Blogs > Cliopatria > So, we are still fighting the Civil War?

Oct 6, 2004 2:19 pm

So, we are still fighting the Civil War?

Glenn Smith at Blog of the President has this observation about partisan divisions on the basis of geography:
Even after four years of punditizing the blue state, red state phenom, it's been too little noticed the extent to which Republicans have revived the old Confederacy. Accurately, the fight is once again between the Blue and the Gray, not the blue and the red.

Little noticed? Perhaps not in the world of political activism, pundits have not played the your daddy was a slave-owner/yankee cracker cards. However, historians have noted how north/south divisions have perpetuated themselves by shifting into different fields of political conflict, from slavery to states' rights, labor relations, economic policies, foreign intervention, works programs, civil rights, internationalism ... until we get to our current division. (Being a Europeanist, my sense of American history is weak, so go easy on me.) And we use the legacy of slavery to draw critical (sometimes partisan) attention to Southern politics.

Calling the red states a revival of the Confederacy is a bit much--indeed, Southern Republicans advocate types of cultural unity that have no equivalent in American history (no one will like it when I say this, but it resembles the Jacobin instincts of French republicanism). Perhaps what is interesting is that the divisions between north and south have been politicized and that people are choosing where they live on the basis of their political identities. This view is further problematized when historians consider that civil rights, the most recent contentious debate about racial equality, was a debate within the Democratic Party as well as in the public sphere.

But this model does not explain everything. The most obvious thing is the redness of the Rocky Mountain region. Geitner Simmons is exploring the relations between the South and the West--he might have some explanation of the strength of the Republican Party in the West. I also think that both parties are thinking of ways of reaching across the north-south divide, looking for charismatic politicians that can capture the imagination of voters in hostile territories. On the left, John Edwards, Mary Landrieu and Wesley Clark are examples; on the right, Mitt Romney, Rudi Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The"blue-gray" map, if one exists, may not last long as both parties cultivate charismatic politicians to carry their messages into partisan regions.
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Derek Charles Catsam - 10/7/2004

And of course Lincoln ended up only needing a pluality in 1860, what with Douglass, Breckinridge and Bell all pulling votes. lincoln secured the Electoral College while getting less than 40% of the popular vote.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/7/2004

I think we simply disagree on matters of emphasis. If Bush sweeps the South, as he could do, what it becomes necessary for Kerry to do in the rest of the country is almost impossible. Lincoln could do it in 1860. I doubt that Kerry can do it in 2004.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/7/2004

Something like 'peckerwood'?

Ben H. Severance - 10/7/2004

My Lost Cause pals prefer to call it a War for Southern Independence. The Rebels were certainly fighting for something they thought was important when they marched barefoot into Tennessee in the cold autumn of 1864 and frontally attacked Schofield at Franklin. You have to pay your respects to a soldier who makes the ultimate sacrifice for a war that is clearly lost, as it was for the South in late 1864. But then, to quote from an old movie, The Wind and the Lion, "Is there nothing if life worth risking everything for?"

Ben H. Severance - 10/7/2004

I'd also add that "cracker" usually carries a social and class stigma. Stereotypically, a southern cracker is a poorly educated, low-class trailer-trash red-neck.

Ben H. Severance - 10/7/2004

Agreed. Bush has a good chance of carrying the whole South. But given the tightness of the race, Kerry doesn't need five southern states, he might just need one.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/7/2004


We ain't still fighting the Civil War, for if we were, it would be the War of Northern Aggression. So says my buddy who visits the Confederate graveyard at Franklin every year, where Hood managed to plant so many of his colleagues.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/7/2004

Cracker, like Yankee, has its regional meanings. To Euros, we are all Yankees. To Southerners, just Northerners, and to Northerners, just New Englanders. Something similar seems to occur with cracker.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/7/2004

Ben, I'd say that you are clearly right about Delaware and Maryland, but I'd also say that even Mississippi looks better for Kerry than Georgia. If we restrict it to the old Confederacy, it seems to me that there are chances of Kerry winning in Florida and Arkansas, with distant chances in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. Having said that, I'd still say that he has to have some breakthroughs in the South to have a ghost of a chance of winning.

Nathanael D. Robinson - 10/7/2004

While I agree that things look dim in the South for the Dems, Kerry has not put many resources into those states. Indeed, he has withdrawn them to shore up support in northern states. And southern politicians have been used more for media than for stumping on the road. And yet there are states where things are close ...

Nathanael D. Robinson - 10/7/2004

In your defense, I was not thinking when I wrote that phrase. Chalk it up to being a Left Coaster/transplanted New Englander. In LA, we complained about the "Oakies".

Ben H. Severance - 10/7/2004

It's wishful thinking on my part, but I like to think the following southern states are competitive for Kerry: Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, and Louisiana. It is also within the realm of possibility that Kerry/Edwards can pull upsets in North Carolina, Arkansas, and even Georgia. The only southern states that are unquestionably in the Bush camp are Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas.

Now if you expand the South beyond the old Confederacy to include the old slave states, then Kerry is the likely winner in Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware! Even West Virginia might return to its senses.

Ben H. Severance - 10/7/2004

Derek is right. The same goes for the term Carpetbagger, which traditionally meant a white northerner who settled in the post-Civil War South. Now, it refers to any transplant who then enters the political arena of their new state (e.g., Hillary Clinton).

Ralph E. Luker - 10/6/2004

The closer we get to the election and the more I look at projections of the electoral college map, the more I am reminded of a point that Edwards made during the primary campaigns: that no Democrat has ever been elected president of the United States who was not competative in the South. I think that has meant that no Democrat has ever been elected president who has not carried five Southern states. I'd be happy to have a list of the five Southern states that anyone here believes the Kerry/Edwards ticket will carry.

Derek Charles Catsam - 10/6/2004

Not necessarily -- not anymore, anyway. All one needs to do is see Chris Rock's use of "cracker" to know that the term has morphed to refer to white people more generally.

Russ Reeves - 10/6/2004

"Yankee Cracker" is an oxymoron - "cracker" is a term of derision for white southerners.

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