South Myth and Reality

I made a recent trip to South Carolina where my mother lives, along with my brother. Actually the rest of my family now lives south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi. My sister moved to North Carolina after retiring a few years back where she started a second career as a real estate agent. I was raised in Northern Virginia but Northern Virginia is hardly the south, located in the shadow of Washington, DC. I attended college in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley, as did James Madison, and there I began living in the South. (Once one leaves the Northern Virginia area, the real South begins.)

I have found that sin and vice often go hand in hand in the South. When I first traveled to the South, I noticed ads for massage parlors and just a couple of miles down the road, a sign for revivals and coming to Jesus. Exit 141 off Tennessee I-75 shows this dilemma as you can see an adult book store in the shadow of a big Cross off the interstate. God and porn are just a few feet away from each other. You can’t get away from showing the paradox of the South by revisiting NASCAR, one of the regional favorite pastimes. Many of the original NASCAR stars were former bootleggers who took the skills they learned escaping the law to the race track. NASCAR roots are plainly illegal, but today, who would suspect that one of America’s most popular sports was an outreach of driving bootleg liquor?

Kevin Williamson, in a recent excellent piece in National Review, also dispenses with one of the great myths of the South; that the rise of Republican Party was due to old racist Democrats joining the Party. Williamson makes the point that much of the rise of the Republican Party had more to do with the rise of the Middle Class in the post-World War II era, and this point echoed much of what Sean Trende wrote in The Lost Majority, who also added that the Republican numbers were also aided by transplants escaping the more liberal blue states of the North.

The mythology that the rise of Republican Party was based on the movement of racist whites moving toward the GOP is false and has a more complicated story. Williamson noted that 20 of the 21 Southern Senators who voted against the Civil Right bill stayed in the Democratic Party, and while many Southerners voted for Republican Presidents, it took several years before the Republican Middle Class developed enough of a voting bloc to overcome Democratic resistance. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that Republicans made inroads locally within the South.

In 1966, a noted race-baiting Democrat named John Dowdy was thrown out of office in Houston in favor of a northern transplant named George H. W. Bush, showing Mr. Williamson's point. As Williamson noted, “It was in fact not until 1995 that Republicans represented a majority of the southern congressional delegation-and they had hardly spent the Reagan years campaigning on the resurrection of Jim Crow.”

Those 20 Democrats who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, including Al Gore’s own father, were replaced by other Democrats, and those who stayed in power a long time, like Robert Byrd, simply switched their position on Civil Rights from being hardened KKK style segregationists to a very liberal voting record. In 1964, Robert Byrd was nothing more than a hard core KKK racist, and when he died some four decade plus later, he was known as the sage of the Senate.

If sin and God lives hand in hand in the South, so does the balance of power between Republican and Democrats as races are often decided by a razor thin margin. While the South is considered Red by most political standard, the Democratic Party is more competitive in much of the South than Republicans are competitive in the North East or California. Sin may be balanced by the power in God in the South, but then so are the Democrats balanced by Republicans and vice a versa.

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