Tuesday, October 05, 2004

So, we are still fighting the Civil War?

Glenn Smith at Blog of the President has this observation about partisan divisions on the basis of geography:
Even after four years of punditizing the blue state, red state phenom, it's been too little noticed the extent to which Republicans have revived the old Confederacy. Accurately, the fight is once again between the Blue and the Gray, not the blue and the red.

Little noticed? Perhaps not in the world of political activism, pundits have not played the your daddy was a slave-owner/yankee cracker cards. However, historians have noted how north/south divisions have perpetuated themselves by shifting into different fields of political conflict, from slavery to states' rights, labor relations, economic policies, foreign intervention, works programs, civil rights, internationalism ... until we get to our current division. And we use the legacy of slavery to draw critical (sometimes partisan) attention to Southern politics.

Calling the red states a revival of the Confederacy is a bit much--indeed, Southern Republicans advocate types of cultural unity that have no equivalent in American history (no one will like it when I say this, but it resembles the Jacobin instincts of French republicanism). Perhaps what is interesting is that the divisions between north and south have been politicized and that people are choosing where they live on the basis of their political identities. This view is further problematized when historians consider that civil rights, the most recent contentious debate about racial equality, was a debate within the Democratic Party as well as in the public sphere.

But this model does not explain everything. The most obvious thing is the redness of the Rocky Mountain region. Geitner Simmons is exploring the relations between the South and the West--he might have some explanation of the strength of the Republican Party in the West. I also think that both parties are thinking of ways of reaching across the north-south divide, looking for charismatic politicians that can capture the imagination of people in hostile territories. On the left, John Edwards and Wesley Clark are examples; on the right, Mitt Romney, Rudi Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger.


At 6:09 PM, Blogger Glenn Smith said...

There are no doubt many cultural and political reasons why so many of the Slave States remaining Red States. Similarly, there are many reasons so many Free States are Blue States. This is, after all, 2004, and as Bill Clinton might have said at his acceptance speech in '96, there is a lot of water under the bridge to the 21st Century.

For historians, political analysts or even bloggers to overlook these forces would be an unpardonable oversight. I meant only to call attention to color schemes.

But I am not so certain that speaking of a revival of the Confederacy is "a bit much." While conceding that we are not talking about secession and while taking note of other powerful political and cultural variables and shifting "fields," there's just no denying that among the states we now call red are most of the states that once wore gray.

I look forward to Geitner Simmons analysis of the reddening of the West. And I agree with the observation about Southern Republicans' Jacobin instincts, as well as the note that there are some trying to bridge the North/South split. There always have been.

At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from Geitner Simmons:

Joel, in my book I do plan to touch briefly on some political tangents relating to the South and the West.

One of the curiosities is that Southern Republicans exert such influence on the modern GOP even though the South is a relative newcomer to the party.

In the book, I'm going to write about how some academicians and politicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries argued that the South and the West were de facto colonies of the "North." That was a theme that William Jennings Bryan sounded in his presidential campaign of 1896, for example. Although he lost, the Electoral College map shows that he nonetheless did carry both the South (not a surprise for a Democrat in that era, of course) and the West; an image of the map is here:

As many people have noted, in an interesting switch, the states won by Republican McKinley in 1896 roughly mirror the base of Democratic strength in present-day presidential contests. Meanwhile, the states carried by Democrat Bryan are now bastions of GOP support at the presidential level.

Constructing a political alliance between the South and the West was only a pipe dream among certain politicians and intellectuals. But the theme of the two regions as distinct from the "Northern" norm is an important one that forms a central focus of my studies.

At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from Geitner Simmons:

Oops -- I should have written Nathanael instead of Joel. That's what happens when I read some of my favorite blogs late at night in succession.


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