October 24, 2007
The South RisesBy Ed Lasky
For generations, American elites from the North have treated the South as a benighted land of knaves, fools, and charlatans, a proper subject of scorn and satire and certainly not a region to be admired or emulated. They are comically wrong.
The South has long risen from the ashes of the Civil War, and by many measures it the most admirable region of our nation. It may well be on the verge of becoming America's dominant region, eclipsing the Eastern Seaboard that has reigned from our nation's birth, and sprinting past the ambitions of the West Coast challenge, as the reference point for where America is going and as the heart of American culture.
Can anyone recall any positive views of the South being articulated by political elites? Time is up. Instead, what comes to mind are the views of Democratic Party leader Howard Dean (Vermont) who considers the South the land of bigots with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. More recently, a Democrat suggested those visiting NASCAR races be inoculated from those Confederate cooties that are running rampant over the bodies of NASCAR fans.
Northern political gurus have even gone so far as to suggest, in a very popular book (Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South), that the Democratic Party dismiss the South and focus its efforts on the rest of the nation. For a party that prides itself on its morality, how immoral is it to tell millions of Southerners that they do not matter at all? Does it matter to this advocate of Northern chauvinism that five of our last seven Presidents have been Southerners? Does it matter that people are voting with their feet and are moving Southwards with such eagerness that the new electoral map will bolster Southern political representation?
Culturally, Hollywood and New York City have created a steady stream of dreary and predictable "entertainment" that ridicules Southerners. In an era that celebrates multiculturalism, has there been much enlightenment among our creative class between the years that produced Hee-Haw, Dukes of Hazard, Green Acres, and the Beverly Hillbillies and last year when Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was filmed?
What entertainment have they fostered upon America? Hip-hop and rap music are a toxic brew of racism, violence and misogyny that springs from Northern ghettoes and that have had a massively destructive effect on the most vulnerable people in our nation; black youth. Gangsta culture is not black culture; it is a insult to black culture and it is a insult that has caused great pain to so many people for far too long -- engendering in our youth (black and white) a nihilism that is perilous to themselves and to others.
As the brilliant thinker Myron Magnet wrote, elite hypocrisy spreading from Northern centers of influence (not just New York City or Los Angeles recording studios, but also from elite universities) celebrate this abuse of black culture as an authentic expression of the black experience (balderdash!) and worsen the damage to a community sorely in need of better role models. Members of our African-American population have made far worthier contributions to America than hip-hop or rap culture. Stanley Crouch wrote of the propounding of such a gangsta culture as presenting "the most dehumanizing images of black people since the dawn of minstrelsy in the 19th century."
These elites have all but ignored the genres of blues, gospel, and country-western music that express longing and sadness, patriotism and pride, the sense of hope that shines through dark despair. The creative centers for these types of music are all found in the South (Nashville, Memphis and points South. One publicly held company, Gaylord Entertainment, focuses on "Southern" forms of entertainment and has prospered). When George Bush Senior wrote an article about how much he liked country music, the Washington Post reprinted it under the demeaning headline, "George and the Oval Office Do-Si-Do: Heck, a President Ain't Nothin' but Just Folks".
While Southern singers contemplate their loves and their losses and transform their stories into paeans that will resonate and enrich the lives of their listeners, Hollywood actors are caught in drug busts, captured on tape verbally abusing their wives and daughters, their names are found in the "black book" of Hollywood madams, and they are changing their wives and husbands as often as their servants change the oil in their Porsches and Maseratis. Of course, not every country-western, blues, or gospel star is an angel, but the overall track record of the Southern performers appears to be a level above the East and West Coast branches of the entertainment colossus.
Indeed, these elites' blindness towards humor considered "Southern" and "rural" has opened up opportunities for others who are less biased. The Blue Collar Comedy Tour features self-proclaimed "rednecks" such as Jeff Foxworthy, and has been an outstanding success on tour and on video. The talent manager behind the tour, J.P. Williams, credited the obtuseness of entertainment executives for opening a window for him and his crew to offer entertainment for a broad swath of America that has been all but ignored by them.
Anti-American movies that portray our leaders in the harshest possible light, that characterize our military volunteers who defend us as sadistic torturers, that label every corporation as a defiler of our laws -- this is what we have to feast on when we go out with our families on a Saturday night. Conversely, Hollywood seemingly cannot find the talent or the will to bring forth movies that convey religious themes. Perhaps our "creative community" see such films as too evangelical, too Southern in appeal (the South is the most religious region of our nation.) Movies such as The Spitfire Grill, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Passion of the Christ all were Christian allegories or based on Christian themes that proved to have wide appeal and were financial successes.
All had to be produced outside the Hollywood system. Despite the proven popularity of these movies, Hollywood would rather produce its never-ending stream of anti-American agitprop.
These movies have turned us into a nation of self-centered cynics. But the damage does not stop at our water's edge. Indeed, the image of America that is projected out of Hollywood has been shown to have had a horrible impact on the image of America held by foreigners. Thank you, Hollywood!
The South has been routinely derided as a hotbed of religious fundamentalism, the center of a conspiracy to impose theocracy upon America. Last year Howard Dean -- there he is again, the Park Avenue raised son of the Dean behind the investment bank Dean Witter -- warned about Christian extremism. Kevin Phillips wrote a best-selling book, American Theocracy and documentaries such as Jesus Camp and Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi [daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California)] all portrayed America in the grip of a bunch of power hungry religious yahoos. These are the creative heirs of H.L. Mencken.
Their views offer a very distorted picture of evangelicals, particularly, Southern evangelicals. A more accurate portrayal can be found in a recent book from Oxford University Press: Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite by D. Michael Lindsay. That book offers a panoramic view of a community whose members have risen to the very pinnacle of success in academics, politics, business and many other fields. Do the critics of evangelicals give them fair play?
Their views are, of course, paranoid and disdainful. They are an expression of bias against the South, for there is no doubt that the South is the beating heart and exhaling lungs of the evangelical community. The South should wear such a designation as a badge of honor.
Southerners are more religious than the rest of America, and we should be thankful that they are, for the religious impulse has led to many good works around the world. The community dispenses a huge amount of foreign aid each year directed toward the poor and needy of the world. It offers drug counseling and marriage therapy in cities across America; theirs is a community whose churches teach literacy, feed the hungry and minister to the needy; they offer succor to the ill. A superb op-ed ran in the Washington Post last year "Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals" provides a wonderful overview of all the good works the evangelical community is doing around the world.
Evangelicals who attend religious services weekly, when compared with average Americans, are less likely to cohabit as young adults (1% versus 10% of other young adults), to bear a child outside of wedlock (12% versus 33% of other moms), and to divorce (7% versus 9%) and are likelier to be happier. Frequent churchgoers have an average 9 percent higher income than those who do not attend church, are less likely to be on welfare, and live longer. Given that many of the social problems that beset our nation are directly related to the number of people who score poorly according to these measures, perhaps we should be less contemptuous of people of faith and seek to emulate them.
The evangelical outreach around the world has also generated a substantial amount of good will towards America. The number of Christians around the world has exploded as a result of missionary activity. As foreign policy expert and prize winning author Walter Russell Mead noted in a recent article,
Many of the millions of people converting to Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are closely tied to the American evangelical community and to the American values that are derived from this bond (one hopes that they can repair the damage caused to our image by Hollywood "entertainment"). They are our allies in the years to come. We should be thankful for the years of effort by religious Americans in some of the most difficult areas of the world. They have brought us millions of pro-American friends. Hallelujah!" Hallelujah!
Who is charitable? Who helps the disadvantaged?
Southerners are also the most generous people in America. The top 10 states in terms of generosity per capita are all Southern states. New Hampshire, Massachusetts (Kennedy -land), New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are at the bottom of the barrel. A few years ago, author Jane Smiley characterized Red America as selfish and lacking in compassion-as "unteachably ignorant." Perhaps that is the pot calling the kettle black?
As journalist Don Feder noted, Smiley's views are symptomatic of the views of liberal elites:
This is an inversion of the truth.
The South is the new engine of creativity and growth
The nation's growth engine is located in the South. Northerners, fed up with onerous taxes, growth restrictions, and anti-business rules and regulations, have fled to the South. Ambitious migrants have always flocked to areas of opportunity where their talents and ambitions can flower. These geese that could have laid their golden eggs in the North will be laying them in sunnier climates. While factories close in the North, they are opening up at a rapid clip in the South. Many of these factories use very advanced methods to produce high-tech goods.
The South, in fact, has been a hotbed of business innovation. FedEx (Memphis) was a revolutionary company that has transformed transportation and business logistics in America. Wal-Mart has been a pioneer in bringing low prices to the American consumer and has immeasurably benefited the lifestyles of Americans, especially lower income people; Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Smithfield Foods, Cal-Maine Foods (the number one egg producer in the nation); innumerable soybean farmers are protein factories that have fed America and are feeding the world (and helping our balance of payments). America's largest bank, Bank of America, is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, New York City is rapidly losing its place as the world's leading financial center to London, Hong Kong, and other centers of finance. Trades are increasingly done off the floor of the exchanges and through the internet. One of the largest such "virtual" exchanges is located in Kansas City (in reality, the exchange resides on a shelf of computers). Boston, Greenwich and New York City are no longer the only places where hedge funds are located.
Home Depot was a pioneer in retailing and has helped to make homes and home improvements affordable for millions of people. Texas Instruments and Dell computer have created a technological corridor in Texas that will benefit the region for years to come. The Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle can hold its own against Silicon Valley and surpasses Route 128 in Massachusetts. More prosaically, Coke has been refreshing the world's billions for years.
While Texas and Oklahoma and the Southern states bordering the Gulf of Mexico supply our energy needs, many blue states (and Florida) forbid the development of their offshore oil reserves and prevent the rise of nuclear power, while the Kennedys lead efforts to stop a wind farm from spoiling their view off the coast of Cape Cod.
Contrary to stereotype, born-in-the South NASCAR draws the largest crowds of any American sporting events and commands the allegiance of more women than any other sport. More than 40 percent of its fans are women. NASCAR has been much maligned and unfairly stereotyped by many on the left as a sport not interested in diversity. The elite are wrong. NASCAR has spent millions of dollars not only expanding the fan base to women, but to all Americans. NASCAR's bountifully funded Drive for Diversity has sought to expand the number of African-American drivers and crewmembers. Civil rights groups across the spectrum have lauded NASCAR for its outreach.
The dynamic and innovative free enterprise that these corporations symbolize has enriched the coffers of Southern states for years and their governments have been investing this money wisely in order to let the "good times roll".
In what may come as a shock to Northern elites, their favorite pet program, state-funded early childhood education, has been in place throughout the South for years. The South, in fact, leads in early childhood education. Read it and weep, Massachusetttes.
Intellectual and moral leadership
While Ivy League universities still are highly regarded, their standing is jeopardized by excesses of political correctness. Southern universities are on the rise (some may exempt Duke, but the abuse inflicted upon the innocent lacrosse players should be, to a large extent, placed at the door of professors and school officials who were Northern transplants). The billions of dollars of wealth being created by companies based in the South are being directed toward their universities. The University of Texas has a huge endowment and also a large number of Nobel Prize winners on its faculty. Rice University may truly be the Harvard of the South or at least the old Harvard of high regard. So many Americans are going to universities in the South and not in the North that the "college map" is being redrawn. Many of the graduates of these schools will stay in the South and provide the intellectual manpower necessary for the South to continue its upward trajectory; in time, their donations will only bolster the endowments of their alma maters.
Northerners view the South through a lens distorted by images of past generations. Bull Connor and church bombings are so seared into our collective memory that they may never fade.
Who is most qualified to judge the level of racism in the South? African-Americans.
What might they say if the liberal elites of the North would ever solicit their opinion? Well, they might just say three times as many of us are moving to the South as are leaving it. They might just say that every other region of America is losing its African-American population to the South. They might just say that more blacks hold elected office in the South than in the North. The South is home to only a slim majority of American blacks but is home to two-thirds of the nation's black elected officials.
Talented Southern black politicians such as Ron Kirk (Mayor of Dallas), Artur Davis (Alabama Congressman), civil rights pioneer John Lewis (Congressman from Georgia), Harold Ford from Tennessee (who came very close to becoming a Senator in the last election and now holds a leadership position in the Democratic Party), all have notable records and very bright futures.
Jim Crow laws, don't forget, also existed in Northern states. David Garrow, prize-winning author of work on the Civil Rights era, has called for the North to examine its own history of civil rights violations-calling such work "unfinished business." The most recent scenes of racial riots have been in two of the states most closely associated with Northern liberals (Massachusetts and California). According to the Sentencing Project, African-Americans are far more likely to be incarcerated in Northern states than in Southern states (on a percentage basis). As journalist Steve Coll has written,
Finally, African-Americans might just say to Northern elites: it is time to move on, as we have, and that prejudice towards Southerners is just another form of bigotry.
Some elite Northerners view soldiers, many of them from the rural South, as an anthropologist would have viewed headhunters from Papua New Guinea a century ago: bloodthirsty primitive savages. More liberal myths and prejudices that obscure the truth.As much as any time in our history, America today must rely on its military might to defend our way of life from clear and present dangers. No other group of Americans is more important.
The South might be the last, deepest reservoir of patriotism we have in our nation. While Northern colleges have been dropping the studies of military history at a rapid clip (despite America's high level of interest in military history -- see the schedule of the History Channel and book sales figures), military schools and classes in military studies still find a home mostly south of the Mason-Dixon line. Well-regarded scholars have bemoaned the fact that Northern universities have dropped these types of courses from their offerings. Even the liberal New Republic criticizes this trend. These critics realize that in the days ahead an appreciation of military history may be crucial in defending our nation. Operational concepts, military strategies and tactics, historical lessons and analogies, let alone concepts such as valor and heroism, have completely vanished from the minds of many of our future leaders, assuming that the North will provide out future leaders.
Instead, Northern campuses have seen a proliferation of so-called "Peace Studies" which, as Bruce Bawer writes, are an anti-Western "Peace Racket" that touts dictators, advocates appeasement and is opposed to every value the West stands for-liberty, free markets, individualism..
Nevertheless, the grand military tradition that is part of the Southern tradition has been of inestimable value to our nation in times of war and peace (if one wants peace, prepare for war). Southerners have defended our nation in numbers that should shame the North.
Our Army is composed of volunteers and to a disproportionate extent they hail from the South. The South accounts for 40 percent of all Army officers. The Defense Department has found that their efforts to recruit volunteers from Northern states are so fruitless that it has been shutting down offices throughout the region.
The disdain felt towards the military is undoubtedly intertwined with the disdain felt towards the South. Northerners think the Hatfield-McCoy feud symbolizes the violence supposedly endemic to Southerners. Instead of admiring the patriotic virtues of the Southern military tradition -- its admiration for bravery, its concepts of valor and heroism -- Northerners have come to view Southerners as descendants of plantation overseers and slave drivers. They are willing to lay down their lives for ours; we are willing to lay down some ink on the pages of newspapers to insult them.
Yankees must get used to it
Sadly, old habits do die hard. Some Northerners may never come to regard the South with the esteem it so richly deserves. A bigotry that feasts on old and false images is also one that comforts Northerners as the South rises in power and influence. As Northerners migrate to the South, no doubt some blending of cultures is occurring and a new national character emerging. This has been and remains the story of America.
The exact mix of the evolving national culture remains to be seen. To the extent that the solid Southern virtues are not eroded and feature prominently, the values upon which our nation was founded and are which elemental to our greatness will flourish: religiosity, free enterprise, and patriotism. The overwhelming might of the media establishment is dead-set against such a mix gaining national traction. But then again, media might, like Northern might, is being challenged and not responding very impressively.
The South is already the most populous of the four regions of America. With its faster growth, more enlightened taxation, and cultural momentum, we may someday hear the accents of Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey wistfully intoning the words, "The North will rise again."
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.