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Sunday, October 14, 2012

 
Polarization: ain't that America?

by digby

When people start hand wringing over the fact that we are suddenly a polarized country, I always wonder what cave they've been living in. With some rare exceptions, it was ever thus.  At least I've always thought so.

Michael Lind wrote about this recently for Salon:

Now that they dominate the Republican party, Southern conservatives are using it to carry out the same strategies that they promoted during the generations when they controlled the Democratic Party, from the days of Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren to the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. From the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, the oligarchs of the American South have sought to defend the Southern system, what used to be known as the Southern Way of Life.

Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy. The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern work force that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.

Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers. A weak welfare state also maximizes the dependence of ordinary Southerners on the tax-favored clerical allies of the local Southern ruling class, the Protestant megachurches, whose own lucrative business model is to perform welfare functions that are performed by public agencies elsewhere, like child care.

Obviously, not all Southerners agree with this. There are many staunch southern liberals as well as Hispanics and African Americans who are almost all hardcore Democrats. And the northern and Western states are full of conservatives, including the effete "intellectuals" like Paul Ryan. But what he's talking about here is the South as the political epicenter of America's unique philosophical conservatism and the long, long history of its struggle with the more liberal "Northern" culture for supremacy in our political life.

Now, I happen to believe these All-American conservatives would like to extend their belief system to the whole country. Merely preserving the South's unique way of life is hardly their goal. Indeed, I think the avatars of American conservatism in other parts of the country are a good guide in that respect:


The maps don't tell the whole story, but you have to admit they are interesting:



Slave states - Free states

Union vs Confederacy


2008 electoral map



2008 electoral map by population



Demographic changes may eventually mark the end of this.  But this divide been amazingly enduring. Despite civil war and strange bedfellow political alliances along the way, it still manages to revert back to this equilibrium. These are two distinct political cultures that have been fighting this out since the beginning. It's America.

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