Gene Lyons: The old South fades
Politically speaking, we live by caricature. Particularly in the age of satellite TV news and Internet fulmination, the temptation is to melodrama. So I wasn’t terribly surprised to read a recent article in the online magazine Salon arguing that “even though it’s a truism of American public discourse that the Civil War never ended, it’s also literally true.”
Never mind that author Andrew O’Hehir appears to be one of those overheated writers who use the adverb “literally” as an all-purpose intensifier meaning “figuratively.” Salon supposedly has editors. Elsewhere, O’Hehir concedes that the imagined conflict won’t “involve pitched battles in the meadows of Pennsylvania, or hundreds of thousands of dead.”
So it won’t be a war at all then. As a Yankee long resident in the South, maybe I should be grateful for that. O’Hehir also acknowledges that while today’s “fights over abortion and gays and God and guns have a profound moral dimension,” they “don’t quite have the world-historical weight of the slavery question.”
Um, not quite, no.
But then as O’Hehir also categorizes Michigan as a “border state” for the sin of having a Republican governor, it’s hard to know what Democrats there should do. I suppose fleeing across the border into Ontario would be an option.
Is it possible to publish anything more half-baked and foolish? Oh, absolutely. Here in Arkansas, we had more than our share of cartoon-think before the 2012 election. Three would-be Republican state legislators wrote manifestoes in favor of the old Confederacy.
One, Rep. Jon Hubbard of Jonesboro, delivered himself of a self-published book arguing that “the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise.”
Fellow GOP candidate Charles Fuqua of Batesville — like Jonesboro, a college town — self-produced an e-book entitled “God’s Law: The Only Political Solution.” In it, he not only called for expelling all Muslims from the United States, but returning to the Biblical practice of stoning disobedient children to death.
It would not take too many stonings, Fuqua thought, to restore sexual morality and good table manners among American youth.
Then there was former Rep. Loy Mauch of Bismarck. An ardent secessionist, Mauch had written a series of letters to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette arguing that since Jesus never condemned slavery, it had biblical sanction.
Mauch also condemned Abraham Lincoln as a “fake neurotic Northern war criminal,” frequently likened him to Hitler, and deemed the rebel flag “a symbol of Christian liberty vs. the new world order.”
Comparing Hubbard’s views to those of Robert E. Lee and John C. Calhoun, New York Times columnist Charles Blow expressed alarm at “the tendency of some people to romanticize and empathize with the Confederacy.”
Ah, but here’s the rest of the story, which Blow barely mentioned: All three “Arkansaw lunkheads,” as Huck Finn might have called them, were not only repudiated by the state Republican party but lost badly to Democratic opponents last November in what was otherwise a big year for the GOP here. Unimpeded by the burdens of office, they can now get back to self-publishing their neo-Confederate hearts out.
The point’s simple: these fools certainly weren’t elected due to their crackpot fulminations, or even in spite of them. Their views were simply unknown. As soon as they became an issue, they became an embarrassment. Now they’re ex-state legislators. The end.
This is not to deny that there’s a strong regional component to the nation’s current political impasse. The New Republic’s John R. Judis did the numbers on the recent “fiscal cliff” vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. Altogether, 85 Republicans voted for the Senate’s resolution, 151 against.
Broken down by region, however, the differences were stark. Republicans outside the South actually voted for the bipartisan compromise 62-36.
GOP congressmen representing the old Confederacy voted against 83-10 — including unanimous opposition from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina. But for Florida, opposition would have been nearly unanimous.
For all the good it did them. Because the Old South is visibly shrinking. Florida and Virginia are already gone; given demographic trends, Texas is on its way. Even Arkansas, which voted for Bill Clinton something like eight times, seems unlikely to become a one-party state.
As for the rest, Mike Tomasky of The Daily Beast correctly observes that “over time ... the South will make itself less relevant and powerful if it keeps behaving this way. As it becomes more of a one-party state [sic] it becomes less of a factor.”
From that perspective, few recent political events have been as telling as the outrage of northeastern Republicans Rep. Peter King and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the House’s foot-dragging on Hurricane Sandy relief. A few more stunts like that, and the GOP could end up as fragmented and futile as Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s American Independent Party.
No Civil War necessary.
Gene Lyons, Arkansas Times columnist, is at firstname.lastname@example.org.