Monday, November 08, 2004

Civil War Redux

This post should really go to the top of your "must read" list. Some excerpts:

... it's important to remember that one of the main reasons for the civil war was that the southerners believed that the north was trying to impose their "values" upon them and they deeply resented it. From the earliest days of the republic this was a problem. A different culture grew up around slavery in the south as did the tension surrounding the issue. The mere act of rejecting it was cause for insult and the south withdrew into a cultural identity based largely upon its difference from the north. Indeed, this was one of the defining rationales for slavery --- the exceptionalism of the southern culture.
... this irrational behavior was not due to the south not getting most of the the legislation it wanted, because it did. But it became an emotional issue in which it was important to "crack the whip over the heads of the northern men" and they began to make enemies of their allies in the territories.
The civil war, of course, made everything worse. Reconstruction was a nightmare and the north never had even the slightest idea what to do about the race problem once they dealt with the slavery problem. (Indeed, when it comes to racism, the north shared most of the same beliefs. They just didn't live among many blacks so they didn't have to deal with those problems until much later.) But, the ignominy of reconstruction gave birth to the Lost Cause mythology and that only reinforced the already outsized sense of wounded pride.
One thing this little historical trip should show everyone is that it is nonsense to think that this cultural resentment and cultural contempt was created by Hollywood movie stars and limosine liberals from New York City. Indeed, this has been a problem since the dawn of the republic. And it isn't a problem that will be solved by the Red States gaining and maintaining power. They have held power many times throughout our history and they were still filled with resentment toward "the north" (now "the liberal elites.") And, it won't be solved by adopting different stances on "moral issues," or telling the current Democratic southern constituencies to suck it up. Maybe it's time we looked a little bit deeper and realized that this tribal problem isn't going to be solved by politics at all.

As an expatriate southerner myself, I think Digby is hitting the nail right on the head. There is a strong us vs. them mentality in the south. In its nicest form, it's a kind of cultural pride - and well deserved, at that. But a more pernicious form has clearly taken over at the ballot box, and it's gonna take more than the DNC "shifting center" to make that change.