As we painfully watch right before our very own eyes, our first black president being reduced to little more than an "impotent ceremonial Democratic Party presidential placeholder," this book "Dixie Rising: How the South is Shaping American Values, Politics, and culture," by Peter Applebome, comes immediately to mind as a possible explanation for why, despite being elected by a clear majority, the US government is still being run by the agenda of the far rightwing (mostly southerners) of the Republican Party.
The running joke in
Republican circles today is: "What's better than failing to get Obama re-elected
to a second term?" Answer: Allowing him to be re-elected -- and then tying him up
in so many legislative knots that he ends his tenure with a legacy of having
done nothing but: become the first to have raised a billion dollars for a campaign war
chest, getting an empty pre-awarded Nobel Prize, and leaving office with a
briefcase full of unread "empty hope and change" speeches.
Here, in a deft, nuanced and entertaining reading of American history, the author properly situates both the old and the new South into the scheme of American History as well as within the context of what can only be called a new kind of American exceptionalism.
After giving us a brief snapshot of key highpoints across the region, his conclusion is that contemporary American exceptionalism, for better or worse (and mostly for worse), has become indistinguishable from "southern exceptionalism." Arguably, it is the "southern exceptionalism," ensconced within the Republican Party -- a party, which unless we forget morphed from Strom Thurmond's Dixicrats in 1948 into Richard Nixon's Party of the Southern strategy in 1968, to today's "Tea Party -- that has run the Obama presidency into the ground. For all generations of the Republican Party -- from Strom Thurmond to Mitt Romney, racism has been the context, the pretext and the subtext. Full Stop.
In this context, at least it can be said that the Republicans do have a strategy even if it is a bad one. They do have their eyes on the donut while the Democrats without a strategy (beyond demographic inevitability, that is), continue to have their eyes on the hole.
Quoting Egerton's equally entertaining book "The Americanization of Dixie," the way the author puts it is that: "the South is not merely melting into the national stew but leading in the creation of a new stew through a process in which the North and South are exchanging not strengths, but sins, exporting vices without importing virtues."
This in my view is the crux of the book: We fought a war against both bankrupt southern values and southern culture, and won, and yet now those same bankrupt values and culture have returned with such a vengeance that they have so trumped our democracy that our first black president has had to tucked his tail, run and hide behind the Oval Office desk shuttering as he awaits the next conservative shoe to fall?
How did American democracy get pushed into this ungodly conservative corner?
Likening the South's encroachment upon the rest of the nation to the spreading of a dangerous, virulent and infectious disease, the author concludes that the worse of the southern way of life, like a cancer has finally metastasized and spread to all of the vital organs of the nation. In the mating dance between the North and the South, one in which Mr. Obama has been caught out of step, one that has been going on since before the Civil War, reaching its apotheosis in the aftermath of Reconstruction, the South -- that self-described split-off nation that lost the Civil War, the so-called "Confederate States of America" -- has, now through guile and deftly playing racist conservative politics, changed the rules of the game in its favor, and greatly expanded the terrain for racist demagoguery and the spreading of bankrupt and outmoded southern values.
As the author concludes: The south may have lost the shooting war, but has now finally and clearly won the cultural war.
The South, that area of corn pone, pig knuckles and collard greens, once the laughing stock of America for being a virtual hellhole of poverty, ignorance, gun violence, vigilantism, moral depravity, inhuman prisons, incest, political corruption, racism and a cesspool of pseudo religious nonsense, today, the North, instead of opposing or chastising the South for its degenerate values, now has finally linked arms with it through conservative politics to become the default carrier of a new kind of much bastardized form of degenerate American culture. Altogether this new union of the United States of Northern and Southern White America has no place for a politically powerful democratically elected black president.
Indeed, it is a scary proposition for our democratic process, when the losing party can not only set the agenda for the nation, but can also hold the policies and appointments of a duly elected president hostage through two full election cycles? It would not be unreasonable for a disinterested observer to conclude that this alone renders U.S. democracy dysfunctional to the point of being completely null and void.
According to this author, the reason the South has won the cultural and political war when it could not win the fighting war, is that its conservative philosophy of pseudo family values, pseudo fundamentalist religiosity, pseudo patriotism, limiting government handouts to only the rich, anti-abortion, pro-Israel foreign policy, Ayn Rand style capitalist greed, intransigent stance against gays, and an unwritten vow to resist to the death any further encroachments by blacks on the social and political front, has resonated with a surprisingly large pool of like-minded blue collar as well as liberal whites in both the North and West.
Thus, the old racist themes of the post-Civil War South have now been retro-fitted updated and re-clothed as "Southern values version 2.0." With racism lurking in the context, subtext and pretext of every issue, Southern values have been re-packaged and are now couched in the rhetoric of States Rights, gun control, stand your ground, equating Israeli foreign policy with U.S. foreign policy, bigger and better jails -- with an express lane for the death penalty -- hands off big business, privatize everything, reducing the Federal budget while increasing the defense budget, gutting school and poverty programs, and fighting wars of choice around the globe.
This once "radical fringe ideology," identical in every respect to that of the "Dixicrats," and now that of its prodigy, the "Tea Party," sits at the very center of what Republicans themselves have self-described as "the Party of stupid," yet the Democrats, (the Party of stupidier) with stunned catatonic silence just sits back watching the parade of the Party of stupid continue its forward march even when it is defeated at the polls?
Add to this the fact that as this author notes, the South is no longer just the tail wagging the economic dog, but is a vital area that can now hold its own economically -- and it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that we have a problem defining what kind of nation we really want for the post-modern era and into the foreseeable future?