Is the South Becoming More Politically Isolated?



In The New Yorker, George Packer argues that we're becoming more politically isolated from the rest of the country:

House Republicans from the Far West and from the Northeast favored the Senate’s compromise bill by large margins, and Midwesterners were split; but in the South, Republican opposition was overwhelming, 81—12, accounting for more than half of the total Republican “no” votes. In other words, Republicans outside the South have begun to turn pink, following the political tendencies of the country as a whole, but Southern Republicans, who dominate the Party and its congressional leadership, remain deep scarlet. These numbers reveal something more than the character of today’s Republican Party; a larger historical shift is under way.

I have to admit, I feel that this really smart article misses an important nuance. Packer says:

Now the South is becoming isolated again. Every demographic and political trend that helped to reëlect Barack Obama runs counter to the region’s self-definition: the emergence of a younger, more diverse, more secular electorate, with a libertarian bias on social issues and immigration; the decline of the exurban life style, following the housing bust; the class politics, anathema to pro-business Southerners, that rose with the recession; the end of America’s protracted wars, with cuts in military spending bound to come. The Solid South speaks less and less for America and more and more for itself alone.

But the truth is that these demographics are present in the South, too. We are becoming younger, more diverse, and more secular. We have a strong libertarian bias that is slowly leaking into our views on social issues. I mean, my god, Mississippi is both working to close their last abortion clinic AND can't pass a fetal personhood bill. If that's not evidence of some deep-running faultlines even within the "Solid South," I just don't know what is.

And we could have elected Ron Ramsey governor, but we didn't. We voted the more moderate dude into office. I wish Packer had considered more carefully what it means that, in the South, most people are represented by politicians more conservative than they (even in places where voters are conservative). This says something, but I'm not sure that it's as easy as that we're becoming isolated again.

I think it means that we're in a period of incredible change — yes, even in the South — and it's kind of natural that Southerners would feel anxious about periods of incredible change. After all, every other period of incredible change in the South has been accompanied by massive amounts of violence.

So, in effect, we've thrown the anchor overboard, not thinking that we can turn the ship around, but hoping that we can just slow it down enough to give us time to adjust to the changing social scenery without the societal eruptions we've seen in the past. This also isn't a new strategy for the South, especially among white Southern politicians. (It's a strategy that comes in for a lot of legitimate criticism too. Here's the most catchy of that criticism.)

It may not be the best strategy, but it's an understandable one.

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