It’s not the economy, stupid: How liberal politicians’ faith in the healing powers of economic growth—and refusal to address racial divisions—fueled reactionary politics across the South.
From FDR to Clinton, charismatic Democratic leaders have promised a New South—a model of social equality and economic opportunity that is always just around the corner. So how did the region become the stronghold of conservative Republicans in thrall to Donald Trump? After a lifetime studying Southern politics, Anthony Badger has come to a provocative conclusion: white liberals failed because they put their faith in policy solutions as an engine for social change and were reluctant to confront directly the explosive racial politics dividing their constituents.
After World War II, many Americans believed that if the edifice of racial segregation, white supremacy, and voter disfranchisement could be dismantled across the South, the forces of liberalism would prevail. Hopeful that economic modernization and education would bring about gradual racial change, Southern moderates were rattled when civil rights protest and federal intervention forced their hand. Most were fatalistic in the face of massive resistance. When the end of segregation became inevitable, it was largely driven by activists and mediated by Republican businessmen.
Badger follows the senators who refused to sign the Southern Manifesto and rejected Nixon’s Southern Strategy. He considers the dilemmas liberals faced across the South, arguing that their failure cannot be blamed simply on entrenched racism. Conservative triumph was not inevitable, he argues, before pointing to specific false steps and missed opportunities.
Could the biracial coalition of low-income voters that liberal politicians keep counting on finally materialize? Badger sees hope but urges Democrats not to be too complacent.
Anthony J. Badger’s analysis of liberal white Southerners since the 1930s suggests how difficult it is going to be to bring the white working class back into the fold…Badger identifies promising moments in several decades, including (after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965) successful biracial electoral coalitions. Yet today there are fewer white Democrats in the South than ever…Badger runs from race, and racism, as explanations, but as he himself concedes, he never gets far.
[An] important book…For the casual reader, this is a fast-paced introduction to Southern history. For those of us who know and admire Tony Badger, this book is a wonderful overview of a celebrated career, offering personal insight into his evolving study of a region that cries out to be better understood. To know the South is to love it, be confused and horrified by it, and then to fall in love with it all over again.
This book’s refusal to settle for easy answers is one of its key strengths…Nuanced and thoughtful.
Badger, Britain’s leading historian of the US South, explains why liberal Democrats failed to keep the South aligned with the national party after the New Deal.
Anthony Badger is a master of Southern politics, and this book is a highly readable account of the decades of racist politics that brought us to our present moment. Replete with interesting stories and vivid characters, and backed up by exhaustive research, this is an in-depth account of how white Southerners restructured white supremacy to work in four different political time periods: the New Deal, the post–World War II period, the Civil Rights movement, and the Trump moment. Badger demonstrates how structural racism can be remodeled to incorporate political ‘progress,’ and cloaked in many colors.
This is a provocative summary of the history of twentieth-century white Southern liberalism. It is also an honest and engaging personal account of a distinguished scholar trying to make sense of it.
Why White Liberals Fail explores how racial fears and the structure and culture of white supremacy influenced the response of moderate politicians to pivotal moments of social disruption in the South. Badger offers a fresh analysis of how Southern politicians met the challenges they faced in the years before the civil rights movement, and explores the consequences of the deeply racialized politics of the South for the trajectory of American history ever since. He brilliantly broadens the lens for understanding our current moment, and sheds critical light on the trajectory of Southern liberalism and American politics in the decades since Jim Crow’s demise.
- 256 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.