The New England Curse?
I've been an admirer of conservative-turned-liberal Michael Lind ever since reading Up From Conservatism a while back. Granted, some of his policy prescriptions are undoubtedly nutty (like his plan to populate rural areas in the plains with transplanted urbanites), but he's always done an admirable job connecting various strands in American history to the present day. Anyway, Lind has an essay in this month's American Prospect arguing that, for almost 200 years, the political party most closely associated with New England has fared poorly. Specifically, Lind argues that the New England region's high-minded reformism, intellectual elitism, and anti-militarism has been political poison since the War of 1812 (I kid you not):
A case might be made that the Iraq War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Vietnam War were all unnecessary. But in each instance, the New England–dominated party paid a heavy electoral penalty for its opposition to a war that was bungled or lost.
From John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, Massachusetts politicians associated with the Greater New England traditions of reformism, intellectual elitism, and anti-militarism have been defeated by rivals who embody the southern synthesis of social conservatism, populism, and martial patriotism.
Because the Democrats' base of support is in New England, Lind believes the party will have to shift its focus to the midwest:
The Democratic Party should also try to emulate the Lincoln Republicans by drawing on midwesterners as their presidential candidates. The successes of Carter and Clinton were possible only because the South was still in transition from the Democrats to the Republicans. But Al Gore was no more capable of carrying his home state of Tennessee in 2000 than John Edwards was of carrying North Carolina in 2004.
For Democrats today, the Midwest is the key to the White House, for the same reason it was crucial a century ago: Its location at the confluence of the major cultural regions of the United States means that its politicians must appeal to more than one tradition. During the era when it was the party supported by Greater New England, from 1868 to 1932, the Republican Party sent only two New England presidents to the White House: Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, both from Vermont. Of the 11 Republican presidents during this era, seven -- Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, William Henry Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren Harding -- were from Ohio. Democratic talent scouts should be eyeing midwestern governors.
This is where I depart from Lind. It's difficult to think of a midwest governor (either past or present) that's presidential material. Tom Vilsack? I don't think so. Rod Blagojevich? Nope--he's the quintessential Chicago Machine Democrat. Then you have the lesser known Democrats, such as Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, neither of whom have a national profile. Overall, I think Lind's point is sound--that is, Democrats can't be closely identified with just one region, and a perenially unpopular region at that--but his prescriptions, as usual, leave much to be desired.