Louisiana has always had a distinctive political culture. It has something to do with French and Spanish rule before Jefferson bought our asses (assets?) but it probably has more to do with quirkiness and downright craziness than anything else. The Gret Stet is different and damn proud of it. Antebellum Louisiana had a Jewish US Senator, Judah P. Benjamin, who went on to become Confederate Secretary of State. We had a black Governor during Reconstruction and a populist/fascist near dictatorship under Huey P. Long. Hmm, there’s that middle initial P again. Louisiana voted for Thurmond and Wallace for President but rejected David Duke in consecutive statewide elections in 1990 and 1991. It’s a mixed bag of nuts to say the least.
Anyway, the Gret Stet has had a long history of political contrariness, which has made things here pretty darn interesting. But the times they are a changin’.Here’s what ace Picayune political pundit Stephanie Grace had to say about it in her latest column:
It wasn’t so long ago that Louisiana elections could still confound outsiders. Even as the state drifted steadily into the reliably red column, certain idiosyncratic patterns persisted. Voters believed there was such a thing as a conservative Democrat, and were willing to send people who fit that mold to Washington. Onetime Dixiecrats who joined the burgeoning Republican ranks were welcomed, and forgiven their pasts. A powerful post in Congress and a record of meeting local needs was enough to trump an unpopular affiliation.
Only two years ago Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu won reelection by focusing on her seniority and her state, rather than her party. Louisianans dramatically split their votes and gave Landrieu 52 percent, 12 points more than the man at the top of her ticket, President Barack Obama.
If Landrieu tried to pull that off in 2010’s hyperpartisan environment, the odds would be against her. They sure are against fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, who is pursuing a similar strategy against a reliably conservative Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter — even though Melancon has cast himself as a centrist John Breaux type, and even though Vitter’s prostitution scandal makes him vulnerable on paper.
In fact, it’s looking like this election cycle will go down as the year everything changed, the moment when Louisiana’s politics finally became nationalized. Those who find themselves on the uncomfortable side of the partisan divide are spending millions trying to change the narrative, but with just two weeks left, it’s proving awfully persistent.
I think Stephanie nailed it when it comes to Louisiana but nationally it’s the year of the asshole. Assholish candiates abound and are getting away with malakatude and douchebaggery that would have gotten them defeated a few years ago. Why? Times are tough and the fact that Charlie Melancon is a nice guy and David Vitter is a creep seems less important than before. In fact, creepiness is often confused with toughness and there’s a surfeit of it in 2010. It’s also Bitter Vitter’s stock in trade…
The main reason for the nationalization or Americanization of Louisiana politics is, of course, race. The election of our first black President has unleashed all sorts of craziness and in this state, race lurks behind every political door. Yes, David Duke lost his statewide races BUT he still got a lot of votes. The racial tension in New Orleans during the 1991 Governor’s race was so thick that you could cut it with a knife but we got through it somehow.
I think, however, that our latest bout with the crazies, bigots and teabaggers is likely to last longer than many on the Right’s brief infatuation with the Fuhrer wannabe. Gret Stet wingers can point to their support of Bobby Jindal as proof that they’re not bigots. Wrong. They think of him as a member of a model minority and as an honorary white man. It’s why Governor PBJ has to be more Catholic than the Pope as it were. He knows full well that some of his supporters will turn on him the minute he crosses them and crossing them will be bad for his national ambitions chimerical though they may be.
Finally, since I’m planning to cross-post this primer on the state of Gret Stet politics at my own virtual joint, here’s a wee plug. This evening, Wednesday 10/20 at 7PM, I’ll be on a panel at the Louisiana Endowment For The Humanities along with the aforementioned Stephanie Grace and WBOK radio yakker, John Slade both of whom have appeared at Rising Tide.The panel is free, for details click on this link.