country, white Southerners are resolutely against Obama's efforts to
reform our health-insurance system. (It's also the case that it
is precisely in parts of the South that private health insurance is
least competitive, and that the highest percentages of uninsured people
are also found in some parts of that region. [That claim, which I
believe to be true, could use some fact-checking.])
A good bit of the anti-reform public sentiment in the South is
doubtless due to the influence of various forces at the top of the
political hierarchy that have the ear of white Southerners. These
include the major spokespeople of the Republican Party, and talk radio
demagogues like Limbaugh and Beck.
Millions of white Southerners have been persuaded that the issue is one
of defending grandma from heartless government Nazis wanting to pull
the plug, and one of defending the country from Obama's "socialist"
And so these white Southerners have been raising a hue and cry to
prevent the nation from enacting legislation that would prevent their
being dropped from their insurance if they get sick, or if they lose
their job. They are throwing their weight against the
establishment of a new competitor, created by the government, to keep
the insurance industry honest by providing coverage without bloated
bureaucratic costs and excessive profit margins. (This would be
an option available to the public but forced on no one, and, like the
popular and successful Medicare program, would involve insurance that
leaves patients to choose their own doctors and allows patients and
doctors to make medical decisions.)
A bizarre sight, to see people so worked up to fight for interests not their own.
To those average white Southerners, I say: You're being conned. And it is an old story.
You are being conned and it's the same basic con that you've had
before. Your manipulators get you all hot and bothered about this
and that and get you to line up in support of the very people who are
stacking the deck against you.
The slaveholders and the post-war aristocrats and other economic powers
worked this con. After slavery they used race to prevent workers
from organizing across race lines. Divide and conquer.
Leading up to and through the Civil War, that was their strategy
too. In the North and the Midwest, there were the forces of "Free
Men, Free Soil," opposing slavery's expansion into the new
territories. In the South, the slave states formed what
Northerners came to call the "slavocracy," and "the slave power."
Slavery was the overriding interest of the South in the decades leading
to the Civil War. It was the occasion of a whole series of
battles--almost all the battles that defined the era--battles that were
political, mostly, but that also (as in Bloody Kansas and, later,
Harper's Ferry) involved real fighting and the real spilling of
It was all about slavery: struggles over the admission of Texas,
the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott
decision, the beating on the Senate floor of a Senator from
Massachusetts by a Congressman from South Carolina" It was all
And who was slavery good for? Not for the average Southern white,
many of whom lived in real poverty and whose labor was kept cheap by
the availability of slave labor. No it was good for that small, ruling
class of wealthiest men who dominated the political landscape--the
owners of the great plantations, the slaveholders.
The average white Southerner aligned himself with the slaveholders, and
after the war the wealthy ruling class, even though it kept them in
poverty relative to their counterparts elsewhere in America for well
over a century. Aligned--at great cost. For while it wasn't
the average white person who benefited from slavery, it was the average
white person who did most of the fighting and suffering in a
horrendous, deeply traumatic war.
They'd been conned into it by a ruling class that sold them on a bunch
of ideas they were taught to regard as more important than their own
personal interests, or even perhaps life itself. Some of these
ideas were about race, and white superiority and purity. Some
were about the defense of "honor." Such ideas motivated more than
a million white Southern men to put everything on the line, and suffer
greatly, so that they wouldn't have to remain part of a country which
would limit what territories slavery could expand into.