PRIMAL SCREED/James McCarty Yeager

The Price of Confederacy

Washington, D.C.

The price of Union was the Civil War, its deaths and upheavals and technological changes all included. The war really lasted, as "an expense of spirit in a waste of shame," from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in the 1840s until the end of Reconstruction. But the peace has been even more costly. We have been paying the price of Confederacy ever since.

The South subverted Reconstruction in 1888 and began to return Old Confederates to the Congress. Thenceforward the gradual march of Southerners through the seniority system meant that, throughout the bulk of the 20th century, Southerners either led or dominated one or both chambers of the national legislature. Nowadays under Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) the Congressional Republicans really are the Anglo-Confederate Party.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, from a purely pragmatic you-get-the-kind-of-government-you-deserve point of view. Except it's about to play out, as Mark Twain's mining companions used to say about a vein of ore. And the Republicans who hitched their electoral stars to the Southern Strategy in 1968 (and subsequently) are suddenly running out of air underneath their aircraft.

Whether the Republicans can make a soft landing from their overreliance on Southern issues will not be known in the 2000 elections, and possibly not by 2002 either. Their habitual appeals to militarism, anti-environmentalism and fundamentalism are mediated through stances such as being pro-gun, pro-tobacco, anti-drug, anti-abortion, anti-women, low-tax anti-education, anti-health-care, anti-foreign-aid, and anti-city. No matter how much you try to say these are forward-looking, human-freedom, economy-of-tomorrow issues, nobody believes you except other members of your country club.

Until Barry Goldwater brought official racism into the Republican platform of 1964, civil rights had been a nominally bipartisan policy. Elevated by the Republican-led Warren Court decision in Brown v Board to a national issue a decade earlier, subsequent civil rights legislation was intended to remove the barriers to black economic participation by improving black education up to white standards (which, however separate, were never equal.)

In other words, civil rights was deliberately conceived as the least possible the whites could concede without being scared. But it scared them all the same. Scared the South right over into the Republican Party where it has remained for more than 30 years.

However, however, however. My old friend the gay Calvinist linguist used to say that "any human tendency, carried to its logical extension, leads ultimately to destruction." He was merely paraphrasing the otherwise obscure German poet who remarked that "the mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine."

What has happened here is that the very things the Republicans did to make the South their bailiwick are now coming back to haunt them in the cities and suburbs of the Midwest and Far West. The Northeast they had already lost, but the supposed Republican lock on the Electoral College based on the Solid Republican Confederacy was dissipated in 1992 and will not have returned in 2000.

If the Democratic ticket has pulled exactly even with the Republicans in Ohio polls, and it has, something's wrong with the Republican appeal, and there is. Specifically, the tax plan that Shrub concocted to beat Steve Forbes with in the primaries is now an albatross around his neck in the general election. Wild-eyed tax cuts just aren't selling this year, except in the Confederacy, where all government is loathed since it stopped locking up blacks indiscriminately, and now only does so disproportionately.

The Republicans have already tried to run away from their anti-abortion plank of the last five conventions, or at least to cut out the tongues of those who would mention it. Unless you paid careful attention, you wouldn't know that despite Shrub's pledge not to use abortion as a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees in case he is elected, there is no way a Republican Senate would approve any but an anti-abortion nominee.

But apparently Gore's lead among women is close to 20% over Shrub. (Just for giggles I'd like to see the socio-economic profile of the Buchanan-supporting woman.) And California, without which no Republican has been elected President this century, is one of the strongest pro-choice states in the Union. So it is unlikely that either the electoral math or the gender gap are going away any time soon.

Shrub's Republicanism seems to have stumbled upon the mechanism the pundits used to like to assign solely to Democrats: the things they do to get themselves nominated prevent their election.

More and more states that used to be Republican are now tossups; more and more tossups are now leaning Democratic. This is true not just in this election, but over the previous four. And therein lies the opportunity for progressives. The issues of 2000 are progressive issues: campaign financing reform, health care reform (meaning HMO and insurance company reform), tobacco limits, oil price limits, support for education. Only paying down the deficit is left over from the centrist agenda, which is fine, as long as it doesn't interfere with real government.

Gore is already being chastised by the Republican Street Journal for anti-corporate class warfare, by which they mean environmental enforcement and concern for public health. But even enemies like them are not enough. It will take concerted progressive effort in many, many congressional districts to keep up the pressure. The serious business is now that of influencing labor, farmers, and city-dwellers within the Democratic coalition into taking ever more populist stands.

But at least we won't have to fight the Confederates for a while.

James McCarty Yeager is a son of Texas and grandson of a Confederate veteran. His house is located on the edge of Ft. Sumner in Maryland, one of the log and mud embrasures constructed to protect the Washington Aqueduct from Confederate raiders. Nothing of the fort remains save a few old maps and a lone plaque in a real estate development.

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