I have enjoyed reading Michael Lind’s series of essays on the white, Southern conservative identity at the heart of the modern Republican Party — what he calls the “Southern Autonomy Project.” On Sunday, he published what would amount to a Declaration of War by progressive and liberal forces against the intransigent Tea Party agenda that is busy destroying the United States, if only they would take heed. I am not holding my breath: “the left” is virtually dead, both institutionally and culturally, with activists too often divided among their silos (labor, green, reproductive rights, etc) to effect unified action. The Democratic Party is diverse, and each Democrat prefers their own agenda to a general one. But with America now facing the very real probability that a relative handful of highly-gerrymandered Republicans will bring the national and global economies to a halt, and a wider recognition that the conservative project has constructed an infrastructural redoubt of power in the House as well as the states, perhaps solidarity is at last possible. Disaster is wonderful at focusing the mind sometimes. But will Lind’s call for organized, unified, even militant action resonate with the sort of people who require 90% approval at a General Assembly before the Occupy encampment makes a decision?
Setting political difficulty aside, it is intellectually easy to set forth a grand national strategy that consists of coordinated federal policies to defeat the Southern Autonomy Project.
I emphasize the word “defeat” here because Lind is asking liberals to stop thinking solely in terms of social justice and recognize the necessity of power. They must abandon the mentality that sees victory and transformation as separate and incompatible goals. Transformation — “theory of change” — is impossible without electoral victory. None of the very fine bullet points on Lind’s agenda can be achieved through moral force, “the facts,” or by popular appeal. Victory is the mandatory prerequisite for change in every political system that has ever existed, and never more so than in our winner-take-all system.
But to take power — to achieve victory, the only god that political systems truly worship — requires unanimity, organization, and a killer instinct. It also means adopting some of the very language of kulturkampf that liberals normally reject:
Put all these policies and perhaps others together, and you have a National Majority Rule Project capable of thwarting the Southern Autonomy Project. The best defense is a good offense.
In other words: There can be no quarter, there will be no peace, we will not accept surrender. We are co-belligerents. The enemy has chosen their hill to die on, and so we must send them to their false gods. Do not pity the enemy while they are down — strike them and shove them over the cliffs like Spartans. None of this language is normal in progressive and liberal discussions, but the moment calls for urgency, and the project calls for a merciless unity to mirror the one it opposes. Republicans must lose elections, and many of them, or they will never change.
But this language cannot set itself to demonizing a region, race, or identity. I was most interested to read Lind’s take on the Southern mind, which was historically never so right wing as many liberals imagine. The South is as much the land of Tom Heflin and Hugo Black as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, but like an earlier history — the one where Southerners from areas that did not depend on plantation agriculture volunteered for Union regiments, and fought their fellow Southerners — the South that elected FDR to four terms has been erased from our national memory by confederate flags on the National Mall. Lind asks:
Does saying this make me, a white Southerner, a traitor to the South? Among the beneficiaries of a National Majority Rule Project, if it succeeded, would be middle- and low-income white Southerners, whose interests have never been identical with those of the local oligarchs. Particularly among the Scots-Irish of Appalachia and the Ozarks, there have always been many Southern white populists and radicals — from the West Virginian and Kentucky Unionists of the Civil War to New Deal liberals in Texas — who have understood the need to ally ourselves with non-Southerners in national politics to defeat the local Nabobs, Bourbons and Big Mules. The true Southern patriots are those of us who want to liberate the diverse population of the South from being exploited as wage earners and from being disfranchised or manipulated as voters. Another term for the National Majority Rule Project might be the Southern Liberation Movement.
Indeed, we could use a new Southern Liberation Front. Alabama could be the poster-child: the Heart of Dixie stands at the monkey’s end of a sustained, two-decade campaign by Karl Rove to turn Alabama into a bastion of reactionary, right wing Republicanism. This was not an accident, but a project, carried out with massive infusions of money and effort. With every statewide office now in Republican hands, the state has managed to cut itself to the fiscal bone without creating any discernible progress in either the number or quality of jobs. This political wave must be framed as a radical, un-patriotic deviation from the norm rather than the natural result of some thread in the Southern character. They are the ones who despise freedom, who seek to limit the franchise, and would install the tyranny.
We must liberate the South, and by doing so, free the whole of the country from the dragging death-grip of those who would rather see America destroyed than changed. The dead-enders and John Birchers must no longer be allowed to define who and what the South is, or what a “real American” is. They must be confronted, challenged, and defeated. Everything depends on it.