Politics In The American South – The 800 Pound Gorilla In The Room

Posted in General by TBartine on March 30, 2010 4 Comments

I’m continually amazed by one particular area of our national, political dialogue, where it seems even angels fear to tread.  If you watch any of the major news networks (especially during the last presidential election), you probably saw this map:

2008 Election Results

This is, of course, a map of the election results showing the states that voted for Senator John McCain in red.

I saw some networks, in their near obsession with voter demographics, show this map:

2008 Election - White Voters For Obama

This map shows which states had the lowest percentage of white voters voting for Barack Obama.  The states where the fewest white people voted for Obama are in dark red and purple.

Now stay with me…here is an interesting map, also shown during the election’s demographic analysis, highlighting the states with the highest number of voters who identify themselves as members of evangelical, Protestant religions:

United States - Evangelicals

United States - Evangelicals Key

The darker the shade of blue…the more evangelical Christians.

Of course, analysts also covered the educational aspects of America’s voters.  Here’s a map showing which states have the fewest high school graduates:

United States - HS Grads

United States - HS Grads Key

The lighter the shade of green…the fewer people graduated from high school in that region.

Another subject for analysis, was the income/poverty level of voters.  Here’s a map showing areas with the highest poverty levels:

United States - Poverty

United States - Poverty Key

The darker the green…the more people living in poverty.

You probably know where I am headed with this.  But if that is the case…then why did I not see a single network, a single media outlet, directly address this “800 pound gorilla” which is dramatically affecting our nation’s political conversation?  I saw experts on NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, and CNN display these maps…then scratch their chins and shrug, saying things like, “I’m not sure what this tells us.“  How about this:  I’ll say it…

The poorest, most uneducated, most intolerant, most religiously extreme portion of our country…limited mostly (but not entirely) to the southern states…is the base of the conservative movement, and the Republican Party.

Now…before we go any further…here are things that I am NOT saying:

- Not everyone in the South is racist/intolerant, and yes, there are lots of intolerant people in other parts of the country.  The South simply has MORE racists and otherwise intolerant people.

- Not everyone in the South is poor or uneducated, and yes, there are lots of poor and uneducated people in other parts of the country.  The South simply has MORE poor and uneducated people.

- Not everyone in the South is an evangelical Protestant, and there are evangelicals in other parts of the country.  The South simply has MORE evangelical Protestants.

- Not everyone who is an evangelical is poor and/or uneducated.  Not everyone who is uneducated is poor and/or evangelical.  Not everyone who is poor is uneducated and/or evangelical.  Some people are one, two, or all three of these things.

This population is more likely to be on unemployment, public assistance (re: welfare, food stamps), or some other public program…and they are also more likely to be AGAINST these same types of social programs, which they are told to view as “big government,” or “socialism,” or, “handouts for lazy people.“  They are also more likely reject evolutionary theory, climate change theory, health-related studies…and many other scientific ideas.  They are more likely to believe that President Obama’s birth certificate is a fraudulent document…and that he was instead born in Kenya.  They are more likely to believe that the newly-passed Health Care legislation is going to “kill grandma,” or “pay for abortions,” or “provide insurance to illegal aliens.“  They are more likely to want prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and to vote against political candidates for not being “Christian-enough.”  They are more likely to be opposed to any measures granting equal rights to gay and lesbian citizens, and to oppose any laws to protect these citizens.  And they are MUCH more likely…to vote Republican.

Does this have an effect on our country?  Of course it does…

Case in point: I live in a southern state.  Here are some interesting examples of what has occurred in the last twenty years due (in part) to public officials being chosen by a largely poor, uneducated, and highly religious population:

- Our state’s educational performance?  35th to 48th out of 50 states (depending on the source of the study).  Our schools have frightening numbers of “portable classrooms,” crumbling facilities, high teen pregnancy rates, and many teachers forced to teach outside of their licensure area.  We also have deceptive graduation rates…because failing students are still promoted to the next grade and nearly EVERYONE is given a diploma.  Proposals for a three cent tax increase to improve the system, buy new materials, fix buildings, or increase teacher pay…rejected by the public.  Proposal for a one cent tax increase…ALSO REJECTED.

- In 1999, just after the city’s mayor publicly questioned why so many people deride the South, the state legislature passed a bill…allowing people to legally collect road kill off the street, take it home, and eat it.

- Members of our state’s GOP, Republican elected officials, and Republican staffers…account for at least three of the nationally publicized, racism scandals stemming from “jokes” directed at our current president. In fact, it was a former Republican Party chair from our state who brought you the “Barack the Magic Negro” song.

- It was a mayor in our state who went on Facebook and accused Obama of being a Muslim…because a televised presidential speech pre-empted a Charlie Brown holiday special.

- Our state’s GOP released statements attacking the President over his middle name, and accused him of being an anti-Semite…which even prompted condemnation from the national RNC.

- Our state’s Republicans said this year…that $2.13 an hour for “tipped workers” like restaurant servers, is MORE than adequate, and objected to the wage being raised to $3.28 an hour.

-  The metro council in our state’s capitol proposed an “English-only” bill…that said that all government services and notices would only be conducted/written in English, with no translation services offered.  They also included a proposal that would allow private business to dictate that only English could be spoken in their workplace.  This is the THIRD TIME in recent years that such a measure has been proposed.  This same council recently debated (at length) as to whether or not to switch from pitchers of water to bottled water at their meetings…out of fear that “terrorists” would try to poison them.

-  The state legislature recently PASSED a bill, allowing people to start carrying guns in bars…as long as they promise not to drink while packing heat.

-  In late 2009, one state legislator proposed a bill…that would allow our state to disregard or “nullify” any federal laws they hold to be unconstitutional.

- In the Firearms Freedom Act, our state legislator proposed that federal gun laws don’t apply to guns made in our state.

- When the state was engaged in a heated debate over whether or not to enact an income tax…most of the anti-tax protesters circling the capitol, either didn’t have jobs (therefore, no income) or made so little that an income tax would not apply to them.  Many of the districts which most strongly opposed the bill, were low-income districts that would have benefitted from an income tax and decreased taxes on sales and food.  By the way, despite a soaring state sales tax…the income tax measure was defeated, and this year the legislature took steps towards making a state income tax unconstitutional.

- During our current, tough economic times…the state Senate found time to pass a bill banning the late night, “Girls Gone Wild” advertisements, almost certainly on the grounds that Jesus doesn’t want you to see them.  Similarly, our state still has “blue laws” detailing certain times when alcoholic products may not be purchased. You can guess on which day of the week sales are prohibited…

- The legislature also found time for an important debate…on whether or not an old law should be overturned, so that fish tanks could be allowed in barbershops. It passed.

-  A resolution was proposed to reject federal stimulus money, and which proclaimed that the state legislature should “strongly urge the federal government to reject attempts to establish socialism as a form of government in America.

- I couldn’t make something like this up:  A bill has been proposed this year…to prevent the federal government from putting a chip in our heads.  Its sponsor told a local reporter, “In the Christian religion, and I’m a Christian, in the book of Revelation, there was a reference to, you know, the Mark of the Beast. Some people interpret that to be one of these microchips.“  No one is entirely certain what she is referring to when she says “these microchips” (said as if there is actually a plan to install microchips in people), but oh well…she probably saw it in a movie and just got scared.

- Our governor recently signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which makes it easier for a person or group to claim that their religious freedoms have been violated by the government.

- One of our Representatives to the United States House recently told reports that the dialogue in Washington should definitely be more “civil“…but wouldn’t commit personally to stop calling the president a “socialist” or a “tyrant.”  This same Representative, when research studies suggested that women should get mammograms performed less often, said “this is how rationing begins.“  Ironically, she did not support requiring insurance companies to COVER mammograms.

- Another Representative (who is also a gubernatorial hopeful) recently stated that health care is a “privilege” and not a “right,” and that the health care bill represented “socialism” and “class warfare.” Our Senator said that the use of reconciliation to pass Health Care would be “the end of the Senate.

These are the kinds of people elected by an uneducated, religiously extreme constituency…and these are the kinds of laws those elected officials focus on to satisfy such a constituency.  A constituency who is willing to be told something or someone in “Un-Christian“…even though the Bible holds no such scripture, or at times even contradicts the claim.

…willing to be told something is or isn’t in the Constitution…even though cursory examination of the document would quickly prove the position false.

…willing to believe that “end-of-life counseling” is the equivalent of a “death panel.

…willing to believe that, if gay people are allowed to marry, that people will also have to be allowed to marry children and animals…when even a high-school-level of legal knowledge would prove this false.

…willing to believe that “their tax dollars” are going to be given to “someone else“…even when it’s not their tax dollars, and THEY will be the recipient of the benefits.

…easily led to believe that their tax burden should stay the same, and that decreasing the tax burden of the wealthiest 2% of the country will help THEM.

…easily led to believe that certain people or laws are “socialist,” or “fascist,” or “tyrannical,” or “totalitarian“…even though they have no knowledge of what these terms mean.

…willing to believe that one government-run or government-subsidized program equates to “conversion to socialism” and the “death of the free market system.”

…willing to believe that “regulating business” will cause companies to no longer be able to “do business.”

…willing to dismiss scientific claims that they don’t understand…such as believing that one blizzard invalidates Climate Change theory.

…willing to believe it when their churches told them President Clinton was the “Antichrist“…and are twice as willing to believe it when their church now tells them it is President Obama.

…willing to give up their freedoms under one president in the name of “security“…and then willing to be outraged over imaginary threats that another president will take their freedoms away.

…willing to be told what the founding fathers of this nation thought, or believed, or intended…lacking the sufficient historical knowledge to know which claims are demonstrably false.

…willing to accept that one president’s unprecedented expansion of government and the power of the Executive Branch was “necessary“…and that the use of those same powers by the next president constitutes a “dictatorship.”

…willing to accept that the use of parliamentary procedures by one congressional faction is “necessary“…the use of those same procedures by the opposing faction is a “subversion of our democracy.”

…willing to believe that waterboarding is not torture…as long as our government promises to only use it against terror suspects.

…willing to believe one year that a “patriot” supports everything his or her government does…and that the next year a “patriot” rejects everything his or her government does.

…willing to believe that everyone believes the same things that they, and the people in their community, believe.  Or that everyone SHOULD

…and lastly, willing to believe that smart, educated people should not be listened to.  That these “elites” consider themselves to be “better” than the uneducated…and that these educated people “don’t know anything about the real world.“  They are told that those people with college degrees may know about “poetry” and other “esoteric subjects“…but don’t have any “common sense.“  That those people who have traveled the nation and the world have been somehow “tainted” by their exposure to other people, culture, and beliefs…and have come to “hate America.“  Well, as I know that conservatives are not fond of political correctness, allow me for one moment to cut right to the point:

Educated, knowledgeable people…may not be better people…may not be more principled people.  However, at the risk of damaging the fragile egos and self-delusions of the uneducated, the educated do have clear advantages.  Education builds knowledge…in vital areas such as reading comprehension (you know, so you actually UNDERSTAND what you read), history and civics (so you actually understand what America is about, and how its government is supposed to function), science (so you can better evaluate scientific claims and theories), math and business (in order to better comprehend matters of taxation, budgets, spending, and trade).  Those who go on to college further develop their research and reasoning skills, which aid them in better accumulating information and in knowing how to analyze, and synthesize that information into your own beliefs and theories…and to reevaluate and modify those theories as new information is attained.  Those college and university attendees often focus on developing deeper knowledge of business, or law, or civics, or culture, or science.  While the uneducated base their ideas on “common sense” which is often wrong, “conventional wisdom” which is tied more to “popular ideas” than to facts, and to political and church dogma or propaganda…the educated, if choosing to USE their education, are gathering information, applying reason to the data, and forming sound conclusions based on a wealth of experiences and information spanning several subject areas.

So why am I focusing so much attention on the South?  Because it has come to the time when we MUST do so.  It is time we acknowledged that we have an “at risk” region of our country.  An “at risk” region that must be dragged forcibly into the light…made to see that racism has no place in America, that education should be every person’s priority (particularly, every PARENT’S priority), that Southerners do not represent the “majority” or the “mainstream.“  The captain and passengers of our great “ship of state” are looking to the horizon, wondering why we are drawing no closer to fuller equality, fuller happiness, fuller opportunity for all our citizens.  If they would just look down, they’d see that someone neglected to raise the anchor…the southern states…and they now drag upon the ocean floor. This message is even more critical, given the current tone conservative leaders are using when addressing this particular flock.  In just the last week, I have heard this group addressed with terms like “killing,” “destroying,” “reloading,” “revolution,” “demons,” “tyrants,” “hanging,” and “crosshairs.”  This demographic has responded by spitting on members of Congress, shouting racial and homophobic slurs at members of Congress, hanging elected officials in effigy, throwing bricks, and firing guns.  The conservatives tell us that they aren’t encouraging violence, and then in the same breath they defend it by saying that these people are “angry.”  The conservatives tell us that they are simply using violent “metaphors,” without realizing the inherent threat: Their intended audience…does not know what a “metaphor” is.

In closing, believe it or not: I love the South.  I love that people here are more conversational…I just wish there were more topics that could be intelligently discussed.  I love that people here are more willing to voice their opinions…I just wish fewer of those opinions were based on their parents’ prejudices, their church leaders’ demagoguery, their political leaders’ propaganda, and their favorite media personalities’ disinformation.  And most of all, I love their big hearts, and their willingness to help out total strangers…I just wish they’d still be so willing to help those people if they knew their ethnicity, their beliefs, their sexuality, their politics.

But, I still love the South…and hope to see the day when its residents can truly love and accept all the rest of us.