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.
Furthermore, only elite journalists could think that “backwater” is an accurate label for the South today. Of the four census regions in this country — West, Midwest, Northeast, and South — the South has by far the largest population: almost 110 million, compared to 69 million in the West, 66 million in the Midwest, and only 54 million in elitist New England. Note, too, that the South is the second-fastest growing region in population, trailing only slightly behind the West and far ahead of the growth rate of the other two regions. No doubt many in the dinosaur media think that most of those 110 million Southerners are white trash who walked barefoot to the local one-room schoolhouse from their tar-paper shack to spit into a moonshine jug and cast a vote for fellow whitey McCain, but alas, statistics don’t bear that out, either. Some 25% of Southerners have college degrees, admittedly the lowest of the four regions (26% Midwest, 29% West, and 30% Northeast) but certainly nowhere near “backwater” status, while the percentages of those with high school diplomas are, respectively, 82% (South), 84% (West), 86% (Northeast), and 88% (Midwest).
As for Horton’s claim that Republicans are weakest “among the best-educated and most prosperous” in the South — well, I happen to live in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, northwest of Atlanta, which is “Georgia’s most affluent and educated district. … 51% of the residents … have at least a bachelor’s degree,” and the median income is over $75,000 per year — yet this district happens to be overwhelmingly Republican. Now I’m well aware of the difference between anecdotal and empirical evidence, but I seriously doubt this is the only Congressional district in the South that has highly educated, affluent folks who happen to vote Republican.
Alan Wolfe clearly implies that anyone who opposed Obama — even, presumably, well-educated and well-off conservatives — must be racist, but in order to do so he makes unsubstantiated over-generalizations that would have earned him an “F” in my college history classes. What exactly is his basis for the claim that “long-time Southern whites,” especially those in the “Deep South,” were most inimical to Obama? (While we’re at it: what in blazes is a “long-time Southern white”? Someone who’s been white since birth?) And how about Wolfe’s claim that “large parts of the South … continue to resist” treating black Americans equally? Is he under the impression that in Atlanta black folks are kept out of Starbucks with water cannons? That poll taxes requiring payment in gold sovereigns are demanded of black citizens in Houston? That the South Carolina National Guard is still segregated, with black soldiers shipped off to fight Mr. Bush’s wars while white officers sit back at the armory sipping mint juleps and cultivating their Colonel Sanders-style Van Dykes? Memo to Professor Wolfe: get the hell out of Boston and visit some good ol’ boys (and gals) down here — maybe you’ll learn something. But I doubt it, since facts just confuse most academics.
President-elect Obama would do well to disregard Wolfe’s advice about ignoring the South, not just because it is by far the most populous region of the United States, but also for an even more important reason: the South largely fights America’s wars. About 43% of total military enlistees, as well as 43% of the officer corps of the United States Army — the largest of the branches of the military — come from the South. (And contra wanna-be secretary of state John Kerry’s assertions of recent memory, military enlistees are more likely than the general population to have a high school diploma and to come from a middle- or upper-class income background.) Most interestingly, guess which of the four regions of the U.S. is most underrepresented in the military? Liberal, elitist New England.
So in a very real sense, as Boromir of Gondor told the assembled representatives of Middle-earth at the Council of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings: “It is by the blood of our people that your lands are kept safe.” Deride “Jesusland” and “the old Confederacy” at your peril, liberals, for soon you’ll be disabused of your childish dreams that the rest of the world is going to beat its IEDs into plowshares and love us with Bush gone, and then President Obama will need those sons of the country’s most populous region to fight his inevitable wars — that is, unless his liberal elitist followers convince him to surrender to the encroaching caliphate.
FYI: the author is a native Kentuckian who voted for Alan Keyes twice and, until Chinese pet food, had a cat named Sherman.