Saturday, November 3, 2012

The South Shall Rise Again

At least in the minds of Progressives.

This expression used to be popular among some die-hard Confederates who believed in the superiority of the South and who anticipated a somewhat vague notion of a future return to its past glory. The idea has been refashioned recently by Progressives and introduced into this year's hotly contested Presidential contest. The point: to insinuate that Romney supporters (and perhaps Romney himself) are racists who oppose President Obama simply because of the color of his skin.

A short version of this appeared on The ABC program This Week. Faux-conservative Andrew Sullivan suggested it and provoked this beat down by George Will.


Sullivan doubled-down on his claim and posted the video with maps on his blog in an attempt to prove his point: "Its the Confederacy."

Over at CNN, another piece presumptuously entitled Parallels to Country's Racist Past Haunt the Age of Obama. (The Age of Obama?) In this article, the authors attempt to show parallels between the voting out of the first black senators after the Civil War and Reconstruction with the attempts to defeat President Obama in 20012. The so-called "Redeemers" who brought back white rule and white supremacy to the South serve as precursors to the racist reactionaries who seek to oust Obama.

Both of these articles are examples of  "symbolic" or "metaphorical" history that is regularly engaged in by journalists and  political activists (sorry to be redundant) that ignores the most fundamental concept in the study of history: change.

Yes, the South endures as a distinctive cultural sub-region. One can even think of us white Southerners as a distinctive ethnic group.whose members share cultural values in the same way as other ethnic groups. And the South politically remains "The Solid South." What troubles Progressives such as Andrew Sullivan is what did change: the  South is now solidly Republican instead of solidly Democrat.

When the South voted solidly Democrat, the Democratic Party leadership seemed not have been too troubled. Throughout the 19th century, Democrats maintained a coalition between the emerging working class in the North and the slave holding interests in the South. After the Civil War and throughout the 20th century, Progressive Democrats  ignored Southern racial politics as long as Southern Democrats supported the New Deal and other Progressive measures advocated by the non-Southern wing of the party. That coalition came apart in the 1960s under the pressures exerted by the Civil Rights movement. The South now votes solidly Republican.

Progressive activists like to push a narrative that the move from a solidly Democratic South to a solidly Republican South took place suddenly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republicans, according to this narrative, suddenly cashed in on the old segregationist vote. A future post will show, however, that the emergence of solidly Republican South took over the course of  thirty years. More importantly, the growth of Republican support in the South accelerated as racial issues faded in importance. White Southerners actually modified their views on race fairly rapidly. Moreover, the last two decades have witnessed a significant return migration of black Americans to the South.

The South rejects President Obama not because he is black; it does so because he is a Progressive.

So to equate the modern South with the Confederacy may score some political  points with those who share that view, it is a pretty shallow shallow version of "history as symbol." It is only slightly more sophisticated than the blatant accusations of racism hurled at the Republicans by those who believe that "saying makes it so."

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