The South Will Rise Again!
This is the battle cry that still rang out in the South of my childhood and early adulthood. As we toiled under the weight of a regional poverty level not felt by our cousins in the North, we were continually reminded that the glory of the Old Confederacy would resurface and carry us all to greatness. That is, if we stayed true to the moral beliefs of our forebears and stood by their morality – poor but proud – at the expense of our own pocketbooks. City and state governments were run by a narrow self-serving all-white Democratic Party that divided the poor whites from the poor blacks to maintain their political control. After LBJ’s Great Society, the Democrats all became Republicans after a brief flirtation with the idea of their own party. And thanks to the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon coupled with the follow-through of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, The South did, indeed, rise again in national political prominence.
Now, we come to the tricky, déjà vu part of the story. A close look at the picture reveals some striking similarities between today’s US and that of the US of 1860. In 1860, after years of southern domination of US national politics, a young leader came out of Illinois and captured the Presidency with enough political weight in the Congress to push his anti-slavery, pro-industrial-revolution agenda. The Southern States, realizing they had lost the ability to stop the federal government from changing the direction of the country, decided to secede from the union. The civil war broke out, and The South has carried the scars of that great clash for 150 years. Yes, in 2010, it will be 150 years since the election of Abraham Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War.
Many in this country believe that the only reason for the Civil War was the burning issue of abolition of slavery. This has become the moral high ground in the rehashing of the story. The modern equivalent would be, “Saddam Hussein was an evil man, so it was the right thing to do to invade his country and take him down.” But just as the Iraq war is complicated by the oil issues that envelop it, the real issue that led to the US Civil War was the issue of tariffs. The northern manufacturers needed them to protect themselves in their infancy from an overpowering competitor, the British Empire.
The industrialized British Empire was doing everything it could to kill the industrializing America before it could become a major player on the world stage. They were literally flooding the American market with cheap manufactured goods, seeing that, in the long run, short-term losses would lead to long-term gains. The struggling US manufacturers who were encumbered with the early expenses of starting themselves up and a shortage of workers which led to higher costs, needed some help from the Federal Government. The only thing that could save the infant industrial companies was tariffs to raise the price of incoming British goods into the American marketplace.
The South, on the other hand, was an agrarian society/economy that chiefly grew cotton, tobacco and indigo for the world market. Their greatest customer base was the manufacturers of England. They were getting a double economic bang for their dollars by selling their crops to the English at a higher price than they could get from their cousins in The North, and getting manufactured goods and commodities from England and its considerable colonies at the lowest possible price. It was not in their best interest to impose tariffs on English goods. In fact, the English government and the trading partners from England were putting enormous pressure on The South to use their power in the US Congress to kill any such measures. Lay over the top of that the issue of slavery, and it was a recipe for disaster to a fledgling democracy and its people. The inability of the two sides to forge any kind of compromise led to the inevitable war that ensued.
Fast forward 148 years, and in many ways here we are again. The economic issue this time is the imminent collapse of the US auto industry. Oddly enough, in one way or another the players are exactly the same or eerily similar. We have The South, except this time it is the Republican South, and The Midwest, except this time it is the Democratic Midwest, sparring over a major economic issue. We have a newly elected President from Illinois. And here’s where it gets even more interesting. We have an island nation whose best interest is being represented by The South. Who, you ask is that island nation? This time it’s Japan.
One of the economic driving forces of The New South is the Japanese automobile industry. Exploiting wide-spread poverty and the workers in that situation who were more than willing to work for less, Honda, Mazda and Toyota have brought auto assembly plants to The South, thus seeming to manufacture their cars in the United States. And let us be honest about what the Japanese are really doing here. They are not manufacturing cars here, they are merely assembling them here. The parts are manufactured in Japan by Japanese workers with health care and similar benefits paid for by the Japanese government and by companies employing technology gained through research and development conducted by and paid for by the Japanese government. Then those parts are shipped to the United States where American workers put them together, and voila, an American car shoots off the assembly line. BULLSHIT! The Japanese automakers are getting the best of both worlds while our own Big Three are left by their own government to compete on a hugely uneven playing field.
The cynical Republican politicians of The South know this, yet they send forth their spokesperson, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, to stand firmly against any help for our own industries and workers. Today on Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough stood up to his party, accusing them of abandoning Michigan because they could no longer compete politically in the state. Pat Buchanan also stood tall for the US automobile industry, warning his fellow Republicans that they were dooming themselves into a position of being a minority party for the remainder of the 21st century if they didn’t start thinking about what is best for America instead of what is best for their party.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself agreeing with Scarborough and Buchanan on the same morning, but wholeheartedly I do. Pat Buchanan talked about the idea of “patriotic economics,” an attitude of inserting the welfare of one’s own country first into such discussions and decisions. We saw a great lack of that kind of thinking as the Republican governors gathered in Miami last week. All they wanted to talk about was how to help the Republican Party. Well, they better listen to Scarborough and Buchanan if they want to help their party. In the United States of America, you help your party by helping your country first. If not, the recent rise of the Republican Party will end up looking like the demise of the Democratic Party after the Civil War. It was a very long time before they recaptured the White House and any real power in Washington, D.C.
One of the oldest adages in the book is: live and learn. The saying could well be reversed, because if you don’t learn, you will not live, at least in politics. It is time for the Republicans to stop being a bunch of ideologues and start following the will of the American People as expressed in the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The Right is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they lost that election on the issues because they are wrong on the issues. LIVE AND LEARN!
And as for us Democrats, KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!