What If Liberals and Progressives Could Learn to Talk to Southern White Men?

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of ‘Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.’ Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

Ever since Neil Young sang about him, the white Southern man has been the symbol for all that is wrong with America to urban lefties. He is a redneck. He is a gun-toting, rebel flag-waving racist whose sinister activities wreak far more havoc on the country than, say, the wily Wall Street financier. If you can’t hate the white Southern man, who can you hate?

I grew up with white Southern men; some of them hard-core Republicans. They have been my classmates and my neighbors. I’m related to lots of them. Having been raised in North Carolina and attended the University of Georgia, it’s impossible for me to see them as strangers. And while they can irritate me no end when they say and do dumb things, I cringe when San Franciscans like Mark Morford wax elitist and paint them as a monolithic band of aliens whose intolerance is only matched by their ignorance.

I’m from a middle-class background, a product of the liberal enclave of Raleigh, NC. But since I went to public schools, I often found myself hanging out with kids whose lives didn’t look like mine. When I was 15, I remember attending a Harley Davidson picnic with my friend Roxanne way out in a rural field that we accessed in her boyfriend’s pickup truck. I was a little fearful — these were supposed to be the rednecks the Morfords of the world had warned me about. But I got a surprise. The manners of these working-class guys were largely superior to those of the frat boys who groped my friends at Duke University parties. They liked Reagan, and baseball, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They didn't have horns; most of them were gentle and generous. They called me “Cover Girl” because of my fresh-scrubbed appearance and seemed bent on treating me as an ambassador from another world. There was honor at stake; they didn’t want me to go back home and tell my friends about how rough they all were. The more conservative Southern men have a thing about honor and self-respect. If they see you're not talking down to them, they will want to have your esteem, and show you their best selves, which are often hospitable and kind. If you can't, well, that's a different story. You're likely to get the dark side.

Conservative Southern white men have a thing about the place they call home, too. I remember riding around with the Republican stepfather of an old boyfriend, who showed me the astonishingly beautiful fields and woods of his South Carolina farm. “I love this land,” he said, getting choked up. “I know every sound the birds make.” (He proved this by giving an eerily accurate rendition of a wild turkey’s gobble.) Though he was dyed-in-the-wool GOP, he had a strong instinct for conservation, and I could find common ground with him about the need to protect the environment. That’s what you do in the South if you grow up a liberal and don’t want to walk around being pissed off every minute of the day. You try to see if there’s something you might agree on with folks who don’t share your politics; some humanity that joins you. Usually there is.

I recall snippets like these from my experience with GOP men of the South to help me understand why they are overwhelmingly voting for Romney in this election. Some of it is certainly about race. Cultural memory and prejudice form strange currents in the Southern mind. The power of the fear and antipathy of the black man has been diluted, but it’s still there, and it's easily stoked by unscrupulous politicians. But it’s easy to just stop there, and you won't have a clear picture if you do.

If you look closer, there’s something else. The Harley Davidson guys and their Southern brethren who put rebel flag stickers on their rides are signaling that they still strongly identify with a war in which their ancestors found themselves on the wrong side of history and fought a losing battle. White men in other regions of the country don’t really get what it feels like to know that your people were defeated in a war by their own countrymen. There’s a feeling that they lost so much for this Union to stay together that they’ll be damned if they are going to admit another defeat by recognizing that America is currently in decline. That is too much for the heart to bear.

Recently, when I was at the NC state fair in Raleigh, I talked to some guys selling rebel flag paraphenalia. They expressed disappointment with "hate groups" that had co-opted the flag and made it about racism. One of them said that there were lots of flags used during the Civil War, and he wished the Stars and Bars could be retired because it didn't stand for what he wanted it to stand for — the history of a war that left his family filled with widows. He said he didn't have any time for racists. Was he joshing me? I don't think so. I think there are more rebel flag-waving Southerners like him than you may think. I think some of them would be open to finding a way to remember that war that wasn't about hating black people. Not all, but some.

Obama presents a more realistic picture of America’s place in the world than Romney– one in which the United States will have to contend with other global powers and understand its limitations. That, perhaps even more than his blackness, is what rankles white men in the South. The meme of his supposed “apologizing for America” is so powerful because this is precisely what these conservative white Southern men can’t abide. They’ve been asked to apologize for the Confederacy already. In a culture where the notion of dignity resides in honor, pride in country and love of homeland — a culture in which a certain amount of boastfulness is part of masculinity — there’s only so much apologizing you can be expected to do. Men in other regions do not feel this double-whammy of defeat.

That love of homeland my boyfriend’s stepdad expressed is another thing that I think it’s hard for urbanites in other parts of the country to fully grasp. The rural and urban divide between the GOP and the Democrats is bigger than it has ever been. You simply don’t feel the same way about the land you live on when you can see vast expanses of it and you have a sense that your people have lived on it for generations. The migratory, transitory, packed-in-tight experience of a city like New York, where I now live, gives you a completely different relationship to the landscape. Mitt Romney’s mythological evocation of an America restored to its former greatness is particularly appealing when you have this kind of ardor in your heart. And when the heart wants to be healed, it will accept any lie to soothe it. This is called being human.

What liberals and progressives don’t seem to understand is that you don’t counter a myth with a pile of facts and statistics. You have to counter it with a more powerful story. And that’s what Obama and the Democrats have repeatedly failed to do. White Southern men want a story that makes them feel proud of America and what it can accomplish. I’m troubled when I hear lefties heap scorn upon the South, partly because I know that the antagonism is precisely what the Mitt Romneys of the world hope for. They want to divide us and keep those regional antagonisms stoked so that the cynical Southern strategy continues to work. Every time a San Franciscan or a New Yorker rails against “rednecks” in the South, he has done Karl Rove’s work for him.

I have argued before that there is an ancient strain of populism in the South, particularly in places like North Carolina, that Democrats could tap into to speak to the white Southern man in terms that might appeal to him. But the truth is, the Democrats have been marinating in their own pro-business snake oil for so long that they have often forgotten what they might have in common with the unemployed mill worker or the Walmart check-out guy. FDR did not make that mistake. He turned on the electricity at my granddaddy’s tobacco farm and I can tell you that the man, as conservative as he may have been, never forgot it. Instead of hating the white Southern man, why can’t Democrats take a little more time to talk about what they actually might do for him?

The white Southern man, even GOP-leaning, has never liked fatcats. Reuters/Ipsos polls during this election cycle throughout the Bible Belt reveal a large chunk — 38 percent — who say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is "very wealthy" than one who isn't. That’s a lot more than the 20 percent who admit that they would be less inclined to vote for an African American. Evangelicals were once among the country’s most hard-core economic populists, fighting against Anglican elitists all the way back to the founding era. A distrust of money men is still in their DNA. It’s there, if you know how to speak to it. But have Democrats really done this? All too often, they push regressive taxes and tear away at the social safety net, protecting the big corporate interests that back their campaigns. FDR literally turned on the lights for my grandfather. Barack Obama says he's on the same page with Mitt Romney when it comes to Social Security. See any problem?

I think by now many of us can see that a real mass movement that can take hold across the country is the only way to make real inroads against the elites who are pushing us toward a barbed-wire economy. But regional antagnoisms are not going to get us there. Where business Democrats fail, the true lefties could step in and talk about shared economic interests. But they’re usually too caught up in the hot-button cultural issues like gay marriage and religion to have a civil conversation. So the fatcats and the Billy Grahams who do their preaching take full advantage (Billy Graham is doing just that in NC right now).

If you want to talk about labor unions, try doing it without denigrating the cultural touchstones that give the white Southern man his sense of pride and place in the world. As soon as you've scorned a man's god, you can have no further conversation with him. One of the reasons North Carolina doesn't have much in the way of unions today is that labor organizers from other parts of the country have not been able to have an inclusive conversation with the working-class white Southern man. Can you look at the rebel flag on his truck and think for a second that he might have pride in the military service of his ancestors and understand that this is not entirely blameworthy? Possible? I'd like to retire the Stars and Bars too, but I don't want to end the conversation the second I see it. Try sensing his innate hospitality and understand that it might well extend to a feeling of shared responsibility for those you want to help.

I'm not saying that this doesn't take patience and the shedding of the satisfying feeling of self-righteousness that protects us from our own doubts. It's hard. And sometimes you're just banging your head against the wall. If you don't feel like trying, then you can just continue to rail against the white Southern man. And think about how that's working out for you.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. JGordon

    By definition no one who support Obama is a “progressive” or a “liberal”. So I am not sure exactly why you had to slip in that piece about “Obama presents a more realistic picture of America’s place in the world than Romney…”

    For example, I don’t believe that it’s especially realistic for Obama to expect that murdering innocent civilians, many or most of them women and children, with drones on the other side of the world is something that can go without consequences, and yet that seems to be what’s happening. Or am I wrong there?

    Is Romney any better? Of course not. But at least with a Romney presidency phony liberals such as yourself will coincidentally become suddenly aware of the activities going on such as I described above and do something about it. That’s why I voted for Romney.

    1. The Rage

      To late, you should have voted for McCain like I did in 2008 for similiar reason. I really think the Electorate just wanted a non-white President and slammed him through over Bill Clinton’s 3rd term.

      1. JGordon

        I got fooled into voting for Obama the first time around. Now I am cynical enough where I won’t ever make that mistake again. Yeah, a Romney win really would be the best thing that could happen to this country right now; and it’s still awful.

  2. addicted

    “Reuters/Ipsos polls during this election cycle throughout the Bible Belt reveal a large chunk — 38 percent — who say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is “very wealthy” than one who isn’t. That’s a lot more than the 20 percent who admit that they would be less inclined to vote for an African American”

    You aren’t really taking this at face value, are you? I mean, half the number of people who said they would vote in favor of their economic interests, openly admitted to being racist.

    “If you want to talk about labor unions, try doing it without denigrating the cultural touchstones that give the white Southern man his sense of pride and place in the world. As soon as you’ve scorned a man’s god, you can have no further conversation with him.”

    The cultural touchstone you mention in this article is the confederate flag. How are you supposed to “respect” it? Also, the “southern white man” uses his god to deny rights to women, gay people, and a whole host of other persons. How are you supposed to respect that belief without scorning the women, and gays he is using it against?

    Frankly, while I agree most white southerners are not racist, the reality is that they are extremely tribal. How else do you explain the grotesque Chik-Fil-A affair, where so many came out to simply demonstrate they hate gay people? I think tribalism (and I agree, I do not understand the root cause of this tribalism) is the primary driving force. Elections (and other issues) are much like a football day in Athens. They will always support their team, no matter which team is playing better. If the refs call a foul on the other team, no matter how egregious a call, it will be cheered, and if they call a foul on the home team, no matter how deserved, it will be booed.

    That is the primary driving force of the Southern White Man.

    1. The Rage

      Considering Lord Rothschild was a big influence behind the “shape and style” of the CSA flag(making it look similiar to the Brits), I agree, the Southern White Man needs to move on from it.

      His ancester probably died hoping General Grant and Mr.Lincoln would come and liberate him from the CSA.

      They are a tribe, but socialism is really a tribal ideology. Sounds like we have the basis for national socialism!!!

    2. Stan Getz

      Tribalism can be many times an unhelpful force but if you understand it you can use it to your advantage. Which was an important and forgotten theme of the article. But I am more annoyed with the identity politics tribalism of progressives. That means all you commentators who dramatically missed her theme. It acts to further cast the dems as the party of the minorities and weak which destroys its broad based appeal, especially among males and notably the chest thumpers among us. Now if the democrats held progressive economic values and jettisoned talk of identity politics, it could overcome this cast. a third party force is needed for economic progressives to unite behind and with it, the traditional constituency of the FDR democratic party. Unfortunately, the dems abandoned us after Carter for big business/respect my experience as an american constituency. Its been downhill ever since and I just can’t bring myself to vote for obama while he, time after time, abandons the working man. I’m disgusted with us and I’m sitting this one out.

      1. Jagger

        In the south, the democratic party is perceived as the party of atheists, blacks and gays. Young white macho males chasing women and without a real political thought in their head aren’t going to rush to join that party. And considering neither party is advancing the economic interests of the poor or middle class, what is left for them to differentiate the parties.

        Only if the democrats clearly and loudly push for the economic interests of the poor and middle class will they have any chance of winning the white southren male vote. And I just don’t see that happening any time in the forseeable future.

        1. Neo-Realist

          I thought John Edwards was our best bet as far as being a Democratic politician who could advance the economic interests of the white and black working class and poor and could potentially best frame the issues to southerners. But thank to his irresponsible life choices and Corporate Elites that knew what he was trying to do, he’s been put out of commission and nobody similar has arisen to speak to those issues that could appeal to that part of the country.

        2. Addicted

          How do you explain the the tea party then? It is driven largely by “Southern white men” and exists almost explicitly to push the interests of the wealthy over the interests of the poor.

          I think people have it all wrong. The reason the “Southern White Man” will not (at least in this generation) support a democrat is because all his authority figures growing up taught him to mistrust Democrats. His parents are likely Republicans who don’t like democrats. His pastor can barely hide his contempt for the morality void democrat. And all his neighbors and friends are under the same influences. And then, you have the huge right wing echo chamber through Fox News and AM radio m

          Finally, when you factor in that human beings are more like
          Y to believe “facts” which confirm their biases and that conservatives have much greater respect for authority, it is hard to see what will ever convince the current generation of the “southern white man” that a democrat can ever be looking out for them.

          1. Tarheel

            As a Southern male, I have read with great interest and amusement to different responses to the article. Most people from the South are very proud of their heritage. For calling all Southerns rednecks, I took a class at UNC Greensboro and individuals from all across our country just determined that a redneck is really no different than a hippie or anyone else. North Carolina tried to unionize labor in the 1930’s and large numbers of workers were killed. If the Democratic wants to get the vote of the South appeal to him as FDR did. My mother in law whom I truly loved like my mother said you get more with sugar than salt. When you truly break down the issues between Obama and Romney there is not a lot. Get back to being a FDR democrat and treat the the people from the South and you domaintate the elections and change you can believe in will happen.

  3. bmeisen

    Quakers, Moravian dissenters, yes, and Church of the Bretheren among many protestant congregations who fled corrupt, oppressive, monarchist Europe bringing republican and democratic hopes with them to the South. These progressive forces were part of FDR’s Democratic machine – hardscrabble farmers who knew when they were being ripped off (again) by the rentiers and their allies on Wall St.

    Enough of them probably also took part with pleasure in the festivities surrounding the occasional lynching, and saw advantages in suppressing the black vote. And how many of them now pay for their pick-ups with subsidies from the USDA?

    The progressive tendencies however are still there and Obama hasn’t done enough to energize them. Imagine the benefits if he had gone hard after the fat cats who got big bucks while friends and relatives were being foreclosed on?

  4. Lafayette


    What If Liberals and Progressives Could Learn to Talk to Southern White Men?

    And if pigs had wings there’d be pork in the treetops by morning!

    The impossible hurdle is that Liberalism is anchored in dogmatism. It is a classic matter of their notions being “neat, simple … and wrong”.

    What exists in not only the American south but its “red-states” is that people clutch to an outmoded notion of “self-sacrifice, self-dependence”. They don’t need “help” from anybody to pursue their destiny … and that is somehow “God’s will”.

    Which is one reason why Mormonism favors capital accumulation as an indication of God’s favor for individual achievement. Followed by, of course, everlasting happiness in heaven. Nice recipe, not so? Wouldn’t you want to bake that cake?

    Religion has no business in politics, but there it is at the very base of political conviction. A conviction that no one but ourselves can define our destiny – and most certainly not the state, not the Federal Government.

    (Unless, of course, you are member other M-I-C club – who conveniently forget their religious beliefs because the ends always justify the means.)


    Progressive politics in America has a long way to go. It must anchor itself first at the grassroots where it is competing with ingrained religious notions of social-democracy being the devil’s handmaiden. Because it “wastes” taxpayer money on “handouts to moochers”.

    Whereas progressives know, in their heart of hearts, that Federal social-investments are not “hand-outs” – they are a hand-up. They lift people out of poverty by educating them with the skills/talents they need to find and keep a decent job at a decent pay – with which to care for and nourish their families.

    They help people obtain the most important of personal security – far more important than that of the DoD or Homeland. It is that of health care, which (due to the obesity pandemic) is ravaging our country. It will, most certainly, present America with a colossal Health Care bill within the next two decades. And the Replicants want to cut Medicaid/Medicare?

    How wicked can a party get? And still believe in a judgmental God …

    Health and Education are the two most important investments in America’s future that any government will make. They go further to assure the well-being of ALL Americans … and not just a select few.

    Whereas our Tax Policy, ever since Reagan, has pointed us in the opposite direction. Towards that of the 10Percenters who obtain almost half of the income generated by our economy. Consider these facts* demonstrating clearly that the share of Total Income of the Top 10% of American households increased from 31.5% to 46.3% over the past five decades:
    1960 – 33.8%
    1970 – 31.5%
    1980 – 32.9%
    1990 – 38.8%
    2000 – 43.1%
    2010 – 46.3%

    And we, the sheeple, the 90Percenters, must scramble to share the other 54% of total income. How is that fair and equitable?

    Where is the justice, I ask? Where is the social justice in those numbers? Is it God’s will? What kind of God, then, is that?

    Go figure – but don’t ask any white southern men. They haven’t got the foggiest notion. For them, the sky’s the limit as regards personal fortunes – and its all God’s will!

    *From the World Top Incomes Database found here.

    1. jake chase

      You cannot use reason to dispel myth. Facts don’t seem to help either. Remember WJ (or is it JW) Cash? Perhaps Democratic spin meisters need to study The Mind of the South a bid harder? One would think that by now they would have come up with some line of bullshit that would divert at least some of these lost souls into the fold, but what I don’t understand is why you think this would do any good.

      Give the Southern White Men (and Northern Liberals) another ten or twenty years of economic depression, unemployment, usury, bubbles, crashes, executive looting, cronyism, graft, bridges to nowhere, entrepreneurial poverty and pointless wars. Maybe that will stop both sides from swallowing bunk, but if that doesn’t help, nothing will.

      1. Lafayette


        {but what I don’t understand is why you think this would do any good.}

        Because I happen to believe the reason prevails over dogma. Regardless of one’s intellectual ability, rich or poor, one recognizes unfairness when one sees it.

        We’ve not been looking for Social Injustice, because it is not in our vocabulary. An American has to live abroad, particularly in France, to see and hear it during political debate/exchange.

        In the US we are genuflecting at the altar of the God of Mammon. All that counts is money, money, money. The more the better and preferably quicker. The rich have become our role-models because they have what we want – great fortunes.

        Which is just the sort of mentality, on both Main Street and Wall Street, that brought us the Toxic Waste Mess, the Seizure of the Credit Mechanism (via Wall Street) and the Great Recession of 2009. A recession in which we have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

        We must get beyond our fixation on wealth accumulation. On to more socially fertile ground, meaning fairness. Not equality of incomes, but income equitability.

  5. The Rage

    Eh, I talk to them everyday. My favorite is how the CSA was created by Lord Rothschild and their ancesters threw flowers on General Shermans troops hoping they would be liberated from the CSA(and its police state pre-CSA). Gets them riled up you know.

    Fact is, FDR was FDR. He remodelled capitalism and was probably one of that last great transcending Presidents. Now we just elect mediocre to poor presidents like Bush and Obama to 2 terms.

  6. Terez

    I was born and raised in MS (still live here) and I’m not so sure the gender gap is all that great in the South. (Not that Ms. Parramore was arguing that it was; I just get the impression sometimes that people believe there is a significant gender gap in the South, so I figured I’d toss in my anecdotal perspective.) With a quick search I was not able to find much info, but I did find a site that claims the gender gap is smaller in NC than in other swing states (and NC is the most Southern of the swing states). And while the economic argument for liberalism does have a certain amount of currency in the South, particularly if you can frame it around crony capitalism, it always seems to go back to resentment for social welfare, which is undeniably rooted in racial tensions, and since many areas in the South are economically dependent on the military industrial complex (aside from the overhyper, overhawkish American exceptionalism), sometimes the crony capitalism argument doesn’t come off all that well either. (Or maybe I just suck at making those arguments.)

    I also grew up with Confederate apologist arguments, and I think most Southern men are already convinced (perhaps not for the right reasons) that the Civil War wasn’t about race. It was about economics; it was about states’ rights; it was about anything but slavery, and I found those arguments compelling as a child. I no longer find them quite so compelling, but I still think Gone With the Wind was an excellent novel, laying bare both the tragedy of it from the white Southern perspective and the underlying bigotry. If you want to understand (and maybe even empathize with) Southern apologist thinking, I highly recommend it, even though it’s been several years since I’ve read it and it might not be as great as I remember. (The film doesn’t even really come close to conveying that thinking; this is expected with adaptations, but I remember that much vividly.) But I always thought a large part of Mitchell’s genius was that she made the hero and heroine of the story so easy to hate. You’re supposed to hate them, and hate yourself when you sympathize with them (if you ever do). But through the eyes of a character who is in some ways the epitome of everything that is wrong with Southern thinking, you can see a landscape that is far more complex. And in some ways, it is amazing how little has changed.

    The South is home to many types, and the stereotypical redneck is far from a myth, but I agree it’s helpful to keep one’s eyes open for the other types. I was not raised as a liberal—I used to ride around with my dad in his work van and happily listen to Rush Limbaugh—and I only recently emerged from extreme political apathy, jumping straight into liberalism. My brother did the same. I think my mother is coming around. My dad never will. I’d put money on that, money I’d be thrilled to lose.

    1. Lafayette


      … jumping straight into liberalism.

      What is strange in the US is our silly fright of complexity. We tend towards political solutions that are neat, simple … and dead wrong.

      We reach for sound-bites instead of meaning. Sound-bites are apparent, neat and simple and thus appeal to the masses. Meaning is complex and requires substantial consideration – which is an aptitude not all have.

      There is no real dichotomy of opposites, i.e., the good of Social Democracy or the evil of Moneyed Plutocracy, that is, the divide between Left and Right. The amalgam of humanity exists in between the two extremes.

      MY POINT?

      The truth, I am convinced, is in political Centrism of the kind espoused by Clinton and Tony Blair. Meaning this: We learned how to nurture and milk the cash-cow of capitalism, which is fine. We’ve not learned, however, how to distribute equitably the milk.

      Which is what Social Democracies in Europe have learned how to do mainly by means of two crucial social services, namely:
      *National Health Systems that were universal since their inception and,
      *National Education that provides primary, secondary AND tertiary education (vocational, college, university) as a birthright. It is by means of Tertiary Education that an individual obtains the skills/competencies to obtain a decent job at a decent wage with which to nourish their families. And family is the thread of our social fabric.

      The above is simple to say and even simpler to promise. But very difficult for an economy to implement – especially one that is Darwinian. That is, a society that believes that the fittest indeed deserve to survive and survive well.

      Whilst the rest are just road-kill on the Highway of Life.

  7. Brindle

    Lynn Parramore does not use the word “slavery” in relation to the Civil War, the Confederacy and racial attitudes of white southern males.
    To talk about the history of the South and omit the most important aspect(slavery) makes her piece ineffective.

  8. superduperdave

    The conversation you’re talking about would also require that Yankee Democrats give up their moral superiority complex. Ain’t gonna happen (as amply demonstrated above).

    1. Valissa

      Agreed, except I would expand that to include liberals in general (noting, as always, that there are many exceptions). Liberals tend to get very preachy and moralistic about their political values (not so terribly different from evangelical Christians), and often in an elitist or superior-acting fasion. Liberals like to pretend they are the tolerant ones, and yet are generally intolerant of different worldviews (hence the reason for a post like this to begin with). Ridiculous and clearly untrue primal scream statements like “all Republicans are evil” are quite acceptable yet liberals get all riled up when such blanket statements are made from the right about Dem special interest groups (any perceived slight to women, blacks, hispanics, etc, is jumped upon with much fire-and-brimstone). I say all this as an ex-liberal who no longer want to identify with any political label. Yet I remain socially liberal, and individually I like many liberals quite a lot, esp. the ones that show up on NC :)

      btw, I’ve never really had much trouble talking to people who have different political/religious beliefs than me and I don’t think it’s all that hard to do. When did practicing civility and kindness become so difficult?

  9. Jack Jonsom

    The title of this essay makes the assumption that there is no southern white liberal.

    Bizarre along with the article.

    Maybe meant to shock I guess.

  10. amateur socialist

    I have a hard time with the concept that the south is GOP leaning. That phrase gets it exactly backward.

    In 2012 the GOP will continue a 50 year trend of becoming older, whiter, more southern and more rural. There is nothing working against that trend. It’s a demographic makeup that is no longer a plurality and only gets smaller over time. They don’t have anywhere else to go without abandoning that old white rural southern base.

    1. sleepy

      I grew up in Memphis, and it’s hard to remember that up until the early 60s much of the republican leadership of Memphis was black.

      The only white republican I knew in those days was a lady down the street from California who was known as a liberal.

  11. Max424

    Stars and Bars toting southern white boys, true gentlemen … “called me “Cover Girl” because of my fresh-scrubbed appearance…”

    Interesting parallel. I’m a fast talking sharpie from upstate New York who once found himself in the south for a spell. The virginal belles there used to call me “Dirty Boy,” not owing to my 3 days of stubble, but for the simple reason I would whisper disreputable things in their ear.

    ‘Tis true, in hushed tones I would allude to the possible. I couldn’t help myself. They were so chaste, and I was so … young.

    I would say, softer than a southern breeze, “Confederate girl, let us drive to a nebulous place, like a swamp, perhaps, and there by the glint of a fenny moon, strip bare the most liberal passages of Song of Songs.”

    “And would it not be right and proper, also, that we partially disrobe here, in Biblical preparation? If so, will you let me draw close and offer most humble service in the complex unraveling of your bodice?”

    1. craazyman

      did it work?

      My success in those activities generally came despite what I said, not because of it. :)

      This was an interesting article, Ms. Parramore, glad to see this sort of thing on NC. Just yesterday I was watching CCR youtube videos and I’m not even a southern man, or a northern man, or a liberal or a conservative or a homosexual, or a label of any kind. I don’t identify with anything or anyone. It ain’t me. It ain’t me.

      “Identity politics” is a social disease, IMHO. Every American man, at the root of his being, is a pragmatist. That’s why we love Duct Tape like it’s a work of the Lord. If a politician can somehow speak to that inner pragmatist — in a direct, respectful, informed and convincing way — without the slightest trace of pomposity, narcissism or disdain, he will have them.

      1. craazyman

        In fact, I’d go so far as to say any politician who gets videotaped buying duct tape at a hardware store will win the hearts and minds.

        They can’t be all stupid if they like CCR. How can a stupid man like these lyrics. Maybe its the stupid ones who get the bad PR:

        Long as I remember the rain been comin’ down
        Clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.
        Good men through the ages tryin’ to find the sun.
        And I wonder still I wonder who’ll stop the rain.

        -Credence Clearwater Revival, Who’ll Stop the Rain

        There’s always hope. :)

        But rarely change. LOL

      2. Aquifer

        craazy – thanks, I agree wholeheartedly, identity politics is not just a loser, it is “fundamentally” wrong, IMO. “Race” is a bogus concept, even gender seems fluid, though i think it comes closest to being able to claim some distinction in that otherwise fundamentally homo-gene-ous critter type we call, with no little irony, homo sapiens …

        Oh yeah – I have duct tape in multiple colors – the blue is very nice …

      3. JEHR

        Then, craazyman, you would just love our Red/Green Show where the protagonist solves everything, and I mean everything, with duct tape…broken down cars, engines, houses, roadways, love affairs…you name it, he will duct tape it. Specialists also say that he was right on scientifically in his usages (but I can’t prove that!)

      4. Max424

        I once reattached a severed arm using duct tape, and the thing worked good as new.

        Wink. Seriously, if someone said, You are an Egyptian noble, of low standing, meaning, unlike Pharaohs who are allowed to transport unlimited matériel, you may hand carry one -not-too-large!- item with you into the Afterworld. What shall it be?

        Well, the answer is easy. If you can’t duck it, fuck it. I would take with me a roll of duct tape.

        Note: I would probably opt for the traditional metallic gray, but blue would be acceptable too, as it might match better with azure skies of heaven!

        Should they need a patch job –which surely they do, as I imagine they’re getting pretty old.

  12. wbgonne

    A very useful article in that it hits the nail on the head: we are unlikely to make substantial progress until the working white class begins recognizing and voting for its economic interests. More broadly, if the nation is to be saved it will be via a coalition of Leftists and Labor (organized or otherwise). Unfortunately, the author seems beguiled by the American political duopoly which she appears to believe is on the level. It isn’t. Both parties use cultural wedge issues to maintain the divide that allows the corporatists to maintain and increase their power. At this point in history, that is no longer an accident. It is intentional. For a recent example, one need only look at how Obama’s refusal to allow the Bush tax cuts for the Rich to expire was sopped by an extension of gay rights. Both the Republicans and the Democrats use these culture war issues to disguise their true aims: the ever-incrreasing concentration of wealth. The author does a great service broaching a topic that needs a great deal more discussion. Accompanied by a clear-eyed understanding of the present political reality — the system isn’t broken, it’s fixed — this can serve as a start point for the dialogues that must ensue to break the corporatists’ grip and restore the American People to their rightful position. Labor and the Left. Forward!

  13. Matt

    I’m a total New York pinko grad student/social worker, but when I was in the marines, I got along just fine with most southerners. The trick was to get really drunk together and hardly ever talk about anything except how much it sucked being a marine. Because while there are tons of decent southern white men, I’ve found that most are just one wrong question away from saying some abhorrent garbage about brown skinned people. And I think that the author is not giving racism its due here.

    Now, I grew up in a family full of Irish cops, so I know better than a lot of white New Yorkers that racism is not a regional thing in America. It’s a cultural thing tied to masculine identity among working class whites. Politics in this country are (is?) about aesthetics, and the binary our entrenched two party system has cultivated binds issues to each other that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily stick. Republicans are “manly,” so pro-business economic policies are manly. Deportations of undocumented immigrants are manly. Alienating black people is manly. Democrats, on the other hand, are “womanly,” so pro-labor economic policy is womanly. Environmental protections are womanly. Decriminalizing recreational drugs is womanly, etc. You are never going to get a macho white working class southerner (or even most macho white working class northerners) to vote for the womanly party.

    What needs to happen, and it won’t, is that the political parties need to be split up. The Dems could split between Blue Dogs, Greens, Social Democrats and Leftists. The Republicans would be split into Libertarians, Conservatives, Dixiecrats and whatever terrifying groups are to the right of the Tea Party. If we lose the gendered binary of the two party system, it would open the door to alliances on different issues. Social Dems, Greens, labor parties and Dixiecrats could align on economic issues. Libertarians and liberals could align on social issues. More things would get done, and a lot of them would make the country a better place to live. But there’s no mechanism by which this could possibly happen.

    Maybe a bunch of rich political outsiders could form a right wing/left wing SuperPAC or series of SuperPACs dedicated to supporting third, fourth, fifth and sixth parties in a way that would ensure that doing so would not throw right-leaning areas to the Democrats and vice versa. A two-pronged attack on the two party system. I dunno, just spitballing.

    1. casino implosion

      I agree with a lot of this.

      My construction trade union endorsed Obama. The head of the international appeared on the cover of the monthly newsletter with the potus. The inside of the newsletter was filled with rational, earnest explanations beseeching the membership to put aside issues such as gay marriage and focus on not electing the man who would try to wreck Davis Bacon…our bread-and-butter.

      Nevertheless, the largely white, Irish and Italian Catholic, working class rank and file hate Obama’s guts, think he’s a weak, snotty punk who pretty much combines in one person everything they despise and can’t wait to vote against him. These are New Yorkers and New Jerseyites.

      The red-blue divide is only partly about the Civil War and race and regional resentment.

      1. wbgonne

        What is the reason for the hatred of Obama? I assume it isn’t simply personality. What do your co-workers think of Obama on policy? And which policies are important to them?

        1. casino implosion

          I’ve given up trying to talk policies with the guys because you quickly run into a wall of denial and Glenn Beck type chain email nonsense.

          For one, they attribute most of the market share loss of the union construction sector to illegal immigration. At the low point of the crash, when the sign up list at the shape hall was 15 pages long, the contractor-union signatory group called a special “all hands on deck” meeting with a hired gun out-of-town speaker who specialises in this kind of thing: pro-management pep talks for unions on the slide, basically consisting of a lot of veiled threats.

          This kind of thing was a first for our local. We’ve been insulated from the kind of experience of say, unionized Harley Davidson factory workers who had to give up a lot of give-backs and get talked down to by a management in the ascendant.

          The men rose up in rage in their seats, screaming at the speaker…but every heckle and jeer was about Mexicans. “Send the @##$ illegals back where they came from”. That was an eye opener for me. “These guys really, really believe that all their worries would be taken care of if we built a big wall on the border” is what I thought to myself.

          And of course they associate the Democratic Party with amnesty and allowing illegal immigration. You can talk till you’re blue in the face about GOP support for immigration, the Bushes and what not. They know in their hearts that it’s the Democrats who are soft on illegals, end of story.

          Try to talk about Davis Bacon and GOP anti-union malevolence and you just get the hand. “The unions have been around 100 years, we ain’t goin’ anywhere.” That’s what my foreman told me last winter when I was trying to explain to him that today’s Republicans are not Nixon and Reagan, or even George Bush. By “the unions” he meant the blue collar, white working class, male “hard hat” unions that vote GOP for gut-level reasons like those enumerated by Matt above.

          1. wbgonne

            Thanks for the reply. The anger is legitimate but aimed at the wrong targets. How to correct that? I don’t know but very doubtful Obama’s that second term will help.

          2. Valissa

            I’ve given up trying to talk policies with the guys because you quickly run into a wall of denial

            Funny ’cause I get the same wall of denial from my very highly educated friends (PhDs & Masters) if I ever dare to point out the similarity of Obama’s policies and Bush’s. btw, I never start political conversations with these people because their resposne are so predictable. One of my best friends (PhD) proudly states that she doesn’t bother having political conversations with single issue voters, yet she can never find it within herself to criticize Obama or the Dems in any way. She will come up with any excuse to defend and support him & them, reliably blaming the Republicans for all the ills of the world. Despite her having her PhD in psychology it took her 3 years to figure out that I didn’t become an ex-liberal because I moved ‘right’, and I didn’t become an ex-liberal because I moved to the ‘center’ but that I well and truly am done with the whole paradigm.

      2. Valissa

        think he’s a weak, snotty punk who pretty much combines in one person everything they despise and can’t wait to vote against him

        Let’s face it, Obama does not come across as manly, he comes across as an elitist. He looks, dresses and acts like a wealthy country club metrosexual. Obama does not come across as a self-made man either, or someone you you could have a beer with and relax and laugh over some off-color jokes (snark alert on last phrase). I think there are class and gender issues here as much, or perhaps more than, racial ones.

    2. Dan h

      Spot on. Irish lineage firefighters in my experience. I was referred to as the “commie-pinko-fag-liberal-bed wetter” for a summer after being the go-fer on a summer house build with my uncle and his friends.

      And echoing a reply below, I had an eye opening moment this past summer during a graduation party. I ended up in the family room talking politics for 3 hours. My father and the father of the household we were in, Irish immigrants, with their wives, both first gen Irish American. “Mexicans” came up and holy ****, rage, hate, denial, and stonewall bigoted beliefs. I lost a lot of respect for my parents that night. An interesting thing was myself, and their two daughters, both in college, were all horrified at our parents position and said so. “Our generation is more accepting” line of thoughts etc. but then none of us has a job with decent pay, kids depending on us etc. The racism is usually misplaced anger about economic injustice, but I’ve never been able to lead anyone out of that mire of delusional thinking.

      1. wbgonne

        “The racism is usually misplaced anger about economic injustice, but I’ve never been able to lead anyone out of that mire of delusional thinking.”

        Yes, that is the problem: the anger is legitimate but the targets are wrong. Again, I suspect that is by design now. Perhaps the culture war issues had real cogency back when LBJ pushed civil rights through and the country convulsed over Vietnam. But then the two parties actually did stand for different things. Now both parties are corporatist, they subscribe to the same core economic beliefs and they use these identity-politics issues to confound the electorate. Others in this thread have mentioned recent Democrats who have partially bridged the divide, folks like John Edwards and Howard Dean. How they did so is no mystery: they appealed directly to working class economic issues. The truth — as reflected in poll after poll on nearly every major issue — is the the American People overwhelmingly (60% of better) support the Progressive position. The problem is that neither party has any interest in promoting those policies. This is why Obama had come dangerously close to losing this election. He knew this. Long ago, I realized that Obama would rather lose re-election than abandon corporatism. The Democratic leadership shares that view. And the GOP, of course, is even worse. We have just endured the spectacle of Mitt Romney — the nominee selected BECAUSE he was deemed more “Moderate” and electable — essentially throwing the election by refusing to move Left until it was too late to matter. Romney, too, would rather lose than abandon corporatism. Romney’s role, the GOP’s current role, is to stake the most extremist Rightwing positions so that whatever Obama does he will be deemed “moderate” in comparison. Why all these machinations now? Because the corporatists do not intend to squander another opportunity to slash the social safety net. The Tea Party stopped the Grand Bargain last time by refusing to give Obama political cover. I don’t believe that will happen again. So it will be up to the Democrats to ward off Obama’s attacks on the social safety net. If that inspires you with confidence you are delusional.

    3. MontanaMaven

      Excellent rebuttal, Matt. This article uses the old tired thesis that “liberals” just need better language to talk to those people. It’s a rehash of George Lakoff’s ideas about thinking like elephants and mommy and daddy parties. These ideas all boil down to marketing gimmicks not to actions that will actually better people’s lives like electrifying rural areas. It also comes from a place of moral superiority of being the superior party because they are the nurturing party that stops the conversation cold let alone sounding decidedly non “manly”.

      The author brushes briefly on the heart of the matter almost as an after thought when she says “But the truth is, the Democrats have been marinating in their own pro-business snake oil for so long that they have often forgotten what they might have in common with the unemployed mill worker or the Walmart check-out guy.” Duh. For more on that read Jefferson Cowie’s “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.”
      The mill worker’s son, John Edwards, was able to bridge this divide by talking real bread and butter issues for both poor blacks and whites calling our current system “rigged” for the 1%. Martin Luther King, Jr stood up for the garbage workers in Memphis. But Populists don’t last long.

      The landowner’s pride in their land, I’ve found, gives them also a sense of moral superiority that is undeserved. Daddy probably got the land cheap while the poor farmer was off fighting the war for him. (In that sense “Cold Mountain” provides an accurate view of how few Southerners were really all that excited about the War Between the States. Read “The People’s History of the Civil War” by David Williams for a real eye opener about how much the war was about profiteering like it always is.) Around here, Daddy bought up the land of failed homesteaders and scoffed at how they got snookered. So on the other side this moral superiority again stops the conversation cold.

      When both sides get down off their high cavalry horses and meet at ground level and look at the working men and women as equals and not customers and drones, we might get somewhere. When we look at ways to live together based on mutual aid not on grabbing stuff and making useless stuff, we might get somewhere. As Yes Maybe says below, Joe Bageant indeed got it.

      1. JTFaraday

        “In that sense “Cold Mountain” provides an accurate view of how few Southerners were really all that excited about the War Between the States.”

        Great movie. Didn’t read the book.

  14. Ceci

    I spent my first 20 years in MS, the next 20 in various other states. Now I’m grudgingly back in MS. The quickest way I can sum up my view of the southern way of life is:


    There are some marvelous positive traits, but they’re buried under so much aggression about honor and saving face. ..so much time looking for differences between people so they can divvy the world up into tribes that they’ll either support or hate based on their stick figure quality recipe of those people. They like life simple, but that has consequences when it’s whitewashed across all of life.

  15. Larry Headlund

    “Can you look at the rebel flag on his truck and think for a second that he might have pride in the military service of his ancestors and understand that this is not entirely blameworthy? Possible? I’d like to retire the Stars and Bars too, but I don’t want to end the conversation the second I see it.”

    Substitute ‘swastika’ for ‘rebel’ in that sentence and see how it parses. The stars and Bars was inserted into state flags (and became a popular symbol) during the ’50’s and ’60’s. It’s a recent symbol of racial intimidation and they damn well know it.

    Wear say a t-shirt with a left symbol on it and see how much respect you get. Respect down there is a one way street.

    And I grew up there.

  16. Middle Seaman

    Not only the south is solidly red, the mountain states including Utah are as red as the south. Idaho has not lost the civil war and mountains are not as polite to Harley’s as the south.

    The division between urban and rural permeate north and south and west to east. Rural counties in California tend to vote GOP. Rural counties in Maryland vote GOP. The civil war is an important factor, but it doesn’t seem to be the crucial factor.

    Rural areas are more homogeneous, gays are visible, people make a living in different way than in cities, you know your neighbors, etc. There is a huge divide between urban and rural communities. Howard Dean wanted to address the divide; he was fired by Obama. The Democratic party has become more a name than a reality. There is no political body that can address the divide.

    1. sleepy

      It might be worth noting that Bill Clinton carried Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and West Virginia in 1992 and 1996.

      Yes, I know, a native son and different times.

  17. ScottW

    Having lived in NC for 12 years I believe you could offer the angriest of Southern men everything he wanted economically, but once he found out you supported racial equality, a living wage for all workers, gay rights, and any other civil right, he would vote for the other candidate. Of course, the same holds true for angry Northern white men who hate blacks, gays, and civil rights.

    1. sleepy

      Thanks for that link. Very interesting.

      It would also be interesting to take the experiment a step further and conduct it with southern women vis a vis northern women to see the cultural differences interplay with gender differences.

  18. NotTimothyGeithner

    The issue is irrelevant. The election of 2006 and 2008 proved that. Democratic polling solidified after they remembered most of their voters are women. Trying to appeal to racists and centrist morons by being just a little more conservative at every opportunity is a failed strategy. People respond to leadership and in the absence vote for people who look like them.

    The real problem is too many “Democrats” and “liberals” think elected Democrats are just being bamboozled by Republicans or don’t have enough support when they run the gamut from lazy and cowardly to crooks.

  19. Carnival worker

    “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

    “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it”

    ― Flannery O’Connor

    1. Wat Tyler

      Agreed. Anyone wanting to understand why working poor whites vote for the GOP should read the small and delightful memoir by Mr Bagnet titled “Deer Hunting with Jesus”. You will be both enlightened and entertained.



      I also was raised in Raleigh but during the 40’s and 50’s (Broughton class of ’60 – Ms Parramore will understand) and killed many a Yankee with my toy guns and rebel flags as a boy.

  20. damian

    trying to justify or parse the personality / condition / DNA of these people is a waste of time !

    they are the same people from 1860 – forgetaboutit!!

    using the same parable in the bible for 20 different interpretations to get them where they need to go from a lynching to voter repression to segregating the back of the bus to women’s rights – is never going to be a fact based critical thinking decision process – forgetaboutit!!

    ONLY solution = secession

    my vote for NEWCO (NEW COUNTRY): NY,NJ,CT,MASS,RI,CA,OR,WA and ….Miami Beach — give them the rest of it and let them blow up the world with their guns, ammo and bible!

  21. S Brennan

    In my life I have lived in the South twice, both pleasent experiences. I find everything stated in the article about the south to be true. I would add, that if you want to move a man on certain issues you have to find some touchstone, I use my US Army enlistment, FDR/WWII and JFK/Moonlanding as common truth.

  22. someofparts

    Well, also try remembering, or learning for the first time, that on a national level, liberals have sold out Southern populists to the tender mercies of their feudal plutocrats time and time again. About a decade ago North Carolina, followed quickly by Georgia, were the first states anywhere to put anti-predatory lending laws on the books. Karl Rove rigged the election in Georgia and the first thing his stooge Governor did in office was take those anti-predatory lending laws off the books.

    Stop preaching and start helping. Howard Dean knew this. Figure out where the liberals who are saving the world have warehoused and silenced Dr. Dean and unleash him again. Send him to the South and see what happens. I’ll host the first meet-up. (In fact, did I mention the epic crowds Dean attraced in the South? the enthusiasm?)

  23. conway blank name

    apologies for being snarky, but “talking” is only possible if people are reasonable to begin with.

    The GOP base live in the own reality….example, their love of “Judeo-Christian values.”

    Nothing is more Christ-like than advocating for a government that spends more on the military than the next 14 nations combined.

    I believe that was Matthew 44:10 that said, “and lo, Jesus loved his guns and ammo.”

  24. Schofield

    Ask the Southern White men and women if they know the United States only succeeded in coming into existence because the fledging new government created money without debt in the shape of Continentals to fight the War of Independence!

    Ask them also if they know and understand why the Continentals lost value because the new government lacked the power of effective taxation and bond issue and the British were flooding markets with counterfeit Continentals.

  25. Felix

    I don’t know if Democrats suddenly pandering to the southern vote changes anything. Isn’t the fact that real issues like unfair wealth distribution, global warming or regulation of the financial sector are being ignored the real problem? The fact that both candidates want to “balance the budget” without any idea what they are talking about. Or simply the fact that you only have 2 viable candidates in what is supposed to be a democracy.

    Speaking to the southern white man somehow pales in comparison.

  26. Pelham

    Excellent article, much appreciated. Many years ago I, a Midwesterner, spend a summer in the South. Not sure what I expected, but it was one of the more eye-opening and cherished experiences of my life. I’ll never forget it.

    And along the lines of progressives being able to talk to conservatives, I recommend Jonathan Haidt’s boo, “The Righteous Mind.”

  27. Hugh

    I have been saying this for a while now. For things to change in this country, we need a mass movement. Mass movement first, party second. And this mass movement will never be successful until it can get large numbers of working and middle class white males to join it. I think we can offer two very powerful reasons for them to do so, one positive, one negative. The first is that, like the rest of us, they have been had. Every day of their working life a sizable chunk of their wages is taken from them. And I don’t mean by government. I mean by the rich who keep their wages low, their jobs uncertain, their healthcare expensive, their education like their roads deteriorating, and their retirements a fear filled question mark. The second is that we have a nation to build, the one most of us grew up believing in, the one where we felt we were all in this together, something bigger than anyone of us, where our work is respected, our input taken seriously, and our participation is not coerced.

    I think people have an amazing capacity to do more for a cause in which they believe than they ever would for themselves, but they also have a tremendous fear of being taken advantage of. Although all this involves vast generalizations, I think white males would prefer to be victimized by the rich while still retaining some sense of personal dignity rather than being ordered around doing something where they gained materially but at the loss of their self-respect.

    1. wbgonne

      I agree with you. Others in this thread have noted that Southern whites hold concepts like honor dear. That is not bad: it is good. Precisely what we need in this country is a restoration of real values. We must abandon the faux values (the Golden Calves) the corporatists shove down our throats through our television sets: the idea that obscene wealth and consumption are the goals in life. We must replace materialism with values like honor and sacrifice, instead of glorifying idiot celebrities who do nothing and economic vultures (vampire squids) who suck economic vitality from the American People. We need a cultural and social renaissance. We are a fat people, a silly people (Lawrence) and that must change.

  28. Peter Pinguid Society

    The politics of identity was a godsend for the 0.01 percent. For each new identity (the creation or cobbling together of an identity) creates a figure that provides raw material for its investment by the market.

    There is nothing more captive, so far as commercial investment is concerned, than a community and its territory or territories. What an inexhaustible potential for mercantile investments is this upsurge — taking the form of communities demanding recognition and so-called cultural singularities — the Southern redneck male (sell them Confederate flags and memorabilia and books as well as books and tapes on the theme of “you might be a redneck if”) the homosexual atheist (open gay atheist coffee shops and sex shops and sell them Gay & Lesbian fiction at Barnes & Noble), the disabled lesbian (we’re working on this, and something will be announced soon)

    And the infinite combinations of predictive traits: northern Black homosexuals, Catholic pedophiles, moderate transgendered Muslims, Jews for Jesus, married priests, ecologist yuppies, the dominant unemployed Southerner versus the submissive prematurely aged Northerner, etc…

    For the Pete Pinguid Society this is heaven on earth….

    Each time, a new social image comes along it authorizes new products, specialized magazines, improved shopping malls, “free” radio stations, targeted advertising networks, and finally, heady “public debates” on TV, at peak viewing times.

    Deleuze put it perfectly: capitalist deterritorialization requires a constant reterritorialization. Capital demands a permanent creation of subjective and territorial identities in order for its principle of movement to homogenize its space of action; identities, moreover, that demand anything, anything!! (please *anything* at all) except the right to be exposed in the same way as others to the uniform prerogatives of the market.

    We are the Peter Pinguid Society, we are the 0.01 percent.

    1. Peter Pinguid Society

      Just adding: a word of advice to all of you 99 percenters out there. We want you to keep thinking in terms of exclusive groups, and whatever you do, do not break through this or ever think in terms of transversal relations. For this could ultimately lead to class consciousness, and that dog don’t hunt, got it, so don’t go there.

      No, you must always agree with people (especially media people) who think “I’m this, I’m that” and who do so, moreover, in psychoanalytic terms (relating everything to their childhood and fate), like a self-contained jumble of echoes.

      It’s important that you never get beyond identity politics and never consider thinking in strange, fluid or unusual terms such as I don’t know what I am, I’d have to investigate and experiment with so many things in a non-narcissistic, non-oedipal way. Don’t go there.

      Got it, *never* think in those terms, stick to your identity, whatever it is, forget whatever class you belong to, that’s not important, and that’s not the issue.

      And remember, arguments from one’s own privileged experience are always good progressive arguments. :)

      We are the Peter Pinguid Society, we are the 0.01 percent.

  29. Ron

    The Southern White fought the other states and lost, enough said. Southern white fostered slave labor based on skin color, enough said. Southern white attitudes have been and continue to be passed down to each generation and will always be a stumbling block to there approach to the real world!

  30. Dikaios Logos

    While I broadly agree with the idea of liberals and progressives needing to work harder at addressing Southern white males, a few things jump out at me.

    First, I really don’t like the narrative highlighting of the South as a place liberals fail uniquely. THAT plays into the narrative of Blue v. Grey. As many have said, isolated white, rural populations throughout the country have largely the same issues. New England is much less exceptional than many people think: talk to black college students in places like Maine and you will learn a lot. The South is different in that there are relatively few large metro areas and that there is this ready-made and largely unchallenged narrative.

    And to the charge that the rest of the country doesn’t know loss, aka ‘having your ancestors defeated’, I laughed out loud at that one. My family, that is the one that gave me my surname, was perhaps the largest in contributing fighting men to the best CSA fighting unit of all, the Stonewall Brigades. To boot, my ancestors were slave holders who went bankrupt and were rendered destitute by the Emancipation Proclamation (with a levered balance sheet if asset losses happen they can be fatal, you know?). So in factual terms, my family lost much more than most of the “stars and bars” crowd has. And I’ll be the first to call monuments to CSA dead “Second Place Trophies”. You move on from this stuff, that is part of being an intelligent human being. It was tough for my ancestors, but for me and the ancestors of almost all Southerners, white and black, the CSA’s loss was a very good thing.

    And one more thing regarding the “Stars and Bars” crowd. A little known fact is that many of them had Union ancestors. Consider that much of the southern highlands were being undercut by slave labor and so supported the Union against the planters. Much of General Sherman’s Army was from Alabama. The “Stars and Bars” crowd of today aren’t so much reflection of historical reality as of an Edward Bernays-style fantasy. It should be talked about as such.

    Where I do strongly agree with Lynn Parramore is that it makes sense to target those whites in populist states like North Carolina and work to make inroads. A top Israeli agronomist had an approach in selecting farms to target for teaching new methods: approach not the top or the bottom under the current methods, but the better part of the bottom. You need someone whose recent past hasn’t worked very well to get some receptivity, but isn’t so cursed as to suggest very profound problems. Once better ways of doing things gain some momentum, both the formerly best and worst start to take notice and look at the new ways of doing things. In some ways, North Carolina is well on their way to this. North Carolina used to be poor in the same way Mississippi was. But much has changed in recent decades and now it is much better off and has something the Deep South (outside of Atlanta and Florida) almost never had: major immigration from other parts of the country, which is much of what makes the Triangle, Charlotte, and the Triad (the least of the three) more progressive and dynamic. However, largely rural eastern North Carolina is still among the poorest parts of the country, it will need lots of attention.

    I think as large as the problem of not being able to talk to white Southerners is, there is an equally large problem of simply not understanding why the South has such intractable issues. The much larger isolated white rural population means that the South’s social structure is very much like that of Latin America, feudal with a built-in set of animosities that keep it that way. I worry about how patronizing it seems to face up to this fact, but really to the extent the U.S. is ‘exceptional’, the South is its least ‘exceptional’ region and instead hews much more to the traditional social and political structures that are so common in the rest of the world. I’d look at almost any successful program in overcoming feudalism and breaking the stranglehold of landowners. The population of the South that has no idea what it misses out on by not having even the half-baked social democracy present in the blue states is huge, with a little nudge and a lot should change.

  31. ginnie nyc

    How about “liberals” and “progressives” learn to talk to midwestern white men, first? Or also, too? (daughter of Ohio/Western Pennsylvania).

  32. Jim

    Thanks Lynn, for your insightful reflections.

    If NC is to be instrumental in laying the groundwork for the emergence of “…a real mass movement that can take hold across the country..” then we need more and more reflections, like the above essay, which challenges some of our most cherished assumptions and help to deflate what you call our “…satisfying feeling of self-righteousness that protects us from our own doubts.”

    And talk about the potentiality of creating an alternative political narrative built around “the love of homeland,” “honor,” emotional identification with a “feeling of defeat” and a sense of “never liking fatcats.”

    Through applying such insights–political realignment and surprising new political coalitions– seem possible.

  33. Lambert Strether Post author

    Up here in the Great State of Maine, we’ve got to talk to the Don’t Tread on Me people if we’re going to stop the East-West Corridor.

    And interestingly, we find great areas of agreement in food, gardening techniques, and the food supply chain generally.

    So I welcome these occasional posts by Lynn. We often forget how big this country, this continent is.

  34. Kurt Sperry

    Enjoyed reading this, as a recovering redneck it largely rang true. I think the Southern man is persuadable by a progressive economic message. The problem of course being that nobody in either plutocratic controlled legacy party will be permitted to genuinely make that argument.

    One thing the plutocrats get is that it isn’t about ideology or cultural poles, it’s about money/power. All the blathering about cultural issues is only useful for them as tool for moving money/power around to increase inequality. How can we look at culture and traditional left-right politics in a similarly rational and disinterested light to decrease inequality?

  35. emptyfull

    “The more conservative Southern men have a thing about honor and self-respect. If they see you’re not talking down to them, they will want to have your esteem, and show you their best selves, which are often hospitable and kind. If you can’t, well, that’s a different story. You’re likely to get the dark side.”

    As a west-coast liberal with a deep-south extended family, I completely agree with this. I think most non-southerners don’t get the honor thing. Yes, it’s rooted in the ideals of “chivalry” that took root in the old plantation social structue — but it can be a good thing on an individual level. Treat an individual southerner with respect (and politeness!) and you’ll almost always receive the same back.

  36. bobh

    I had a daydream the other day about talking respectfully to southern, white, Reagan-democrat men of this type, finding common ground, etc. I have done some of this with individuals, but I don’t think the strategy is what they call scalable. This is an interesting discussion on an interesting topic, but the commenters who take a pessimistic view of the possibilities for the kind of dialog that Lynn P. seems to be advocating seem more realistic than she. Her main points–that the set of attitudes that defines this subset of southern white men and boys is complex and that the tendency of these men to vote against their own economic interests is not necessarily or entirely grounded in racism, ignorance and the lethal mean-spiritedness that has been a part of human (especially male) nature through the ages but in more admirable traits like honor, love of home, reverence for ancestors and the natural beauty of the south–seem like wishful thinking. I have lived in the south and known good old boys. I have worked construction with them and drank and fought and bitched with them in the marine corps. They are often funny and delightful and irreverent. They value honor and are militant about keeping their promises. In addition to fresh-scrubbed girls who go off to fancy colleges, they can sincerely appreciate a scenic view of dogwoods and redbuds on a hillside or even the songs of birds, but if you start trying to share political ideas with them that conflict with the ones they got from their their peers or Rush Limbaugh on the radio, very few have much of an interest in listening to you. If you get them drunk and off by themselves and try it, what usually comes bubbling out of them is a pretty base kind of racism and intolerance, rather than love of beauty, truth and tradition or a nascent appreciation for social justice. I think the elites are going to have to sqeeze them a lot harder before they come to their senses and begin to catch on to the fact that that they have been screwed. When this happens, I worry that their reaction will involve robes and hoods and lynchings like last time.

  37. GCT

    Gotta love yet another article about another person with no facts. What does the blogger present to another person as facts? Nothing in this article presents anything as fact. It presents a perspective from this young lady and some of you are buying into it. We wonder why the country is divided. It is because of these types of articles and commenters agreeing with her.

    I am sure I will be called names and that is ok. This is what both sicdes of the fence wants from people. I call it divide and conquor myself. Show me some facts in this blog please. This sounds more like opinionto me.

  38. G. Lewis

    Steven Pinker (uh oh: Northeast Jewish intellectual!) and others have written perceptively about the Southern “culture of honor”—an ethic that arises spontaneously all over the world anyplace where assets (like livestock) are subject to theft, and police authority is distant and ineffectual. If you don’t want people taking advantage of you, you’d better cultivate a reputation as someone not to be trifled with.

    Of course, there’s a straight line between that long-ago social imperative and today’s “Don’t mess with Texas!” It’s just too bad that the belligerent, chip-on-the-shoulder attitude had to outlive the society that gave rise to it.

    Other things I don’t like about the South: the aggressively defiant, proud ignorance (as evidenced by the contempt for people like Northeast Jewish intellectuals), and the interminable Bible thumping.

  39. JTFaraday

    Many comments about appealing to the “economic self interest” of white men, with which I don’t necessarily disagree.

    Although I also think at times we may need to challenge ourselves harder to discover what our self interests actually are. Personally, I’m not prepared to take dictation from “white men” on this.

    Be that as it may, the original post also makes much of something else, and that is southerners’ “sense of honor.” This is perhaps, in its essential nature, not entirely different from the progressives’ “principles,” about which we hear much in the wake of the current Third Party voting brouhaha.

    Perhaps, in addition to appealing to everyone’s economic and other self interests, the civic minded also need to try to figure out ways to recalibrate everyone’s “sense of honor,” as we move ahead into a changing and likely precarious future.

    I agree that insulting people is probably not a viable way to go about doing this, (and in any case, the duopoly already has that ground well covered).

  40. The Pale Scot

    “they still strongly identify with a war in which their ancestors found themselves on the wrong side of history and fought a losing battle. White men in other regions of the country don’t really get what it feels like to know that your people were defeated in a war by their own countrymen”

    Perhaps they should instead ponder that their ancestors committed treason in defense of slavery. Slavery and the supposed inferiority of the black race was in the boilerplate of every Confederate state’s constitution except for one. Taken together, the value of the people in bondage exceeded all other capital investments in the US at the time. Churches split and formed seperate congregations to maintain support for the idea that the white race was superior.

  41. Patrick

    Well, what could be more condescending than telling southern white men that they are voting against their own economic interests, even if it is true? I think that’s the first problem with liberal/progressive dialogue not just with southern white men, but with working-class white men all across the country, urban, suburban and exurban. Progressives/liberals, whose sense of morality, principled but distinct, is every bit as potent as the southern conservative Christian’s. While progressives/liberals are more tolerant of different groups of people and ideas than conservatives, there is a threshold for that tolerance when it comes to differing worldviews (even amongst themselves) and they are vocal and condescending about expressing their distaste for dissenters. Why would a working-class white man want to listen to someone pass moral judgment on what they wear, eat, where they shop, etc? About as long as anyone here would want to listen to a religious fundie pass judgment on co-habitating before marriage, abortion, etc. I am by most metrics working-class, and pretty liberal, and would not care to listen to someone criticize what I eat, wear, where I shop as immoral or unethical.
    I live in a rust-belt blue city, and the number of virulently conservative white working-class men (and some women too), union and non-union, is truly astounding but not incomprehensible. When the democrats have run the union town for generations as it’s transitioned from a prosperous industrial city to a hollowed-out wasteland, and you’ve witnessed the decline firsthand, of course you’re going to grasp for alternatives. You’re going to encourage your kids to do the same. You’re going to label corporate democrats in your local and state political offices “liberal extremists” because of what has happened to the community.
    Apologies to Valissa. That commenter made some of the same points in an earlier post on this thread(with better economy, too). Wasn’t cribbing, just scrolled over it and I was too far along to not post mine.
    I don’t know how to connect progressives and liberals to the working-class, but like Mr. Blonde says, “What we need here is a little solidarity!”

    1. JTFaraday

      Yeah. Even though I agree that various economic issues are collectively a top priority, I am getting tired of all too many liberals/progressives presumptuously defining away about 90% of our citizenship by re-defining everyone as “a worker.”

      Although perhaps, “a jobber” might be even more accurate (and more reductive).

      I’m hanging on by a thread, I tell you. By a thread.

      1. Addicted

        Yes. 50% of the Republican Party will switch to voting democratic if only democrats start using different words for them

        Dems are so evil that they don’t do that.

  42. Beleck

    fascinating to see such talk about Good ole Boys. all these years the South hasn’t changed one iota that way. Ever since George Wallace, segregation today, tomorrow and forever and his adept successors, St. Reagan and Lee Atwater, turned the South into a Red State Heaven. that won’t change anytime soon. a whole lot of white people will have to pass under Heaven’s gate for any sense to come to this part of the country. Control of Education is a southern thing, can’t let “different/ or liberal” ideas upset the status quo prevaling “Christian” Taliban belief of “God, Guns and no Gays” Hate is such an ingrained virtue, hatred of the Other, the Gov., The Uppity Women, the Coloreds. so much power/money to be made off of the ignorant past. Chivalry and pride and all that stuff pedaled by the Politicians who have triumphantly succeeded in “divide and conquer.” like that previous post said, the “Divide and Conquer” tactic worked/works so well in the South. so many deep and complicated reasons why White people are so anti Foreigners/non Southerners.

    the history of the South’s white settlers and their anti government -independent streak, plus the absence of diversity and the result of Carpetbaggers/ignoring the defeated/throwing the South to the “Profiteers” after “winning” the Civil War has cemented the mindset back in the Forget Hell category. only where there has been outside influence, larger cities, for instance, has the inbred nature of “stay out of here” lessened.

    the animus and fear of such narrowmindedness is what set(s) the South apart and ripe for the Swindlers, (of the Right.) limiting the outside influence keeps the status quo safe for the pervasive “i got mine” and you can get the hell out of here mindset that grew from the squalid conditions after Jim Crow settled there in that winner take all devastation after the War of Northern Aggression. amazing how fear and poverty and pride can be used to subvert even the nicest of people. for the people of the South can be the nicest friendliest, most helpful people if you can get to know them i.e. how to approach/speak with them.

    fear is the key here. the Republicans through Reagan, Atwater, Wallace, Thurmond, et al., all knew how to play the chords of Southern life. they still own the landscape through their deft manipulation. such a pity to see such possiblities limited by the decision to stay closed minded and fear based.

    but fear is the key and it has helped the Republican party take over the rest of the American Empire. as i have heard pride goeth before a fall. in the South, the past is never past, it is still the present. and fear is the key.

    with the influx of latinos, now there is another “other” to attack, to focus the “blame” for all the bad. as there always was in polite Southern society, we all have our places in the Scheme of Things. Polite Southern Society. what a nice euphemism.

    no facts needed here, just history of a poor, proud defeated people who turned history on its’ nose and voila! the South Rose Again. lose the Battle and Win the War.

  43. Lord Koos

    The “southern white man” is a myth. These kind of people are everywhere, even in the blue coastal states, they make up a sizable minority.

    It’s true that not everyone that flies the confederate flag is a racist. I’ve seen the flag on bumper stickers with the caption “pride not prejudice”.

  44. Addicted

    What this election proved was white southern republican religions are fare more okay with ridiculous religious cults than they are with non-white people.

    I still fail to understand why liberals should compromise with anti-gay anti-women southern white men when they are a declining constituency.

    Democrats’ biggest issue is that incoming hispanics are largely catholics so they may be driven to the Republican Party based on contraception. The democrats’ first step should be to capture Catholics, and they should try to do this internationally.

  45. Addicted

    This is frankly a losing argument. Identifying with, and understanding the southern affinity for the confederate flag (for example) requires betraying so many fundamental parts of being democratic (or a decent non slavery-affiliated human being) that dems are never going to adopt it.

    Frankly, if that is the cost of losing the southern white vote (a declining constituency) I don’t think dems are too unhappy about missing it.

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