a yellow dog and a blue dog

Talk to any old hand about Texas political history, and reference to the days when "yellow dog Democrats" ran the state is bound to come up. Even now, when such animals are an endangered species in the state, the line still gets applause among die-hard Democrats. But at a time when Republicans occupy all statewide offices, and their party holds majorities in both houses of the state legislature, many may ask: "A what Democrat?"

The Democratic Party that dominated Texas politics from Reconstruction through the early 1960s differed considerably from the current Democratic Party. For almost a century, a Democratic Party largely dominated by white conservatives prevailed in almost all statewide elections. Some of the benchmark issues that defined the Democratic Party in national politics--such as support for civil rights for ethnic and racial minorities, opposition to U.S. military intervention in the third world, and support for social programs--were the province of a durable but usually besieged minority within the Texas Democratic Party until the mid-1970s.

How did such a situation evolve? Over decades and generations a single-party system consolidated, feeding (and fed by) the development of a political culture in which many Southerners came to identify so strongly with the Democratic Party that they would not even imagine voting for a candidate from another party. Even as the national party moved in directions markedly different from the foundations of traditional southern Democrats (like strong advocacy of vigorous enforcement of civil rights), many refused to vote for Republican candidates. Republicans were still associated with Reconstruction and were identified as a non-southern party.

The term "yellow dog" derives from the saying, "I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket." In the 1928 presidential election campaign, yellow dog Democrats were Alabamans who remained loyal to the party even though they did not like the Democratic candidate, Al Smith. Because the expression came generally to be used to describe loyal Southern Democrats, it also frequently had a somewhat moderate to conservative connotation, as if referring to "old school" Democrats.

Even as yellow dogs were becoming a rare breed, the "dog" moniker got refurbished, though on a smaller scale. After the Republican Party won the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, a group of thirty-three conservative Democrats formed the Blue Dog Coalition. The Blue Dogs represent a stronger break from the national (more liberal) Democratic Party, and could be traced back to Democrats who crossed party lines to support some of Ronald Reagan's policies in the 1980s.

In the 108th Congress (2002-2004), there were thirty-six Blue Dog Democrats, twelve from former Confederate states, counting three from Texas. Another six Blue Dogs represented Virginia, Missouri, Florida, and Kentucky. Befitting a more modern group, they even have a website. Yet old yellow dogs can learn new tricks, too--the official weblog of the Democratic Party is called the Yellow Dog Blog.