Tuesday, August 04, 2015

August 4, 2015--The Southernization of America

Anyone interested in understanding the conservative resurgence or revolution, if you will, should turn off Fox News and read Godfrey Hodgson's prescient, 1996 eyeopener, The World Turned Right Side Up: A History of the Conservative Ascendancy in America.

If you are interested in the intellectual roots, he does a good job of summarizing the contributions of serious economists such as Friedrich Hayek; pseudo-serious novelists such as Ayn Rand; polemicists like William F. Buckley, Kevin Phillips, and Irving Kristol; evangelical religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell; and political figures including Barry Goldwater and of course Ronald Reagan.

All of this is familiar ground for anyone paying attention to the cultural and political shift rightward, but nowhere all pulled together as well as by Hodgson.

For me, noteworthy is Hodgson's insight--or at least his clear statement--of how the ideology and politics that followed on in the South, transforming it from the Democrats' Solid South, after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 were signed into law, and quickly became solidly conservative and Republican. The South at that time became the South that we now know and live with, continuing today to shift inexorably to the right.

Nothing that new about that. But what is new is Hodgson's perception that much of the North shortly thereafter--certainly by 1980 when Ronald Reagan became president by picking off millions of so-called Reagan Democrats--became southernized.

This happened in two stages--first there was the dramatic population shift of northerners to the former Confederate States and thereby their accruing electoral power. Reallocation of members and redistricting meant more seats in the House of Representatives for conservatives at the expense of liberal states such as New York and Pennsylvania; and, as Texas and Florida passed New York to become the second and third largest states, there was a dramatic increase in the South's number of votes in the Electoral College. With the South also becoming solidly Republican that made it much more difficult for Democrats to control Congress much less the White House.

The second stage, the result of Reagan's appeal to traditional blue collar Democrats and his election and reelection, subsequently turned a number of blue states into purple states (Pennsylvania is a good example) and over time threatened to turn a few northern purple states to red states.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that transformation, and perplexing to progressives because of its role in the history of the emergence of the Progressive Movement, is Wisconsin, where Scott Walker managed to get elected governor three times, largely by acting as if Wisconsin were South Carolina.

As in the South he appealed to hawkish hyper-patriotism, belief in American exceptionalism, evangelical impulses, anti-affirmative action forces, a desire to limit government of all kinds, dog-whistle racism, and above all attacks on unions. Thus, Wisconsin has tipped to the right and now culturally and politically could become a permanent part of the emerging conservative majority.

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