Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

SOUTHERN LIBERALS ARE ALIVE AND WELL

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

It's tough being a Southern liberal. In the postelection analysis of the past two weeks, pundits have made hay of the fact that while Barack Obama won the election, Mitt Romney won the Confederacy. Or as Jon Stewart put it, "most of the Confederacy."

That we are still using the term "Confederacy" to describe the South and pointing to slave maps says a lot about how hard it is for the region to move beyond its historical reputation, however richly deserved, for one that reflects more current realities.

Voters in Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., and even Jackson, Miss., gave Obama substantial majorities, not because they are out of step with the rest of the country but because they are part of the same urban-rural divide that drives voting everywhere.

So if we're going to apply the term "Confederacy," then perhaps we can all agree that while a majority of Southern white voters seem intransigent to change, the region is nevertheless being transformed by its changing demographics.

Virginia, home to the capital of the Confederacy, went for Obama. Florida, part of the original Confederacy, also went for Obama. North Carolina, which Obama carried in 2008, went to Romney, but by a very slim margin - more attributable to the economy and job losses than to any conspiracy of Confederate dunces.

Many people have labeled my home state of North Carolina a red state, but it's much more complicated than that. In the very rural mountain county of Avery, for example, Romney won with a whopping 74.5 percent of the vote, yet in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, he lost to Obama by nearly 23 percentage points.

Even when you break down a clear blue state like New York, you can see this urban-rural dichotomy. In Brooklyn, Obama carried 81.4 percent of the vote; in the rural county of Hamilton, Romney won 62.2 percent. The same urban-rural divide can also be found in blue states like California and Washington. In other words, before our liberal allies in blue states point their fingers and scoff, they might want to take a look in their own rural backyards for evidence that their states actually have something in common with the supposedly backward ones in the South.

Yes, Southern voters (especially white ones) cast their lot with Romney. So, too, did voters in a large section of Western states. What do they have in common? They are states with largely rural populations that tend to be less diverse racially and ethnically, and they tend to vote more for conservative Republicans - the same trend found in the rural counties of the bluest of states.

The coalition that voted for Obama nationally - single women, minorities and young people - is the same coalition that voted for the president in Southern states.

While it is true that Republicans dominate the region, there is change in the air. I can see this in my own family. Every summer my brother, who is decidedly Republican, plants a garden in which he grows a variety of peppers - jalapenos, habaneros and poblanos. He is proud of his garden and shares his harvest with friends who own a Mexican restaurant near his home in Greensboro, N.C.

I doubt that his conversations with the people who work there center on whether they are in this country legally or illegally. So while he may remain a Republican, I believe he recognizes the contributions of Latinos to his community and knows that they do not threaten his success as a white man.

Liberals north and west of me - people who consider themselves educated and learned - are the very ones who seem to make the most ill-informed statements. As someone I follow on Twitter posted: "I'm liberal. I live in the South. Your jokes are not funny." I have no idea to what he was responding, but I can sympathize.

The fact is, liberals everywhere live among people who don't share their views. Are you listening Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana and, yes, New York? Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond are long dead. Michele Bachmann, Scott Walker and other tea party darlings are alive and well, and they aren't all whistling Dixie.

Rather than see the South as a lost cause (pun intended), the Democratic Party and liberals north and west of us should put a lid on their regional biases and encourage the change that is possible here.

Karen L. Cox is professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and the author of "Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture."

© 2012 The New York Times

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement