As a result of the failed purge, Roosevelt found his power in Congress substantially diminished after 1938. Southern Democrats were increasingly willing to oppose him, even joining with Republicans to do so. By 1948, many Southern Democrats broke with the national party, voting for the so-called Dixiecrat candidate, instead. In 1964, they voted for Republican Barry Goldwater for president -- probably the first time many had ever pulled the Republican lever.
Despite growing alienation from the national Democratic Party, Southern states still consistently voted Democratic in virtually all House and Senate races. The reason was that many Southern Democrats held powerful positions in Congress as committee chairmen who could deliver pork and other federal goodies to their constituents.
But Northern Democrats were embarrassed by their Southern brethren and their racist past. After winning huge majorities in Congress in 1974 and 1976, they mounted a purge of Southern Democrats, removing many from committee chairmanships. At this point, the Southerners had nothing left to be gained by being Democrats.
In the 1980s, Republicans started making a serious effort to win elections in congressional and state races throughout the South. They recruited good candidates, financed them well, and emphasized over and over again the disdain that Northern Democrats had for those in the South. By 1994, the Democratic Party was decimated throughout the South, contributing powerfully to the Republican takeover of Congress that year.
From this history, it is clear that past Democratic purges have only had the effect of aiding the Republican Party. I suspect that the purge of Sen. Lieberman may have the same effect, possibly turning what might have been solid gains by the Democrats in this fall's elections into modest gains. There are lots of Democrats who think like Sen. Lieberman on Israel and Iraq. They now have no choice but to vote Republican.
Historically, the American people have often supported candidates they believed were motivated by genuine conviction, even when those convictions were out of step with most of their beliefs. Americans like men of principle and dislike those who are merely pandering to momentary passions. For this reason, I think Sen. Lieberman will triumph in November, running as an independent. It won't surprise me if this latest Democratic purge ends up helping the Republicans once again.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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