Look Away, Look Away

Go Form Your Own Country, Part II

There are things about the South I like. But placating reaction has to stop.

Reading through the comment threads on my Boy Scouts thing, I notice that many of you who might normally be in my corner took some umbrage at that “go form your own country” business, and, well, obviously I can see why. I’m sure that if I happened to live in Atlanta, I’d hate the thought of being consigned to live in the Reactionary States of America and I wouldn’t like the idea of some smart-ass Yankee pundit (a cousin to Randy Newman’s smart-ass New York Jew) suggesting it.

I know that there are fine, fine people in the South, and lots of progressive-minded people who are repelled by the standard mores and working to change things. I even know that many conservative people are basically fine people when it comes to everything but their political views, and that a person’s political views don’t come close to telling the whole story about him or her.

And I know that the South has its charms. I love "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," for starters. I am actually—hold on to your hats—going to South Carolina, of all lamentable places, on a vacation soon. Entirely of my own volition! There may not be a single state I think worse of, for a range of historical reasons. Not even Alabama. So there you are. We’re all full of contradictions.

Having said all that, the historical fact remains: Since the beginning of this republic, the South has held the country back. A commenter in that thread reminded me that all this goes back a lot farther than the GI Bill and the Ed Sullivan Show. It goes back to the writing of the Constitution itself.

Obviously and appallingly, there was the three-fifths compromise, but the language of many provisions was altered to show deference to the, ah, sensitivities of the Southerners, like the importation language making slavery legal for at least another 20 years, which protected the slave trade and satisfied the Southern representatives that the importation of slaves would continue. Was union really worth that immoral price? I do often wonder.

I own a few volumes of writings by the Anti-Federalists that I dip into from time to time. They’re the people who were against union, on a range of grounds intellectually; emotionally, they seem to have felt that the regional differences were irreconcilable and the whole thing just wouldn’t work. It’s odd, because these people were regarded as the reactionaries of their day, but given that we went to war over those differences and have been at war culturally throughout the entire history of the republic, I wouldn’t say they were necessarily wrong. I’ll share some of their writings with you from time to time. You read some of them and you think that the Northern and Southern states becoming one country was sort of akin to Greece and Turkey trying to make one country (with the obvious difference that North and South had a common language).

I am (mostly) joking about go form your own country. Splitting up would be complicated and probably impractical. But I am arguing that the historical time has come for the United States to stop having to reduce public matters to the lowest common denominator to placate the South. We’ve been doing it since the beginning. Enough, enough, enough. Most of the country wants progress on a range of social questions, and always, most of the country is held back by the South. You all know that in virtually every public opinion poll you see, if you separate out the Southern responses, you have clear progressive majorities on nearly every major public policy question. I’m sure no one is as frustrated by all this as Southern progressives, and I sympathize with that. But this business of placating reaction has to end.

Light posting today as I’m working on a Newsweek feature.