T here was a time during the mid-1980s when many of America's Soviet scholars asked themselves how a man possessing the moral fiber, education and stellar capabilities of Mikhail Gorbachev could possibly have risen through the political ranks of a thoroughly corrupt and bankrupt Soviet socialist system. Today serious Americans should be asking themselves whether it is even remotely possible that a Republican Gorbachev could emerge from the socially diseased American South.
If you look at our last Republican President from the South, George W. Bush, you will recognize the problem. During Bush's eight years in office, America: (1) suffered the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history, (2) heard false assertions about weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda to justify an illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq, (3) reeled from a tax cut that transferred enormous amounts of wealth from the poor and middle classes to America's fabulously rich, (4) gasped in shame at photos of prisoners of war being tortured by Americans at Abu Ghraib (in violation of international treaties signed by the U.S.), (5) shrank from the subsequent outpouring of the world's derision, (6) learned that fellow citizens were subjected to illegal wiretaps and detention, (7) watched in disbelief as the administration dithered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, (8) noted the failure to capture Osama bin Laden and (9) was nearly brought to its knees by the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
Yet, one the eve of departing office, President Bush still had his supporters, especially among Republicans. A final CBS/New York Times poll found that Bush left office with the lowest approval rating of any U. S. President, 22 percent. Only 6 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of Independents approved of Bush's abysmally poor job performance. Strikingly, however, 57 percent of Republicans still approved of the job performance of the worst President in American history.
What was wrong with all those Republicans? Well, many were formidably ignorant or in denial. Many were ideologues who would support a Republican presidential candidate, even if Jesus Christ was running as the Democratic candidate. Finally, many of those Republicans live in the American South, where social pathologies resulting from political misrule are a way of life.
Perhaps the worst of the pathologies is racism. If you examine the scholarly literature, you will find that the South remains the most racist of all the regions in the United States. (For example: "Regarding busing for school integration, fair housing, anti-discrimination laws, and increased spending on race-targeted programs, major national surveys conducted well into the 1990s show significantly greater opposition among whites living in the South than among those living elsewhere." [Vincent L. Hutchings and Nicholas A. Valentino, "The Centrality of Race in American Politics," Annual Review of Political Science, 2004. 7:383-408, p. 388] )
The 2008 election smacked of racism, showing that older white working class voters and older white Southerners gave John McCain somewhat more support than they gave Bush in the 2004 election. Whites in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana gave Obama considerably fewer votes than they gave John Kerry in 2004 [James C. Cobb, The South and America Since World War II, p. 304] Moreover, of "the 7% of whites who said race was a consideration in their vote," 63% percent voted for McCain.["Post-Election Perspectives," Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Nov. 13, 2008]
I heard a true and very revealing anecdote about the other 37% of that 7% of white racists, who were angered at Republicans for Bush's eight terrible years, but who didn't want to elect a black man to be President of the United States. An African-American, working for the Obama campaign, was canvassing potential voters in central Pennsylvania, when he stepped on to the porch of one house and was greeted by an elderly white woman. After introducing himself, the African-American canvasser asked the woman who she intended to vote for in the upcoming election. The woman responded, "I always vote the way my husband votes." And with that, she shouted to her husband in a distant room: "Dear, who are we voting for in the next election?" From that distant room came his response: "We are voting for the n-word."
Beyond racism, however, if you look at recent U.S. census data (and other data) -- largely since 2007 -- you'll see that the South is the region of the country where most other social pathologies thrive. If you examine a specific social pathology and look at the five worst states in the entire United States harmed by that pathology, you will come up with the following results.
Two of the five states with the highest unemployment rate are in the American South. Three of the five worst states still executing its citizens are in the South. So are three of five worst states for out-of- wedlock births, lowest high school graduation rates, highest illiteracy rates and the highest percentage of residents who still smoke tobacco.
Southern states make up four of the five worst states in the entire country in the social pathologies of violent crime per 100,000 residents, lowest per capita income, citizens living under the poverty level, the related issue of union membership per capita, most single parent households per capita, the most traffic accidents per miles traveled and the lowest life expectancy.
States in the American South occupy all five of the five worst performing states in the entire United States when it comes to having the most obese citizens per capita, the highest infant mortality rates and the lowest percentage of citizens possessing a four-year college degree. Only in the category of alcohol consumption were there no worst performers from the South. In a word, the American South is in a class of its own, when it comes to life-debilitating social pathologies. (See: http://www.walter-c-uhler.com/Reviews/pathology.html )
Moreover, the American South is America's worst performing region, notwithstanding the high percentage of avowedly high-minded, God-fearing Evangelical and Mainstream Protestants supposedly fighting such social pathologies. But, doesn't it seem that these righteous folk are more concerned about culture war issues like abortion, homosexuality, evolution, same-sex marriage and guns, than the debased condition of their own region? Is it a case of beholding the "mote in thy brother's eye," but considering not "the beam that is in thy own eye?"
Whatever the reasons for the behavior of these Evangelical and Mainline Protestants, the coexistence of high religiosity with pervasive social pathologies clearly indicates that stressing "values" hasn't worked.
What's worse, however, is that these good religious folk with all their social pathologies continuously elect Republicans to run their governments. It's analogous to continuously voting for pigs who never honor their promises to clean up the pig sty.
In general, these Republican politicians strive to keep taxes low and allow businesses to operate unencumbered by government regulation. But thanks to their successes -- at both a regional and national level -- "the lower 60 percent of households have lost $4 trillion [since 1985], most of which has ascended to the top 5 percent, including a growing tier now taking in $1 million or more each year." [Andrew Hacker, "We're More Unequal Than You Think," New York Review of Books Feb. 23, 2012]
Republicans can't afford to mention such facts. Not only because it implies that a relentless class warfare has been waged against average Americans by the Republicans' paymasters -- business elites like the Koch brothers -- but also because it implies the need for a reversal -- a modest redistribution of wealth downward.
Republicans are strongly opposed to "socialistic" schemes for redistributing wealth, except -- of course -- when it's the wealth annually redistributed to the Republican South (and other "red" states) by "blue" states in the Northeast and Midwest. This phenomenon has been addressed in a scholarly paper by Professor Dean Lacy, titled: "Why Do Red States Vote Republican While Blue States Pay the Bills?"
Data found in Professor Lacy's paper show that, in 2000, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland paid less in federal taxes than they received in tax benefits from the federal government. In 2005, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama -- all Southern states -- benefitted most from the unequal exchange.
It is salutary to keep this welfare program for the South in mind, especially when Southern Republicans like Newt Gingrich resort to smearing President Obama as the "food stamp President." Why anybody, except the business elite, would support a Republican from the South defies reason. There appear to be no Gorbachevs in that region or that party.
Finally, thanks to an exceptionally good piece of reporting in the New York Times last Sunday, we also now know that the areas of the country with the highest dependence on government benefits are the same parts of the country most likely to vote for Republicans. For example, "Among the 100 counties with the highest dependence, two thirds voted for John McCain in 2008. Many are poor and rural." ["Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It," New York Times Feb. 12, 2012]
What's the explanation? Nothing other than gross hypocrisy and a lack of civic responsibility.
The article in the Times mentions Ki Gulbranson, who lives in Minnesota and earns around $40,000 per year, but takes the earned income tax credit when filing his taxes, signs his three children up for a government program that allows them to eat free breakfasts and lunches and has a mother who had two hip surgeries paid by Medicare.
Thus, at around $40,000 per annum, Mr. Gulbranson cannot make it without welfare. Yet the hypocrite voted to elect a Tea Party candidate who has vowed to cut spending for welfare.
Well, you might ask, "How does that work?" Easy, you vote for candidates who vow to cut welfare earmarked for other groups of people.
A key statistic in the Times' article reveals that 27 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that welfare programs that benefit the poor (by which many racists mean African-Americans) are the fastest rising welfare costs, and thus, the costs that need to be brought under control.
In fact Medicare -- which benefits untold numbers of "greedy white geezers" in the Tea Party and Republican Party -- has the fastest rising costs of any "welfare program." Medicare's a "welfare program?" Yes, because the average worker contributes only $1 for every $3 of benefits he will receive.
Just like the hypocrites in the Tea Party, who decry the taxes that support other segments of the population, but not the taxes that fund their own welfare programs, Republicans -- especially in the South -- have attempted to avoid paying taxes while being quite willing to accept the benefits of taxes paid by more liberal "suckers" in blue states.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once observed that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." Perhaps that explains why, under low-tax Republican rule, the American South suffers from the many pathologies that undermine a civilized society.