Forget Red vs. Blue -- It's Slave States vs. Free States in 2012
Every now and then someone highlights the overlap between today’s Republican states and the slave states of the former Confederacy. As clichéd as the point may be, it remains indispensable to understanding what is happening in American politics today:
The core of today’s Democratic party consists of the states of New England and the Great Lakes/Midatlantic region that were the heart of the Union effort during the Civil War. The core of today’s Republican party consists of the states that seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America.Don’t be misled by the contemporary red state-blue state map which makes the mostly-red Prairie/Mountain states look as important in the Republican coalition as the South. A cartogram which shows states by population is far more accurate:
As the cartogram shows, in terms of population and votes the South vastly outweighs the thinly-populated Prairie/Mountain states, even though the latter get disproportionate representation in the U.S. Senate and the electoral college. The cartogram provides a pretty good reflection of the situation perceived by conservative white Southerners, by depicting a besieged South encircled and on the verge of being crushed by multiracial, polyglot, immigrant-friendly, secular humanist, progressive Blue America.
Now that they dominate the Republican party, Southern conservatives are using it to carry out the same strategies that they promoted during the generations when they controlled the Democratic Party, from the days of Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren to the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. From the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, the oligarchs of the American South have sought to defend the Southern system, what used to be known as the Southern Way of Life.
Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy. The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern work force that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.
Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers. A weak welfare state also maximizes the dependence of ordinary Southerrners on the tax-favored clerical allies of the local Southern ruling class, the Protestant megachurches, whose own lucrative business model is to perform welfare functions that are performed by public agencies elsewhere, like child care.
The Southern system is essentially about class and only incidentally about race. That is why, following the abolition of slavery, the Southern landlord elite exploited black and white tenant farmers and child workers indifferently. Immigrant workers without rights to vote or organize unions have always appealed to the Southern employer elite. After the Civil War some Southern landlords experimented with bringing in indentured servants or “coolies” from Asia, until that form of unfree labor was banned by Congress in the 1880s. Today many business-class conservatives from Texas and other Southern states such as former Texas Senator Phil Gramm champion “guest-worker programs” which would bring in Mexican nationals and others to work as indentured servants in the South, while forbidding them to become U.S. citizens with legal and voting rights.