Just when I thought I was making a little headway in convincing white folks down this way that we lost the war and it’s time to move on, here comes a Newsweek piece by Michael Hirsh that’s likely to undo all my good work:
In the summer of 1863, Robert E. Lee led an ill-advised incursion into Pennsylvania. His army was defeated at Gettysburg, and thence afterward Lee beat a fighting retreat until the South lost the Civil War. One hundred and forty-five years later, the South--or what has become the South-Southwest--has won another kind of Civil War. It has transformed the sensibility of the country. It is setting the agenda for our political, social and religious mores--in Pennsylvania and everywhere else. Allright! Up to now, I’d been totally stumped as to how Barack Obama got 43 percent of the white vote in the Georgia primary—with John Edwards still in the race—but only 37 percent in Pennsylvania. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if this could be traced to back to Gettysburg and a mighty clever plan—for southerners, at least—whereby the Rebs would push into Pa. and pretend to be defeated while trained infiltrators would slip quietly from the retreating ranks and begin the subtle program of brainwashing that, a century and a half later, culminated in one in six white Democratic voters in the state’s 2008 primary saying “race matters” to them when they pick a candidate.
These Confederate subversives have not confined their nefarious activities to the Keystone State or to politics, however. Upon reading that an American Idol contestant was bumped after singing the provocative title song from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Hirsh saw immediately that southern “nativism and yahooism” have clearly overwhelmed northern “eagerness for the new and openness to innovation--art, or at least high craft.” In a warp-speed history lesson, Hirsh explains that “the "radical nationalism" that has so dominated the nation's discourse since 9/11 traces its origins to the demographic makeup and mores of the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest--in other words, what we know today as Red State America.” According to Hirsh, RSA was settled by fiercely combative Scots-Irish immigrants who, after whipping up on the Celtic Catholics in Northern Ireland, came over here and fought off the Indians, rallied behind frontier ruffian Andrew Jackson, and clung thereafter to "a rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores" that was traditionally “balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest.” Alas, as of late “that latter sensibility has been losing ground in population numbers--and cultural weight.”
Hirsh eschews (Bless You!) the argument that the final groundwork for the South’s ruinous political and cultural takeover was laid by self-exiled Crackers who flocked to job-rich northern industrial cities during and after World War II, and despite being the nation’s most reviled and ridiculed non-immigrant whites of their era, managed somehow to imbue more rational, better educated northern whites with their peculiarly depraved racial and religious sensibilities. However, he does quote yet another in a seemingly inexhaustible stream of books bemoaning the so-called Southernization of America to the effect that " the nation's population center has been 'moving south and west at a rate of three feet an hour, five miles a year.'" I must confess that, until reading Hirsh, I couldn’t quite comprehend how our country’s supposedly recent turn to the right could be attributed to the South’s population growth when so much of that growth came courtesy of whites who were abandoning the ostensibly liberal North. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why these folks turned so suddenly and rabidly conservative once they got here? Is there something in the water, I wondered, in anti-gay, pro-gun, pro-creationist Cobb County, Georgia, where nearly 40 percent of the population comes from outside the state? Thanks to Hirsh, I now understand that these relocating right-wing Yankees had obviously already been “southernized” before they got here. Why else would they have come, after all?
To Hirsh, the extent and severe consequences of South over North are readily apparent and beyond question: “The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue is unmistakable. We must endure 'lapel-pin politics' that elevates the shallowest sort of faux jingoism over who's got a better plan for Iraq and Afghanistan." (Note to Hirsh: Take a close look before jumping to conclusions about which flag is more popular in lapels down this way.) "We have re-imported creationism into our political dialogue in the form of "intelligent design". (OK. I see. It’s actually an outbreak of “Southernism” that’s the matter with Kansas.) "Hillary Clinton panders shamelessly to Roman Catholics, who have allied with Southern Protestant evangelicals on questions of morality, with anti-abortionism serving as the main bridge." (I can’t believe this was happening right under my nose. I clearly missed the emerging spiritual bond between the RC’s and their natural allies, the Southern Baptists. Hirsh doesn’t mention it, but I ‘ll bet this affinity for Roman Catholics is particularly strong among black southern Protestants, who consistently show the strongest opposition to abortion, gay marriage, etc.) "On foreign policy, the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition once kept the Southern-frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism in check. Now the latter two, in toxic combination, have taken over our national dialogue, and the Easterners are running for the hills." (And here I’d thought all along that the Ivy League JFK retreads like Bobby McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were generally encouraging LBJ to jump right in on Vietnam while his southern buddy Dick Russell was trying to convince him to stay out.)
If one is not thoroughly convinced by the depth of Hirsh’s analysis and the strength of his logic at this point, there is our man, “W,” the absolute embodiment of nationally ascendant “Southernism.” In Bush, Hirsh finds “little trace left of the Eastern WASP sensibility into which he was born and educated, and which explains so much of his father's far more moderate presidency. The younger Bush went to Andover, Yale and Harvard, but he rebelled against the ethos he learned there. "(Drat! ol’ W. was probably on his way to being John Kerry until that scurrilous bunch of southernizers who so frequently prey on unsuspecting graduates of Harvard and Yale pulled the Confederate flag over his eyes.) "The transformation is complete, right down to the Texas accent that no one else in his family seems to have. Bush is a Jacksonian pod person. " Insofar as a “pod person” is either an “impostor” or “someone who mindlessly goes along with the official dogma or party line,” Hirsh has flat-out nailed our current prez, but even the most adamant Jacksonophobe would cringe at this monumental injustice to “Ol’ Hickory.”
All seriousness aside, the biggest problem I have with Hirsh’s piece is not his condescending, stereotypical treatment of the South, but the facile, arrogantly ignorant outrages he has committed against history in order to concoct an explanation that allows him to absolve his own crowd of any responsibility for the current state of national affairs. To be perfectly honest, when I first read the thing, I actually thought it was a spoof of a northeastern elitist’s view of America. The second time through, however, I realized that, instead of having his tongue placed firmly against the side of his mouth, the author apparently had his entire head wedged between some other, more remotely situated cheeks.