Several years ago I gave a talk about Ronald Reagan to the Exchange Club in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I was preceded on that occasion by a couple of Civil War reenactors, one of whom made the statement that the Civil War was not about slavery. Every head in the room except mine nodded in agreement. In the context I did not think it proper to respond but if I had I would have explained to them why they were all wrong. The Civil War was about nothing else.
The legacy of slavery, the war, and the civil rights movement cast long shadows over the South and for very good reasons. While my Southern brethren have yet to take full responsibility for their history that does not mean that it cannot be abused for political purposes.
Andrew Sullivan on This Week showed how it can be abused. Here is the clip from YouTube.
Here is Sullivan's inflammatory statement:
If Virginia and Florida go back to the Republicans, it's the Confederacy. Entirely. You put the map of the Civil War over this electoral map, you've got the Civil War. Am I wrong?
There are so many things wrong with this that one hardly knows where to begin. I begin with George Will's response:
A lot of white people who voted for Obama in 2008 watched him govern for four years and said, 'Not so good, let's try someone else.' The alternative, the Confederacy hypothesis, is those people somehow for some reason in the last four years became racist.
Will also points out that Democratic candidates for President have been losing the White vote since 1964. In every case but one both candidates were White. To put it mildly, the claim that Barack Obama might lose the White vote this year because of racism lacks empirical support. Sullivan denied that that was what he was saying but what else could the Confederacy statement imply?
Sullivan's statement was obviously wrong. If Mitt Romney wins the election he will very probably win every state that seceded in 1860-61, just as George W. Bush did in 2004. Romney will also win a lot of states that were not in existence at that time, along with Indiana and I dare say Ohio. So the electoral map and the Confederacy are hardly one and the same map. All that the electoral map tells us is that the states are divided by party preference along sectional lines. That is a commonplace of American politics. Suppose that all the state with large numbers of Hispanic immigrants voted Democrat. I expect that some nationalists would regard that as an invasion by Mexico. By Sullivan's logic, they would have a point.
What Sullivan's comment implies is there is something sinister if this particular group of states aligns in a presidential election, at least if they align against a candidate who happens to be African American. That is a bald faced attempt to discredit the free choice of millions of voters in a vast region of the nation. Worse still, it implies that if majorities in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida go Republican this year, they will be guilty of recreating the Confederacy. Shame on them!
This is noxious numbskullery. Voters in these three states have every right to pass judgment on the man in the White House this year just as they do every four years. Sullivan has a Chris Matthews like affection for the President. If people in a number of key states do not share his affection, he wants us to think that that is a sign of a deficiency of character. I think that Sullivan's argument is a sign of a deficiency of character.
I don't know how strong racism is as a force in national voter preferences. I know that it was not sufficient to prevent Barack Obama from winning a presidential election. I also know that a reasonable person might conclude that Obama does not deserve reelection on the basis of his record alone. Some Obama partisans have argued that their opponents are motivated by racism. Some of these partisans have been as hateful, hysterical, and bigoted as any KKK yahoo.
Such partisans do the President no service. Whatever one thinks of Barack Obama, he had the courage and talent to run for and win the White House. He deserves to be judged by his conduct in office. Those who raise the racism flag obviously don't have confidence that he could survive such a judgment. Trying to protect him from it is another kind of racism.