Tuesday, April 01, 2008


First off, thanks for the comments. Even Turtle's tangential rant on sexuality and family values has sparked several new ideas for me. Reading over these comments and discussing them with the spousal unit over dinner (Question - Do you say dinner or supper to describe the evening meal?) has made something gel in the way I have been trying to sort out what the hell "The South" is to the Democratic Party (past, present, future).

What came through on the comments was a clear strand of resentment against this ill-defined group of political actors and power brokers I labeled "the elite". There's definitely a class element there, even when a poster has him/herself has entered the professional classes. There is regionalism, with both Bubbas and Bunkers weighing in. Gender was everywhere, with the elites consistently cast as male (though not thereby masculine) and the resistence being firmly grounded in Rules of My Mother. Generalities and stereotypes abound, being a hazard of the blogospheric temptation to assert rather than demonstrate, but even these provide things to think about. Don't talk down to us, we're not stupid, we're not racist and we're not irrational. We aren't voting for Hillary because we don't understand all these big tough political decision thingies, because we're closeted white supremacists, or because we're voting with our vaginas.

There is an enormous theoretical write up to follow, which will take some time to organize and set down. Here's the gist:

The Democratic Party and "The South" are inextricably linked. There are a number of political narratives to explain this relationship, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves to understand not just who we are, but who we should be. In this electoral cycle, because of who has run, the Democratic Party is finding itself at the end of a certain narrative, the one that says the failure of the New Deal and the Great Society is to be laid at the feet of poor and working class whites who would prefer to be bigots than to live in a just society. It is a narrative of resentment.

The path to crafting a new narrative that rejects resentment and will allow Democrats to reclaim our Jacksonian mojo leads us through "The South".



Peregrine said...

I grew up in the south, in a family that moved from working class to professional because my father went to college on the GI bill after WWII. I left home early, moving to the west coast and eventually did my undergrad work there and then, after having two children, moved to the northeast where I earned my phd. In 1994, at the age of 40, I took a job teaching at a small liberal arts college in Mississippi, for which the annual tuition was more than the average income for a family of 4. I stayed for six years, leaving after my youngest child finished high school.
Living in Mississippi was six years of sustained culture shock. Nothing made sense to me. The overwhelming majoring of white people from all economic levels were Republicans. They conveyed a strong feeling that the Democrats wanted to take whatever affluence they had away from them. Many white people were new to the middle class; one or two generations away from working in the fields or working for wealthy person in some capacity, just scratching out a living. These people sent their children to private (segregated) schools, attended white (segregated) churches, and were major supporters of the Republican party.
The white Democrats that I met were of two kinds--either imports from the northeast or the west coast (my colleagues) or veterans of the civil rights movement. This last group were economically well off, and had long term, close friendships with black friends. This was a very small group.
When Bill Clinton was up for reelection, he received 5 votes in my neighborhood. Since Jackson , MS is very segregated, I assume that those 5 represented me and a few colleagues from the college.
The racism in Mississippi is palpable an mindblowing. My neighbor, a gay man, hated blacks. This was so ironic because homosexuality is seen as a great sin in the deep south, whereas racial bias is unspoken and looked down upon, even though runs palpably through everything. For example, there are no public gathering places--parks, community centers, etc--that are frequented by both blacks and whites. The state has a sales tax on food--punitive to those living at or below the poverty line. And only a few blocks from the private college where I taught, there were houses without running water or electricity, inhabited by blacks.
Many of the local whites that I got to know had a belief in social darwinism, they wouldn't call it that , of course, but the sentiment seemed to be "they've got what they work for." Of course there is a black middle class (small) and some well-off black families, but nonetheless, segregation is unofficially maintained.
I was naive, coming as I did from liberal and progressive places (now, as I read the progressive blogs, I see myself as I was then and am repulsed). and the first time I saw black men wearing suits and standing in medians, handing out Nation of Islam fliers that accused Jews of every bad thing that's ever happened, I was shocked. The white xtians were also anti-semitic, but in a more xtian way (irony).
Part of my job was to run a women's studies program, but I was told that I could never use the word "feminist" and the chair of my dept told me to make up a story that I had to make up a story about having a boyfriend, otherwise "they" would think I was a lesbian and i would get fired.
The college where I taught is considered the most liberal college in all of Mississippi. It enrolled black students prior to the civil rights requirements, and while it only had one black faculty member and 3% students of color in 2000, when I left, it was far more liberal and progressive than any other school in MS and equally so to small liberal arts colleges in the deep south .
I will stop there. If nothing else, i hope this post conveys to some extent the disequilibrium I experience in the south. Few of the labels, expectations, or calls to judgment that I brought with me worked for me while i lived there. Living in MS for six years forced me to realize the way people think, the conclusions they draw and the way they vote is much more complicated than I ever knew.
For the most part, the people I got to know there are good people, but they are moved by tides not visible to my eyes.

CMike said...

Uh oh. I don't think I like where this is heading. Jacksonian mojo? Please blogger god, don't let my future include a read that argues FDR betrayed good old Huey Long.

Anonymous said...

You got me thinking it must be hard to be a white Clinton supporter these days. Whereas sexism gets a free pass in this election.

Anonymous said...

donnadarko: I think this country is long overdue for another feminist revolution. Many young women today take for granted the priviledges their mothers and grandmothers fought for. I think if Obama steals this nomination because of his race baiting and disenfranchising millions of voters, women need to protest not only with their vote but with their voices on the streets of Washington. People act like sexism does not exist or does not occur daily on MSNBC and sites like TPM and DailyKos. But Bill Clinton mentions the term "fairy tale" and Obama in the same sentence and it is taken out of context, discussed for weeks, and the Obamabots cry racism. But it is okay for bloggers and MSNBC to shit on Hillary everyday, have a popular radio show host on Air America get away with calling Ferraro and Clinton "fucking whores" (watch the youtube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfdhWi5MILo), and all of this is funny to millions of people. It has left me so enraged that there is no way that I could ever vote for Obama.

Also, can't wait to read what you have to say Anglachel.

CMike said...


That is an astounding clip. I don't think a right wing radio station could keep a talk show host after they were outed on tape saying that - well maybe Savage could survive.

I just don't see how Air America can keep her on after that. I'll give up listening occasionally to Thom Hartmann and Sam Seder, I'm done with that operation. In fact, I'll email 'em right now.

Patsi Bale Cox said...

This a wonderful blog! Thanks!

gendergappers said...

Let's not forget the power elite in the North either and their effect on us in the Dem stronghold.

You can tell it’s Friday when the insecure, big talk-little do pols rush to the media to say something disgusting, nasty or self-aggrandizing. So sure enough attention seeker extraordinaire, Sen. Pat Leahy, deems to command Hillary to withdraw. [Like he’d ever tell BO to, scheesh!]

Why Friday? Because he assures himself of invites on all the hate-Hillary weekend TV and radio programs. He lives to bask in the limelight. He’ll be cosseted and cajoled as he and the interviewer engage in mutual masturbation over the Hope Pope, while verbally tearing HRC to shreds.

The media will have its usual field day. All the BO lies will be unmentioned or glossed over; all the HRC accusations will be pulled out, refurbished and bronzed with plenty of lightly scented misogyny. Blogs like dailykos will go nutz with joy and tax even their ability to shovel manure.

And most everyone will forget Pat, the quitter-master giving in and supporting Roberts and Aleto to the Supremes; Or his turning his back on women’s reproductive issues after assuring voters he would not let his religion influence his duties as Senator.

BBKE said...

To over simplify, the Reagan democrats have come back after the horror of George Bush, but the elite Democrats do not want them back. To be admitted back into the Democratic fold, the Reagan dems are going to have to suffer class and/or regional taunts, pressure to follow rules which they find abhorrent, and just generally accept that they are inferior. It is sort of a mini Reconstruction.

CMike said...

Sort of a mini- Reconstruction? I take it you think Reconstruction was an era of oppression of salt-of-the-earth types by carpetbagger Northerners and their constituency in the south. Then the that yoke was lifted, Reconstruction came to a close after the 1876 presidential election.

Generally speaking, how did that work out for everybody down south for the next hundred years?

I believe Hillary Clinton has rather strong views on this subject.

Unknown said...

I grew up in the south as well. When I went to graduate school it was at the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. This was my first foray into the north and with the exception of my 90 yr. old grandfather ( Law degree from The University of Washington, St. Louis ) I was the first in my family to recieve an advanced degree. We were working class, catholic and I had to work my way through college and relied on scholarships. Philadelphia was an education, and I encountered alot of hostility because of my cracker accent. This was when the emergence of the "New South" was getting alot of newsplay with minorities gaining in political and economic strength throughout metropolitan southern cities like Atlanta, Houston, Dallas. It might as well not have mattered, because most AA students I encountered treated me as if I was wearing a white hood and most yanks treated me as if were a stupid red neck. Even though I went to an Ivy league and recieved an MFA, I've always been an FDR progressive. I learned that the root of most problems is economic. Liberal elites have just as much of a hard time understanding the concerns of the working class as lunch buckets trying to understand the culture wars. What I see is that this seems to be a battle for the future course of the Democratic party. If we are to retain the progressive platform with it's roots in the labor movement and economic justice or if we are going to return to the factional fighting for social justice based on emphasis of race, gender, fringe group causes. Incrementalism vs. revolution. When we had a centrist platform we got alot accomplished. The GOP had made liberal a dirty word akin to radiacalism. Even the great progressive causes of FDR came under attack. Liberals need to understand that the only way we get anything done is when we have the majority and can work steadily towards achieving economic justice. Economic injustice equalizes everyone, There are poor black and white enclaves throughout the country.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't just cast the elites as male -- I was just responding to CT's comment, which is why I only mentioned the male half. The female half's just as repugnant:

The Office Barracuda. You know the one -- can't be friends with anyone in the office who's thinner than she is. Flashes tits to get things out of the guys in the office, but when she has to work with the women, she reverts to full-bore bitch-queen mode because her giggles and flirts don't work with them.

Trophy wives, the sorts who get where they are almost exclusively by stabbing other women in the back. There's room for one Queen Bitch, and it's THEM. They aren't supporting Hillary because she's not them.

Neither of them do well when they hit 50 and the tits start to head south and the crow's feet show up. They never learned to work WITH other women, and they never learned to work with men without flashing stocking tops, so when they turn 50, they end up looking like someone's attached a bungee cord to their eyelids and strung it up behind the back of their head.

As a result, queen bitches with a greater position of influence than they have are instantly the Enemy, especially ones who bagged more alpha husbands, and they don't cope well with older women because older women remind them of their own mortality.

Another gross stereotype, but there ya have it. :-)

Chinaberry Turtle said...

Janis, it is a real hoot to read your posts!