CHASING SMOKESTACKS

Posted in Rants on March 3rd, 2011 by Ed

In the 1990s I was a pretty staunch Republican. While I stuck with it until nearly the end of the decade, by the early Clinton years it was already becoming clear that the party and I were headed for divorce. Even as a college undergraduate with my head rooted firmly in my own ass I was somehow self-aware enough to notice that the party was being taken over by Southern voters, Southern candidates, and Southern ideas. Of course this process had started many years prior, before I was even born, but it did not come to fruition until the Gingrich-Armey-Gramm takeover in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Again, despite the fact that I was not exactly thinking clearly in those days this "Southernization" was both alarming and puzzling. Why, I often asked similarly skeptical Republicans, was the party being remade in the image of the shittiest part of the country? Why are we being lectured by people who live in Dogpatch? Granted I lived in the upper Midwest at the time and my knowledge of the South was based on a loose collection of macro-level statistics and popular stereotypes; luckily the point held.

Fast forward 15 years and I find myself living in the Deep South. The South, in a word, blows. Yes, it has mild winters, some nice people, the occasional nice town, and so on. But on the whole this region of the country is beyond backward. The quasi-feudal social structure, the proud ignorance, the crushing rural poverty, the crumbling infrastructure, the naked political corruption, the good ol' boy networks, the seething racism…it is not exactly the guiding light of the modern world. Yes, the South has lots of jobs these days – low paying, no benefit, at-will employment as far as your imagination can see. Most people don't realize until after they arrive that "Low cost of living" is newspeak for "Low costs resulting from low demand, as this place blows mightily and no one with alternatives wants to live here."

I emphasize this not to pick on the South – it is entirely possible that I will be stuck living here for the rest of my life, in fact – but to underscore the simple fact that America does not want to be taking its political and economic lead from the states that rank 47th through 50th in every metric that reasonably reflects social development and quality of life. Maybe, just maybe, it doesn't make a lot of sense to model one's public schools, correctional system, tax structure, and macroeconomic policies on those of Mississippi.

Mike brings our attention to a brief but excellent writeup on this point from Ed Kilgore. There's nothing being proposed in Wisconsin that isn't already standard operating procedure in places like Texas and Mississippi. What Scott Walker is essentially doing is attempting to turn Wisconsin into Northern Alabama. If any message is capable of cutting through the din of disinformation and faux-populist rhetoric coming from the far right it is this: This is the way the laws are in Mississippi. Do you want our state to turn into Mississippi?

The average – which is to say angry and scared – working or middle class voter on the Teabagging bandwagon isn't going to be persuaded by the rhetoric of fairness and retellings of the historical accomplishments of the labor movement; no, this kind of political attack is best countered simply, directly, and unambiguously: "This is the way things run in Alabama. What about living in Alabama is appealing to you? What has convinced you that we should be more like the Deep South? Perhaps the teen pregnancy rate? The high school dropout rate? The poverty? The empty libraries? The 49th ranked standardized test scores? Please, be as specific as you can."

Do Michigan, Illinois, and the others have problems? Maybe even huge problems? Yes. Following the trail blazed by America's loser states is hardly the solution.