Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lyndon Johnson Was Right: Kiss the South Good-bye

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he noted that his party just lost the South for at least the next generation. He was right: they continue to vote solidly Republican. They liked their Jim Crow Laws that kept the black man in his place. Now a black man is running for president. He's doubly bad for the white bubbas: black and a Democrat.

Bill Moyer's Journal hosted twin brothers, Earl and Merle Black, college professors in the South, who talked about regional politics. After listening to the program I shook my head in disbelief that an entire group of Americans could be so ignorant and prejudiced. It also makes me happy that I live in the North and do no thave to associate with these men.

Here is a portion of the conversation which struck me:

BILL MOYERS: McCain also has a 34 point margin among white working class southerners. Some of the people you were just talking about. I mean, these are people who have been hurting economically under the Bush administration. Why are they so strongly for McCain?
MERLE BLACK: Well, one of those things that I learned, as part of my education, was working during my college. And you know, in east Texas. And we got paid every two weeks. And there's a lot of cussing going on every two weeks. This is the first group of white workers in the south who had money taken out, you know-
BILL MOYERS: Withholding.
MERLE BLACK: Withholding taxes, etcetera. Previous generation, you're working on the farm, you're just paid in cash. There's nothing like that. Now there's suddenly withholding. That is the issue of taxes. I don't remember what the-
BILL MOYERS: Goes back a long way, right?
MERLE BLACK: Goes back a long way. No, no, I think this is sometimes underestimated in terms of the - they were seeing the Democratic party as a party of taxation program but also a party of taxation. And these workers had a lot of other things they wanted to do with that money that was then now being taken by the federal government.
They disagree with some of the programs. But they also, you know, they also felt it in terms of the pocketbook. These are not fat cats. These are, you know, this is working class that you're talking about. And then when you add to that this cultural conservative out of the church--
BILL MOYERS: Cultural being of the religion.
MERLE BLACK: You know, on the religion, on abortion, on all these other kinds of questions, you know, that too, then the Democrats appear to some of these as too secular-
If blue collar white southerners think their culture's being disrespected, then it's - I think it's very hard to reverse that. And it's very hard for them to see that the Democratic Party would provide them with programs that would make up for the taxes that they are clearly paying these days that they didn't, you know, 50 years ago.
BILL MOYERS: So help me understand this, McCain, according to this latest poll, leads Obama by 54 percent among white evangelicals. Now, this is not a man conspicuously known for his religion. What's his appeal to them?
MERLE BLACK: Kind of the same appeal that Ronald Reagan had, didn't it? You know, Reagan, you know, Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan, in terms of regular church going-
BILL MOYERS: Jimmy Carter was from Georgia, right?
MERLE BLACK: Yeah, that's not contest. But, in terms of getting those votes, you know, the-
MERLE BLACK: Because of values are important to them.
BILL MOYERS: What values?
MERLE BLACK: The values of life. Of respect for life. For this kind of thing that they don't see in the Democratic Party. And these are individuals, many of them, now, if they really thought economics was the most important reason, they'd do something else somewhere else.
These are all, you know, I had a guy, several years ago in Georgia, my car broke down. I was taken over to the place. He drives me over there. He didn't own the towing company. He's a worker there. He drives out of the way to go by his church that night. He invites me to come. They're having choir practice that night, or whatever. He's telling me, he's showing me what's important in his life.

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