The South Hasn’t Risen Again
Andrew Sullivan has pulled out the Electoral College maps again to make a point about race, the Confederacy, and the Republican Party:
[I]f Obama loses North Carolina, Virginia and Florida – which I suspect he will – then the 2012 map will more closely resemble the civil war map than 2008, when the same pattern was striking.
I criticized this line of thought fifteen months ago. It still remains the case that the election results from 2000 and 2004 mapped onto the alignment of states during the Civil War at a higher clip than in 2008 (83% rather than 80%). As I pointed out last July, George W. Bush won the entirety of the former Confederacy twice. No one assumed this was because Southerners viewed Al Gore as a traitor or carpetbagger, or John Kerry as some kind of Yankee abolitionist radical—or, on the flip side viewed Bush as the second coming of Jefferson Davis.
Sullivan is correct insofar as, using the possible election results he does, only five (rather than six in 2000 or 2004) states “flip” sides. But this swing is entirely the result of shifts of less than five percentage points in Ohio,New Hampshire, and Iowa. Indeed, four Union states and three Confederate are “in play” in this election cycle. A small percentage change in voters would result in a map even less like that of the Civil War than we saw in 2008. Moreover, the strongest Republican gains in the last half-decade have come Southern hill country—the same mountains which were home, during the Civil War, to intense Union sympathy and strongly opposed secession.
While racial attitudes have affected how some voters view candidates, I don’t think we get anywhere constructive by extrapolating to a “Cold Civil War.” I’m wary of that label because, compared with what led up to the actual Civil War, or took place during the 1960s, this is a pretty tame—I daresay “lame”—“Cold Civil War.” The country was fairly polarized during the Bush years; I recall going around explaining to anyone who would listen that our days as a constitutional republic were surely numbered because of who was in the White House. My friends and I spoke of him with vitriol that isn’t dissimilar from what is found on today’s right.
There are plenty of white Southerners who are voting for someone other than Barack Obama for reasons unrelated to his race—I’d say most don’t give a thought to the Civil War when casting their votes these days. I’m related to many of them; I grew up among and remain friends with many of them; and, insofar as I voted for Gary Johnson for reasons very similar to those Jason laid out several weeks ago, I suppose that I am one of them.
Forgive me for closing by quoting myself at length, but the point (and the math, roughly) remains the same:
And then there’s this problem: the Confederacy only had eleven official members; 13 if insist on counting Kentuckyand Missourialong 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 Kentuckybacked 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.