Friday, October 11, 2013

The second civil war?

A comment on last week's post linked an article from Slate arguing that we are in the midst of a second civil war.  Last weekend in Washington, an old friend of mine pointed me to a Washington Post column by Colbert King arguing the same thing.  There is obviously something to this, and it sets me thinking, once again, about what has happened to the South in the course of my lifetime.  I am convinced they are indeed fighting the civil war over again, but I'm not certain who the real enemy is.

The Progressive era and the New Deal, in retrospect, did a great deal to bring the South and the North back together.  They did so, to be sure, because until relatively late in the New Deal the North did not challenge the white South where it was most sensitive, on race.  Yet the South, in many ways a third world country in the first half of the century, desperately needed infrastructure and, in the Depression, federal help.  Recent scholarship emphasizes that black southerners were excluded from some New Deal programs, but they benefited from the New Deal nonetheless, as did poor whites.  Progressivism and the New Deal rallied every section of the country, with the partial exception, ironically, of New England, some of which never voted for FDR.  But things began to change in 1937, when the Democrats for the first time had a majority in Congress even without the votes of white southerners.  Many southern legislators joined with Republicans to form a new conservative coalition.  Still, well within my memory, as I have remarked many times, states including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina sent a number of Senators and Representatives to Washington who were liberal on everything but race.  A few, such as Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, even crossed that barrier. 

There can be no question, it seems to me, that the civil rights movement and the court decisions and legislation to which it gave rise did the most to turn the white south against the Democratic Party.  1944 was the last year that the South as a whole voted Democratic, and after 1964 the Republicans were firmly established in the region.  And thus, commentators even today blame "residual racism" for the South's extraordinary hostility to liberalism in general and Barack Obama in particular.  While there may be some truth in that, I think it's an oversimplification.  Outside of some urban areas, the white south has since the civil rights movement been able to keep local political power firmly within its own hands.  Southern states have cut back on public services, including education, now that they go equally to black citizens, but the white folks don't seem to mind very much.  What has happened is broader and deeper: the construction, to use a trendy word, in the last 40 years of a new southern identity based upon religious, intellectual and cultural differences from the bicoastal elite.

In recent years, a number of transplanted southerners have confirmed a friend's insight to me.  The rise of political Christianity beginning in the 1970s was in a sense a substitute for overt racism, a new glue to hold the region together on behalf of the Republican Party.  It occurs to me as I write that it fitted the needs of whites fleeing the integrated public schools as well, since Christian schools became the alternative in many areas.  (My son taught elementary school in the Mississippi Delta for two years without having a single white student.)  I still do not understand why the right to life movement has become so strong and so rabid in the South, but it is part of the same mix.  I am tempted to suggest, then, that while integration led to a new political culture in the South, the enemy was not so much the black population as the Yankees who had forced integration upon them.  The political leadership of the region now hates everything they stand for, including the danger of global warming and the theory of evolution.  Emotion, as so often happens, has trumped reason.

It looks this evening as though the shutdown will indeed end with a government defeat, but I suspect we will have more budget and debt crises over the next year.  Another comment last week reminded me of my posts about Republican dau tranh, which new readers might like to search for. Dau tranh was the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strategy of chaos, which the Tea Party has been following now for three years.  Pushing things all the way to a default would be part of that strategy.  Some Republican leaders have even admitted that they are terrified that Obamacare will be invulnerable as soon as a few million people have signed up for it--a terrible commentary on where we are.  I just checked, a very popular right-wing blog, and it is now pushing for a primary opponent for John Boehner.  Limbaugh is ranting that the people are being taken in by phoney polls blaming the Republicans.  The Tea Partiers may have lost this battle, but they will not give up the war.

In the long run, the Democratic position, I think, will remain vulnerable because of the weaknesses in our economy, weaknesses explored at some length in the new film starring Robert Reich, Inequality for All.  Obamacare, with its subsidies for poor workers and Medicaid expansion, illustrates the problem.  The American economy is in terrible trouble because so many jobs do not pay enough to allow workers to pay income taxes or buy medical insurance.  While pundits like Niall Ferguson blame the situation on Obama and the Democrats, it is the relentless downward pressure of corporate America that has brought us to this place.  Obama has no recipe for fixing it.  Ever since Ronald Reagan, the federal government has done more and more to help Americans in low paying jobs.  That in turn has created more of them.  Reich obviously doesn't know how we will get out of this mess, and neither do I.


CrocodileChuck said...

" is the relentless downward pressure of corporate America that has brought us to this place. Obama has no recipe for fixing it.'

Obama not only has no recipe, he hasn't the slightest interest in articulating one in the 1st place.

His interest: placating and delivering to his corporate overlords (you know, the ones who got him re elected last year).

Obama's goal: becoming a director of JPMorganChase.

ps I find it striking that the author repeatedly ascribes 'New Deal' values to the Democratic Party-Clinton's deregulation of finance (Robert Rubin orchestrated) in the '90's, more than any other factor has resulted in the savage upwards redistribution of wealth over this period.

steve said...

I just discovered your blog this morning from a link on

Thanks for your work.

A couple of comments:

1. While the democratic party is indeed weak on the statewide level in the South, it maintains power in more than just a "few" urban areas. In fact, virtually every major southern city is governed locally by democrats--Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans, Little Rock, Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Charlotte, Richmond, and so on. And while southern rural areas are far more republican, the real source of southern republican power lies in the huge, largely white, suburban areas of those democratic cities.

This is a situation which also exists nationally, though perhaps on a smaller scale.

There are also a few rural southern areas, mostly minority majority, which are democratic.

2. I think you give Obama's policies too much of a pass. By this I mean, for example, his refusal to crack down on the financial industry (much of which financed his election) in 2009. The refusal to take what would have essentially been a populist position, allowed political room for the spread of the "populist" tea party.

And to many on the left, an example of Obama's basic Romney/Bush, Sr. style conservativism--in addition to their own dislike of Obama's position on the banking industry--would be the cementing of the private, for profit, healthcare industry, as the centerpiece of the ACA.

I could add as well the war on whistleblowers, the surveillance state, the continuation of neocon foreign policies, trade agreements, no real support for organized labor etc to that.

Essentially, Obama created a vacuum--no one seems to care about the middle class--that the right is only too eager to exploit albeit through the faux populism of the tea party, itself controlled by rightwing corporatists every bit as much as Obama is controlled by corporatists.

The left seems too disorganized to take him on or, faced with the tea party as the alternative, actively supports him.

In this sense, the tea party could be seen as Obama's best friend--the go-to bogeyman enabling Obama to maintain support for his essentially corporate policies by pointing to the tea party, while all along the corporate looting continues.

tructor man said...

Rebel flags & tattoos continue to fly here in the old South. Under the surface, GOP hatred of Obama Care has much to do with racism against Obama, the man.
Here in the "Old North State", (formerly a leader of the somewhat enlightened "new South"), the radical right-wing has captured the Legislature and the Governorship. Gov. McCrory has altered the public records to make it appear that Medicaid here is more expensive than it actually is, as justification for declining to accept Federal funds for Medicaid, thus leaving 500,000 poor North Carolinians without health insurance, which also prevents those at or slightly above the poverty line to get subsidies for health premiums.
The Governor now wants to "privatize" what remains of Medicaid.
This Tea Party-led right-wing coup was made possible by a decade-long drive to gerrymander election districts to increase GOP representation at local, county and State levels.
"Religion" and the churches here are totally segregated, and churches are the preeminent cultural force preserving segregation in general.
Also, de-industrialization wrought by globalization and off-shoring of textile & furniture industries, and mechanization of agriculture, have increased marginalization of black and Hispanic populations here and elsewhere in the South.
This hateful situation is maintained by increasing the number and size of prisons, and by the gross disparity of sentencing along racial lines. I see no near solution, and no hope for progressive forces to turn it around in my lifetime. If we can sell our house, we are "outta here", sad to say.

Bozon said...

Great analysis.

"I still do not understand why the right to life movement has become so strong and so rabid in the South, but it is part of the same mix."

Perhaps an analogy, to the right to life movement in the current South, was the abolitionism movement in the pre Civil War Republican North....

all the best,

ed boyle said...

"The more things change the more they stay the same"

Money controls party politics and racism or call it personal ethnic orientation(See DC, NYC and Chicago and LA with high 80% black segregation) controls the hearts of the populace at a local level, black, white and newly arrived who make little ghettos till they integrate and disperse(little Italy in NYC of old or Koreatown now in LA, etc.). If large latino/asian mixing/immigration in the south/midwest will dilute this biracial separatism in South and interracial marriage of blacks/ whites in younger generations getting over 20-30% in coming decades could change things at a more basic level. The religious level is more problematic. Catholics, northern protestants, Southern fundamentalists and rationalists are all different animals following all together certain unstated economic rules (freedom, capitalism, US partriotism). These things are the real common US religion. Hollding such a big country toogether is not easy nor should a unitary culture be expected. Southern cooking, country western music, Black Jazz, all that is important for world culture. A rationalist anglosaxon Boston ethic for life would smother a Texan or californian perhaps so why bother? Live and let live. Unfortunately there is one congress. Small countries are better this way. They can go theri own way. Maybe some day America could split up peacefully when globalism is not so important and the horse is the main transport method. Free trade agreement between states or regions would be the lowest common denominator then and nobody would tell anybody else what to do.

The Elephant's Child said...

"I still do not understand why the right to life movement has become so strong and so rabid in the South..."

I have a hypothesis about this. It seems to me that the long struggle against racial oppression -- especially the most recent civil rights struggle -- caught many Southerners by surprise. They didn't hate blacks; in their view, the Southern system was just the result of everyone working together for the common good. When examples of violent repression of peaceful blacks (by "a few bad actors") became fodder for national scandal, they felt ashamed, but not guilty.

Given that state of mind, the "pro-life" stance became a way to re-establish the moral parity -- in fact, the moral superiority -- of Southern Evangelicals. That, I think, is why they keep trying to steal the tropes of the civil rights movement, and why they are so puzzled (but also perversely satisfied) by the fact that the rest of the nation does not agree with their stance.

That's my best psychological guess anyway.