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Thursday, November 20, 2008


by digby

In a post discussing Paul Krugman's argument that the congress needs to stop posturing and arrange for a bridge loan until a new administration can take a look at the problem (which seems to have happened), Scarecrow at FDL notes this:

As MSNBC explains, this is also "north versus south" again, in which Jeff Sessions argues that employees in Alabama who don't have health insurance should not be asked to bail out those with health insurance in Michigan. But what that means is that those with insurance should be forced to fail so that everyone can not have health insurance. Brilliant logic, Jeff.

Actually from Sessions' point of view, it is. As I touched on the other day, this battle over the Big Three has a strong red state Blue state component, made more acute by the fact that the Republican Party is no almost exclusively a Southern party, with regional priorities and attitudes that are going to increasingly be in conflict with the rest of the country. Not that's there's anything exactly new about that, is there?

There has been a lot of yammering about Lincoln and his "team of rivals" (which dday summarily dispatched the other day.) I actually think comparisons to Lincoln are apt, but not in the way people are saying. Perhaps he brought political rivals into his cabinet (with not very much success as it turns out) but he was dealing with a political opposition so intractable that it resulted in civil war. In fact, he failed spectacularly to "bring the country together," which is the main thing the chatterers expect Obama to do.

There have been times when the country came together in mutual crisis. The great Depression was one, although the south was on board out of economic desperation and based upon a promise that Roosevelt wouldn't try to act on any kind of civil rights. So, yes, everyone was "together" --- except for the black people who were as apart, as always.

Things are different now. After all, Obama is black and the South is not the same place it was then. But it is the political home of one of the two parties once again and that makes it a potential roadblock to progress even so. Southern conservatives (Dixiecans?), acting in concert, can be a powerful force for obstruction. And their character is one of angry, prideful aggression.

Dday referred in his post the other night to Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, which I have discussed many, many times on this blog in trying to understand the nature of Red State Republicanism. I think that Obama can learn a lot from that speech by recognizing what he's up against:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

That's the genesis of the victimization culture we still see today in the American right. "All their troubles proceed from us." It's beyond borders and certainly not confined to southern conservatives, but this is where it all began.

During the darkest days of Republican dominance I wrote this:

Lincoln had a keen understanding of the problem and he logically framed it in moral terms regarding the subject at hand, slavery. As it turns out this was not simply about slavery. It was about a deep and abiding tribal divide in the country that was originally defined by slavery but metatisized into something far beyond it, even then. Southern “exceptionalism” was always justified by its culture, which was assumed to be unique and unprecedented.

You can apply Lincoln’s arguments to any number of current issues and come out the same. There is an incoherence of principle that we see in every section of the republican party, the willingness to call to State’s Rights (their old rallying cry) when it suits them and a complete abdication of the principle once they hold federal power --- while still insisting that they believe in limited government! They blatantly misconstrue the plain meaning of long standing constitutional principles and federal policies (such as Brit Hume’s abject intellectual whorishness in the matter of FDR’s beliefs about social security privatization) and show irrational, rabid anger at any disagreement. They see Democrats as “traitors” fighting for the other side, just as the Southerners of the 1850’s accused the “Black Republicans” of fomenting slave revolts. They brook no compromise and instead repay those who would reach out to them with furious perfidy unless they show absolute fealty to every facet of the program. It is loyalty to “the cause”, however it is defined and however it changes in principle from day to day, that matters.

Now, before everyone gets furious with me, let me make clear that I am not talking about southerners in general --- I'm talking about southern conservatives, who are now the nearly exclusive demographic of the national Republican party. Obviously, there are many liberal southerners fighting the good fight, electing progressives where they can. But they are in the minority. This thesis is about conservative political power and there is no denying that the Republican rump is clustered in the south.

The point of all this is that the Republican party being a Southern party is both good and bad news. It means they are not a majority, which is the good. But it also means that it is far more conservative and consumed with a sense of its own victimization at the hands of the rest of the country. That makes them dangerous, even in their relative weakness. Democrats had best pay heed and be a little bit less concerned about their rivals and more concerned about their enemies. Losing the last of their moderating regional and ideological ballast leaves them with nothing but a 250 year old chip on their shoulders and they have quite a vivid history of acting in very destructive ways toward the nation as a whole.