The Centuries Old Fight Against America’s Southern-dominated Right Wing

Michael Lind, writing about the domination of the Tea Party by Southern whites:

The mainstream media have completely missed the story, by portraying the Tea Party movement in ideological rather than regional terms. Whether by accident or design, the public faces of the Tea Party in the House are Midwesterners – Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann and Joe Walsh of Illinois. But while there may be Tea Party sympathizers throughout the country, in the House of Representatives the Tea Party faction that has used the debt ceiling issue to plunge the nation into crisis is overwhelmingly Southern in its origins:

The Tea Party, the debt ceiling, and white Southern extremism

The rhetorical shrillness and political intransigence of the Tea Party has been particularly conspicuous since they started making news after Obama’s inauguration. This militant posture is not new among movement conservatives, however. Indeed, extreme rigidity in both tone and substance has been notable since at least the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, if not before. Recall, for example, the impeachment of a President for only the second time in U.S. history over a controversy that clearly didn’t involve any major issues of national policy, or national security, or civil rights, or economic management.

This is not a quality shared equally by both sides, despite the anodyne insistence of mainstream pundits to the contrary. I’ll repeat a quote by George Packer I posted back in February on the heels of the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt:

In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

This bullying culture is not new in the South. Indeed, it’s as old as the republic. Lind cites a number of examples in his piece, from nullification to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech at Cooper Union that launched him into national prominence. He described Southern demands on the North in a way that resonates strongly whenever I hear about the latest demands from the Tea Party 1:

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

Sound familiar?

If the nature of the enemy didn’t hit home for Obama during the stimulus vote, the health care battle, or the tax cut “compromise,” it should be loud and clear now. The bullying isn’t going to stop. The only question now for Democrats and liberals is what, if anything, they’re going to do about it.

  1. Keep in mind that the Republican Party in 1860 was the party of the North, and the Democratic Party was the party of the South. The geographic bases of the parties began a 40 year switch that’s only now completing after Southern Democrats bolted in response to the party’s eventual support of the Civil Rights Movement.