It’s the ideology, stupid

by | November 17, 2004 12:00 am

Bobby Beecher

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, that blissful Wednesday morning when it was obvious President Bush would defeat John Kerry, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews asked a panel of pundits to name one Northern Democrat who could carry a Southern state in a presidential contest. Matthews was astonished when his experts couldn’t do it.

Chris Matthews is an astute (though liberal) observer of America’s political scene. On this issue, however, he overlooks the obvious. He seems to believe that people who reside south of the Potomac have a built-in bias against Yankee candidates. Perhaps. But the problem isn’t geographical. It’s ideological.

The Southern states comprise a contiguous conservative mass on the political map of the nation, the reddest of the Republican red zone. To understand why, one must examine the two most important components of the Southern worldview: an endemic and (according to critics) dogmatic religiosity, and a reverence for the past that is bound up in a love for the land.

It’s no secret that Southerners attend church more regularly than Northerners. Moreover, the pastors of most Southern churches preach the literal and historical inerrancy of the Bible. Southerners are pro-life because, when they hear that God knew them in their mothers’ wombs, they believe it. Similarly, they find the notion of gay marriage repugnant because the Scriptures say that homosexuality is an “abomination.”

Southerners revere their agrarian roots. Indeed, despite the influence of urbanization, even Southern city dwellers maintain an almost feudal belief in the sanctity of the soil.

This attachment to the land makes Southerners more parochial than their Northern counterparts. They look to their county seats or their state capitals for solutions to political problems. And, even though most of them have never read the Bill of Rights, they harbor an intuitive appreciation for the Tenth Amendment.

Southerners love the land because of the things they can do on the land. This explains the pervasive popularity of hunting in the South, which, in turn, explains the Southern attachment to guns. Moreover, this passion for pastoral pursuits, combined with an innate fear of Federal encroachment, explains why Southerners (more than any other group of Americans except, perhaps, rural Westerners) are preoccupied with firearms freedoms and property rights.

“The land is the only thing worth fighting for, the only thing worth dying for.” Gerald O’Hara’s words to daughter Scarlet in Gone with the Wind sum up quite poignantly how most Southerners feel even today. They also remind us that – for Southerners – the land provides a tangible link to the past.

Southerners respect the sacrifices of their ancestors, who fought and died defending “the land” during the War Between the States. Heritage groups and oral historians ensure that the ancient heroes are not forgotten. Indeed, for many Southerners, the crackle of musketry is as real today as it was at First Manassas or Chickamauga.

Nevertheless, Southerners are not hopelessly mired in antiquity. Like the Founding Fathers, they love liberty more than equality. And they simply believe (like the great Edmund Burke) that to prosper in the present, we must embrace our past.

Northern politicians who understand this can succeed in the South. Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Marshall, whose 3rd Congressional District stretches across Middle and South Georgia from Macon to Fort Stewart, easily defeated Republican challenger Calder Clay. Marshall is a native New Yorker (carpetbagger in the old vernacular) and a Roman Catholic. But he is also a pro-life, pro-gun war hero who appreciates and shares many tenets of Southern conservatism.

Perhaps someone should send Chris Matthews a copy of Jim Marshall’s resume. –

Bobby Beecher is our regular guest columnist. He can be reached at bobbybeecher@hotmail.com

  • It’s the ideology, stupid
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