Saturday, December 04, 2004

Backlash and Fear

Oh Alabama.
Can I see you and shake your hand.
Make friends down in Alabama.
I’m from a new land
I come to you and see all this ruin
What are you doing Alabama?
You got the rest of the union to help you along
What’s going wrong?

- Neil Young, Alabama

During the past month I’ve made some noise about the “values” issue (as have a number of other bloggers). Although the nonsense that values was THE issue of the election was soundly debunked, it is still an issue that refuses to die and I see the issue still making it onto several blogs on a daily basis. I’m not going to put the issue to rest on this blog, either. There is still so much more that needs to be said about values, specifically the values that led to the re-election of the vile incompetent thug named Bush.

I’m perturbed by what passes for values among many Red State voters. What I’m seeing in the rhetoric and resolve of Red State voters is an ugly undercurrent poisoning the salt-of-the-earth. Beneath the veneer of “traditional values” and “patriotism” is a disturbing backlash against social progress in the US, a quiet rage at what many Americans perceive is the source of cultural decay. The Republican party has succeeded all too well in exploiting that rage by scapegoating liberals and indulging in the politics of fear. Beneath the lies of “building an ownership society”, “keeping America safe and strong”, and “protecting the sanctity of marriage” is the sub-text of “we won’t allow ‘them’ to be anything other than entertainers, sports figures, or low-wage laborers,” and “we’re done with the emasculation of our country by giving women and gays an esteemed place in our society.”

Doing a little surfing today, I came across this repulsive little tidbit by the walking waste-of-space Samuel Francis, a syndicated columnist for Creator’s Syndicate (get it?), about the Nicolette Sheridan/Terrell Owens “Desperate Housewives” commercial that ran on Monday Night Football:
...the Owens-Sheridan ad was interracial and brazenly so—if only morals and taste had been the targets, the producers could easily have found white actresses who are less obviously Nordic than the golden-locked Miss Sheridan, but Nordic is what the ad’s producers no doubt wanted.
But that wasn’t the point, was it? The point was not just to hurl a pie in the face of morals and good taste but also of white racial and cultural identity. The message of the ad was that white women are eager to have sex with black men, that they should be eager, and that black men should take them up on it.

Creator’s Syndicate is the same outfit that carries Bob Novak, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of that knuckle-dragging bunch (to be fair, they also carry Molly Ivins), so it’s not as if this clown is writing for some obscure white-supremacist rag. Obviously, to many conservatives, the issue of values is not just about gay marriage or ordering the Ten Commandments off the front steps of a courthouse but also about race. It’s not as if this is subliminally coded; it’s out there for all to see (another telling indictment is to go to Francis’s article and read the comments all the pinheads have posted – it’s frightening to know people think like that).

Lest you think I’m just some loud-mouthed lefty out in Colorado bloviating about things I don’t know about, let me give you a little biographical data on how I gained my insight.

My father is a retired E-9 from the USAF (a tough old drill sergeant with no love for Bush) and in 1976 we ended up transferring to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama (a couple of years after the blood-thirsty baboon supposedly “honorably” finished his duty there). At the time I was precociously political (the tender age of 15) and prior to moving to Alabama I immersed myself in books about the Civil Rights movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma March, the Birmingham Church bombing, etc.; I was determined that I was going to bring my nascent form of radicalism to Alabama get the new revolution going.

What I initially found was the malaise of the “New South”, not the south I had read about but a south of shopping malls and chain restaurants and cable television. A backwater in transition, Alabama in the 70’s seemed to be shaking off the dust of its shameful past. Blacks were gaining political power, Morris Dees’ Southern Poverty Law Center was vigorously prosecuting Jim Crow hold-outs, and the black middle-class was asserting its economic influence.

It’s not that I didn’t witness racism during my time in Alabama but it wasn’t to the extent that I saw in the various photographs from the 60’s, the howling thugs slapping little girls, corpulent trailer park queens screaming in the face of marchers, mongoloid cowards proudly surrounding the lynched corpse of a black man like brave white hunters. However, I knew that Alabama’s ample trash had not suddenly disappeared into thin air nor had they suddenly become bathed in the light of Civil Rights. Forced by federal fiat to fester in the dark of lily-white private schools and country clubs (when it could be afforded) or Klaverns and wrong-headed evangelical churches (when poverty was an issue), racism took on a less overt but no less virulent form.

The racism I witnessed in Alabama was a subtle, whispered sort where little old ladies would be asked to move to a table away from a black family, where blacks would not be helped in stores or car lots except by other blacks, where the Confederate flag was used a symbol for hearkening back to a “different time” (and in the mind of a Trent Lott, a “better time”). In the meantime, many whites gritted their teeth, waiting for the south to rise again, waiting for a savior. They found it in the personage of George Bush.

Thomas F. Schaller makes a trenchant observation in last week’s Gadflyer, refuting the notion that Republicans did not play the Race Card. There’s some good material there but for the sake of this post, I just want to focus what he said about Alabama voters rejecting the measure that would have stripped away segregationist language from Alabama’s state constitution:
Technically, therefore, it is still constitutionally legal in 2004, for example, to have segregated public schools in the state. AL Gov. Bob Riley, who supported the amendment to remove the racist language, says there was some confusing language added to the amendment that related to public funding of schools (a poison pill?) which killed it; he thinks a version without that language would have passed. Fair enough: Given the narrow defeat, I’ll defer to the governor’s assessment. Still, it will be interesting to see by what margin a cleaner version of the amendment passes. Would it still get 25 percent nay votes? Thirty percent?

Actually, that vote would be an interesting little “natural experiment” to test Alexander’s claims. For, as it happens, George W. Bush carried Alabama by a 25.69 percent margin over John Kerry. And although Bush’s 2004 statewide margin was wider in eight “red” states, what’s interesting about Alabama is that it holds the distinction of being the state where Bush’s winning margin increased the most between 2000 and 2004 – by 10.81 percent. Indeed, I’d bet that precinct-level voting for the Nov. 2 version of Amendment 2 (or even a cleaner, future version) to ban the racist language is significantly and negatively correlated with Bush’s precinct-level voting percentages. Of course, if racism has nothing to do with GOP fortunes in states like Alabama, there should either be no correlation or, I suppose, possibly even a positive correlation.

Of course, the numbers might be a little influenced by “the shame factor”, the concept that some voters in Alabama recognize how badly their state looks in 21st century America. Despite that, I’d still be willing to bet that the new measure (without any kid of rider) would still fail. As I said previously, your run-of-the-mill racist doesn’t just suddenly reform from deeply ingrained ignorance and abject stupidity.

Fortunately, just as not all Red State voters harbor values of racism and hate, not all racism and hate is incorrigible. “The shame factor” is a tangible psychological construct and can be used to great effect. By bringing the code-words of racism to light, by identifying what is really hidden under the rubric of “values”, a number of Red State voters will see just what a shameful, destructive bill of good they’ve bought into. Most people want to be well thought of, they think of themselves as reasonably intelligent, sophisticated, and would be appalled if they were labeled “racist”. Bringing the core of the Republican’s “values” agenda to light will shame a lot of voters away from the politics of backlash and fear.

During the election, John Edwards had it pegged: there are indeed two Americas. Unfortunately, that concept was left fallow and instead the Kerry campaign was busy formulating abstractions and playing defense. Had the notion of Two Americas been hammered home, that values is not about the preservation of White families, White heterosexuality, and mostly, White America but about the disparity between the haves and have-nots and how the so-called “values party” was subverting the unity of this country, the election would have finished much differently.


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