Don't Consign GOP to Land of Cotton

Win or lose, some liberal pundits seem constitutionally incapable of civility toward conservatives. Four years ago, the people and states that reelected George W. Bush were branded en masse as "dumb" and as ignorant denizens of "Jesusland" -- the kind of stereotyping supposedly only Republicans engage in. Bush won 31 states in that election, encompassing most of the interior of the continental U.S., over intense -- some might say deranged -- liberal opposition, and so perhaps their being sore losers was somewhat understandable. But even in victory liberal commentators can't seem to show any class; now the slander of the mean-spirited left is that the GOP has been relegated to the party of the Confederacy.

This vilification preemptively appeared in an electoral prognostication by Scott Horton, in Harper's on Election Day. Horton haughtily predicted that "the Republican Party will have transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln into the Party of the Old Confederacy" and that McCain would win only the South plus "a sprinkling of thinly populated states of the Plains and Mountain West." Horton then went on to tar the South as "largely a backwater" wherein "the GOP is ... weakest among the best-educated and most prosperous populations." Then of course he blamed this alleged Jefferson Davisation of the GOP on -- who else? -- Karl Rove.

Following suit, on election night I heard this trope of "GOP equals Confederacy" repeated at least twice by prominent commentators: "historian" Simon Schama on BBC-America and Gloria Borger on CNN. The day after the election Alan Wolfe, in The New Republic, further demonized the party that actually freed the slaves: "The single most disturbing aspect of last night's election is the transformation of the Republican Party into the party of the old Confederacy," because "long-time Southern whites ... opposed Obama -- those in the Deep South most of all. Despite having lost the Civil War and having been instructed by the laws of the land to treat members of both races equally, large parts of the South resisted -- and they continue to resist [emphasis added]." How should President Obama treat these white Southerners and their neo-Confederate leaders, in Wolfe's view? He would "do well not to try to win them over but to ignore them. They have for too long been a malignant force in American political life, and we should not miss their passing."

Glib and satisfying as these fulminations might be to the liberal legions on the left, they are largely inaccurate and based on wild, unsubstantiated assertions. First, on the strategic issue of whether the bulk of the Republican nominee's support came from the old Confederacy: compare a map of the old Confederate states with one of the states Mac won. Of the 22 states that went for Senator McCain -- I'm counting Missouri as one, since he's ahead 49.5% to 49.3% with 100% of the precincts counted -- only eight are old Confederate ones. Many Americans, even those who should know otherwise like Ivy League-educated journalists, seem to assume that Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, and Oklahoma followed Jefferson Davis -- but actually all were Union territory. Thus, two-thirds of the red states in this election were from the Mountain West/Southwest and Midwest -- so it would probably be a better argument to say that the GOP, at least in the 2008 election, has become the party of the Empty Quarter and Breadbasket. But of course neither of those labels fits the prejudice paradigm regnant in news rooms, which delights in portraying the GOP as coterminous with the Land of Cotton where, in journalists' opinions, the good old times of slavery are still not forgotten.