Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 2: trying to define the politics of the white South

It's no secret that today's Republican Party is very conservative, reactionary even, and very white and very Southern. The Republicans have basically recreated the Solid South voting bloc that the Democrats had during the Segregation 1.0 decades after the Southern Reconstruction government were overthrown in the 1870s.

Defining more specifically just what is that "Southern" political component becomes a difficult challenge.

CJ Wurleman takes a stab at it in The GOP’s perpetual war drum explained: Why are Republicans so eager for conflict? Salon 04/01/2014. (The article says it first appeared on Alternet but I was unable to locate it there.) He makes this argument about the "Southern" attitude and war:

The Republican Party is the party of the South. The Republican congressional delegation is disproportionately southern, and unsurprisingly a majority of the party’s leaders talk with a southern accent. If you want to know why there has never been a war the Republican Party didn't want another person’s kid to fight, it’s the Republican Party's slavish devotion to the monolithic South. In Better off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, Chuck Thompson writes, “The southerner’s enthrallment with war and bloodshed, his veneration of defeat and disaster, his zeal for religious crusade, and easy compliance with the corporate profit motive, has repeatedly dragged the nation into unnecessary wars.”

The GOP and the South can't stand the fact that Obama seeks diplomacy, or occasionally walks back from his own self-imposed "red lines." They view his hesitancy to use military force as weakness, while at the same time forgetting the blood and treasure this country has forfeited in its previous rush to war; an invasion and occupation that cost 186,000 Iraqis and 5,000 Americans their lives. While also not forgetting that misadventure came with a $3 trillion pricetag and an immeasurable moral cost.

Interestingly, a 2003 Pew Research Poll showed that Southerners were by far the most supportive of the Iraq invasion, with 77 percent believing it was the right choice, as opposed to barely half of Americans in general. In fact, Southern whites expressed the strongest support for military action in Iraq with 83 percent saying it was the right decision. [my emphasis]
Wurleman seems to be trying to make a package that's neater than the messy facts will really allow. To say "there has never been a war the Republican Party didn't want another person’s kid to fight" sounds right in terms of the last 13 years or so. But during the Kosovo War, which has been in the news lately in terms of how Russian leaders perceived it, we had Yankee Republican and alleged moderate John McCain cheering for the war and rightwing white supremacist Mississippi Senator Trent Lott leading the antiwar opposition in the Senate.

This is why people need to be careful about drawing too easy generalization about the South in terms of the Republican Party.

Even in terms of straight segregationist sentiment, it's worth remembering that before the Roberts Court gutted the election provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the only states outside the former Confederacy that were covered under those provisions were Arizona and Alaska. (By strange coincidence, the states from which the 2008 Republican nominees for President and Vice President came.)

I would suggest that the characteristics of the South that relate to phenomenon Wurleman is analyzing would include:

  • Their history of de jure segregation and Jim Crow laws
  • Authoritarianism
  • Poverty
  • A higher rate of criminal violence that other parts of the country
  • Widespread white Christian fundamentalism married to politics

All of these conceivably contribute to a more enthusiastic support for war among Southern whites. But Wurleman just leaves us with a gripe that white Southerners are somehow more fond of cheering for wars than anyone else in America, but the reasons for why this may be so are left in the clouds.

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