Department of Meaningless Historical Analogies: Civil War Edition (or, Racists Galore!)
Because I find less wrong with supporting John McCain in 2008 than seceding in order to protect the peculiar institution, I think that Andrew Sullivan’s statement
Recall that the map of the 2008 presidential election was almost identical to the map of the states in the Civil War, with now Northern-infiltrated Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida the only exceptions. And that, to my mind, is why we don’t just have a refusal to compromise; we have an essential refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the president or the Senate, because they are not controlled by the South. Heaven knows how this dynamic is made worse by having a miscegenated president. But I do not doubt that, somewhere in the psyche, it has to be.deserves a little fisking. Because if there’s anything that irritates me (other than calling a quotation a “quote,” or the way in which the passive voice is despised by journalism majors), it’s an historical analogy that only works when you want it to.
deserves a little fisking.
To begin with, in defense of the good Commonwealth of Kentucky(and Missouri and Kansas), three Union states backed McCain in 2008. Moreover,West Virginia, which, in effect, seceded from secession, also backed John McCain. That is, of the 35 states that existed by the end of the civil war, 28 allow for the mapping of Union:Confederate onto Obama:McCain; “almost identical” means eighty-percent.
In 2000, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Kentucky were the only states to flip sides; that is U:C maps onto Gore:Bush at 29:35, or 83%. It was the same ratio in 2004, only substituting Iowa for New Hampshire. Indeed, George W. Bush carried the entirety of the Confederacy in both years. We can infer from this that he was the second coming of Jeff Davis.
But the analogy is a little messier. I can already hear retorts of, but Kentucky and Missouri were slave states! Fine—so were Delaware, Maryland, and D.C.; West Virginia emancipated its slaves upon entry to the Union. Going by the issue of slavery alone, 27 states map onto the issue in 2008 as in 1865, or 77%. In 2000, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia. “flipped,” or 27 of 35 states; the same number, again, in 2004. (In all these cases, I’m not including D.C., we’re talking about States here—but its inclusion has no effect on the comparisons.) Apparently, Al Gore and John Kerry were defeated for being “lovers” of a particular term that I cannot repeat in this forum.
And then there’s this problem: the Confederacy only had eleven official members; 13 if insist on counting Kentucky and Missouri along with the flag, despite the states’ respective refusals to secede; fourteen if you count Oklahoma(which was then a territory). John McCain won 22 states in 2008. That is, only half the states that wanted John McCain to become President existed in 1865; and only eight of twenty-two were members of the Confederacy.
Is there a correlation? Yes. But I don’t think the numbers show you anything other than an anecdote. And there is certainly not enough to claim that there is a causal effect.
The point is: preferring John McCain to Barack Obama did not make one a racist in 2008; just as not approving of his job performance in 2011 does not make one a racist. This holds true even for those with the thickest Southern* accents. The Republican Party is the party of the South, yes—and of the Mountain West. I find this every bit as insulting as his claims that Kentucky backed Hilary Clinton over Obama because—wait for it—Kentuckians are racist. Claiming that the other side is not a legitimate negotiating partner, or cannot be taken in good faith, because 150 years ago the ancestors of some of the voters who elected them seceded is … well, I’ll let it speak for itself. But I think we can agree it’s not any way forward.
If the Republican Party is holding the economy hostage on the debt issue, there is far more evidence that they’re doing it because they are short-sighted political opportunists, or Randian True Believers, or politically naïve incompetents, or some combination of the preceding,** than because Barack Obama’s father was African and his mother was white. But then again, everything because a bit easier to comprehend, a bit easier to see the numerous ways in which you are right and they are wrong, when the other side is whistlin’ Dixie and all the True Americans are on yours.
*One minor thing: why is it that people act like there’s one “Southern accent” but acknowledge a whole variety of Yankee accents? Someone from Harlan does not sound like someone from Paducah, let alone the Gulf states. Just saying.
**In case you think I’m being biased, trust me when I say that my opinions of Congressional/professional Democrats are no kinder. I mean, Mitch McConnell might think that politics is more important than statesmanship, but at least he’s good at what he does.
Bonus Drive-by Truckers song for making it to the end of the post: