The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a piece on Sunday that roughly summed up the two major camps that have emerged on the question of "how should Democrats approach the South."

Camp one are those who counsel Democrats to "forget the South." From the story:
"[University of Maryland political scientist Thomas] Schaller said the party should fold its tent and abandon the South ... Schaller said the party should attempt to portray Republicans as the 'Party of the South,' in a negative sense. He would attempt to tar the GOP with the South's legacy of opposition to civil rights and remind voters elsewhere that some Southerners are still fighting over displaying the Confederate flag."
The other dominant position is to "stay in the South, but move to the right":
[Emory University political scientist Merle] Black said that if Democrats are to be competitive in the border states in presidential races, they need to choose a "moderate, centrist candidate." ...
A key to Democratic acceptance, strategists say, is not alienating Southerners on social issues. At a conference in Atlanta in 2003 called "God, Guns and Guts," the Democratic Leadership Council counseled Democrats to embrace what it called "values centrism."
As we've argued elsewhere, forgetting the South isn't an option. The region is too big, growing too fast, and too dominant a player nationally for any party with governing aspirations to bypass completely (among other reasons).

So the real question is, what kind of politics can win in the South? This is a longer discussion, and one we'll be returning to frequently, but two brief points are in order.

First, the reality is that the centrist strategy that has been largely adopted by Democrats in the South for the past 15 years hasn't exactly been a stunning success. One by one, Senate and House seats have steadily fallen into Republican hands. The biggest success story of the centrist approach, Bill Clinton's victory in 12 Southern states between his 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns, is also less than convincing: of the dozen states Clinton won (AR, KY, LA, TN and WV twice, GA and FL once), only four were outside of the margin of victory had not H. Ross Perot been in the race (LA and WV in 1996, and his home state of Arkansas twice).

Second, there's a disturbing tendency to see Southern political and social attitudes -- especially conservative attitudes -- as being carved in stone.

On the contrary, over the last 7-8 generations, the South has been radically transformed by Reconstruction, populism, labor insurgencies, the New Deal, the black freedom movement, and countless other people and events that have propelled "The Mind of the South" in a more progressive direction.

The persistent strains of conservatism are well-documented and have had great impact. Each period of progressive change was met with a dismal era of reaction. But the progressive traditions have endured, too -- a sense of place, love of the land, mutual aid, a healthy populist wariness of unaccountable power.

These progressive and conservative traditions are, and always will be, at war for the South's soul. The pendulum swings depending on the national and international context and the constellation of forces -- movements, ideas, institutions, articulate leaders, etc. -- that each side is able to muster.

In a broad sense, the Democrats have a choice: to nourish and build on the South's progressive legacy, or to turn away from it. Which of these choices will be a more successful strategy in the short term is uncertain. But which will result in enduring progressive change in the South and beyond is clear.