployment. Our prisons are overcrowded. Our jobless rate is higher than the national average. And our economy is circling the drain.
All this under the watch of the GOP.
Part of the problem is that the Republicans in this State run entirely off idealism, and whatever doesn’t fit into the red state narrative is ignored. Initiatives that could help the people of Alabama, such as expanding Medicaid under the ACA or actually investing in infrastructure, aren’t even up for discussion due entirely to deeply held partisan “convictions”.
We have thousands of uninsured, unemployed, poverty-stricken citizens, and yet we have not seen the slightest change of pace in the Alabama government.
Rather than any initiatives to actually bring jobs to our State, legislators continue to cut taxes, reduce much-needed welfare, and expect the market to simply sort itself out (it hasn’t).
Rather than fixing our broken education system, they’ve systematically attacked the teachers by killing their tenure, cutting their pay, and heaping irrational expectations on their shoulders.
Rather than drafting bills to counter any real issues facing Alabama citizens, our state legislature has been busy pushing egregiously unnecessary bills that ban Sharia Law and reiterate the 2nd Amendment (just in case).
Alabama is in trouble, and though we desperately need it, there is simply no room for bipartisan discourse.
We must find a way to regain our Democratic voice. But how? How does the Democratic Party swim to the surface of Alabama’s red sea?
Though the future might seem bleak, I remain optimistic that the Democrats can make an effective comeback. However, it will require a necessarily different approach.
We need to reinvigorate the party leadership and prepare a brand new offensive. We need to be organized. We need to be focused. And, perhaps most importantly, we need to openly embrace the pro-life movement.
Over the past couple decades, the Democratic Party has lost swarms of voters in Red States across the nation over one, singular issue: abortion.
In the ’90s, pro-life Democrats were more of a reality, with former President Bill Clinton at one point identifying as such. However, as the party platform moved further and further towards a completely non-negotiable pro-choice stance, moderate, conservative, and Christian Democrats felt their hand forced to vote Republican.
One of the biggest mistakes the Democratic Party has made this century is shutting out the pro-life voice under the big tent. And many people who might otherwise vote blue can no longer bring themselves to do so based on moral grounds, regardless of how terrible GOP leadership has been.
It doesn’t matter how well we can defend our policies. All the GOP has to do is remind voters that the Democratic Party supports abortion. That fact alone swallows everything else we have to offer. It turns people off immediately. Every other political spitball hurled our way is child’s play compared to this one problem.
If the Democratic Party wants to regain Alabama, it has to regroup as a political entity that is open to life. Such action, combined with the constant highlighting of the Alabama GOP’s failure to lead, will almost certainly pull voters back in the blue.
Honestly, it’s not as farfetched as some might think. If you stretch the meaning of pro-life to mean more than pro-birth (as it should be) then the Democratic Party is by far the more pro-life party. Democrats consistently support causes that seek to sustain and protect life through anti-violence and anti-poverty efforts, whereas our Republican counterparts are only “pro-life” until the point of birth.
Pro-life Democrats are virtually impervious to any Republican talking point. By openly advocating an anti-abortion stance, they sweep the rug right out from under the GOP coup-de-grâce, and thus open the door to real dialogue with the voters.
Of course, such an initiative is easier said than done. Not only do Democrats have a mountain of Republican opposition to wade through, the state party would have to openly advocate for the pro-life cause, something that flies directly in the face of the national platform.
The good news, however, is that we have evidence that this tactic could actually work. Louisiana recently gave Southern Democrats everywhere a glimmer of hope by electing Mr. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, as governor—and Governor Edwards is pro-life.
But for Alabama, the best chance we have of reorganizing the party lies in the grassroots and hinges on direct action from the people.
It won’t be easy, but this change could be the Democrats’ ticket to a new voice in an otherwise long-lost territory. By embracing the pro-life movement, I truly believe the Democratic Party can regain a foothold in the Heart of Dixie.
Matthew is an Anniston native, a writer, and a representative of the Democrats for Life of America. If you want to support the DFLA cause in Alabama, you can contact him at [email protected]