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“You May Forgive Us, But We Won’t Be Forgiven”: After 150 Years, Dixie Still A Place Apart

On the day after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Abraham Lincoln appeared at a second-floor window of the White House. He was acceding to the wishes of citizens who had gathered to serenade their president in this moment of victory. They called for a speech but Lincoln demurred. Instead he asked the band to play “Dixie.”

The song — a homesick Southerner’s lament — had been the de facto anthem of the Confederacy during 48 bloody months of civil war, but Lincoln declared now that the South held no monopoly on it. “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard,” he said. It was probably his way of encouraging a nation that had ripped itself apart along sectional lines to begin knitting itself together again.

Lincoln received an answer of sorts two days later as beaten rebels surrendered their weapons to the Union Army. Union General Joshua Chamberlain remarked to Southern counterpart Henry Wise that perhaps now “brave men may become good friends.”

Wise’s reply was bitter as smoke. “You’re mistaken, sir,” he said. “You may forgive us, but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, sir.”Two days after that, April 14, Lincoln received a more direct response. John Wilkes Booth, famed actor and Southern sympathizer, shot him in the head.

Thus ended arguably the most consequential week in American history. This week, the events of that week move fully 150 years into the past. They are further away than they have ever been. And yet, they feel quite close. If the “hate” Henry Wise spoke of has dissipated in the 15 decades gone by, what has not faded is Dixie’s sense of itself as a place apart and a people done wrong. Small wonder.

Twice now — at gunpoint in the 1860s, by force of law a century later — the rest of the country has imposed change on the South, made it do what it did not want to do, i.e., extend basic human rights to those it had systematically brutalized and oppressed. No other part of the country has ever experienced that, has ever seen itself so harshly chastised by the rest.

Both times, the act was moral and necessary. But who can deny, or be surprised, that in forcing the South to do the right thing, the rest of the country fostered an abiding resentment, an enduring “apartness,” made the South a region defined by resistance. Name the issue — immigration, race, abortion, education, criminal justice — and law and custom in Dixie have long stood stubbornly apart from the rest of the country. But the headline 150 years later is that that apartness no longer confines itself to the boundaries of the Confederacy.

In 2015, for example, we see the old pattern repeating in the fight over marriage equality — most of the country having decided as a moral matter that this has to happen, yet a few people resisting as the change is imposed over their wishes. But if resistance is fierce in Arkansas, it also is fierce in Indiana. The sense of apartness is less geographically constrained. Who knows if that’s progress?

There is nothing predestined about America’s ultimate ability to overcome its contradictions. This was true in 1865 and it’s true now. It will always be true of a people bound, not by common ancestry but only common cause — a presumed fealty to self-evident truths.

America shattered in 1861. Lincoln forced the bloody pieces back together at the cost of over 600,000 lives, one of them his own. It never did knit itself back together in the way he had hoped — in the way he might have helped it to, had he survived.

Instead, it became this once broken thing where the seams of repair still show. And the question of that consequential week is the question of every day since then. Can you make a country out of that?

So far, so good.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 5, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Deep South | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The South Is Allergic To Mitt Romney

For most of the year, Mitt Romney has had a serious problem that’s mostly been obscured by the absurd volatility of the GOP race: He’s a very tough sell in the South.

Politico touches on this today in a story that acknowledges the unique obstacles Romney seems to face in the region while ultimately concluding that “the contest for the allegiance of Southern conservatives in the 2012 race is as wide open as ever.” That’s one way of looking at it, but there’s a more disheartening possibility for Romney as well: that with the rise of Newt Gingrich, Mitt-phobic Southerners finally have a consensus alternative with some staying power.

First, consider Romney’s plight in Dixie.

South Carolina, which holds the historically pivotal first-in-the-South primary, has long been a problem for him. In 2008, when he pitched himself as the kind of true believer conservative that Southerners tend to find attractive, Romney finished fourth in the state, with just 15 percent of the vote — half of what Mike Huckabee, who nearly knocked off John McCain in the state, received. And in polling throughout 2011, South Carolina Republicans have made their yearning for a non-Romney candidate clear. Both Rick Perry and Herman Cain opened up double-digit leads over Romney when they were seen as his main foe earlier in the fall.

Polling has been less intense elsewhere in Dixie, since the other states don’t vote as early as South Carolina, but the signs are just as ominous. A Gallup poll released last week showed Romney getting just 15 percent of the vote across the region. That’s about where he’s been stuck all year; Gallup’s survey over the summer had him at 12 percent. This broad resistance in what for the GOP is a voter-rich region is dragging down Romney’s overall support, a major reason he’s failed to push past 30 percent in national polling.

Now factor in Gingrich’s potential impact. He’s not a native-born Southerner and doesn’t speak with a Southern accent, but the region is responding to his presidential candidacy with more enthusiasm than any other. South Carolina is a perfect example of this. The two most recent polls there show Gingrich mauling Romney by 23 and 19 points. So is North Carolina, where a new PPP poll puts Gingrich 37 points ahead of Romney, 51 to 14 percent. Or take Mississippi. The last poll conducted there was in early November, when Cain was still the hot commodity on the right and Gingrich was still barely cracking double-digits nationally. And yet a PPP survey of Mississippi Republicans still showed Gingrich in first place with 28 percent, followed by Cain and Perry. Romney was all the way back in fourth place with 12 percent.

For Romney, the implications of this are worrisome. If Gingrich manages to “win” Iowa (that is, he’s declared the big winner by the press), it will probably be the death knell for Perry, who is trying to make a campaign-saving stand in the state. And without Perry, a Texan with natural Dixie appeal, Gingrich will be well-positioned to capitalize on the potential that clearly exists for him in the South — starting with South Carolina and potentially carrying over to Super Tuesday on March 6, when five states from the old Confederacy will vote.

In his ’08 campaign, Romney fared respectably in the South, finishing near the top in a handful of states. But that might have been deceptive, with Huckabee and John McCain generally gobbling up about two-thirds of the vote, making Romney seem more competitive than he actually was. This time there’s a chance Romney will only have one main opponent in the South.

The region’s apparent hostility toward him could come from several places. Maybe it’s a reflection of his supposed “Mormon problem” that’s been so widely discussed. Or it could just be his Northern roots. Or maybe it’s ideological. In the Obama-era, the South has been particularly kind to Tea Party Republicanism, which has meant new scrutiny of Romney’s moderate-to-liberal Massachusetts past. It’s also unclear what’s driving Gingrich’s Dixie appeal. His ties to Georgia, which he represented in the House for 20 years, surely help. But it may just be that the region is looking for someone, anyone who’s (a) viable; and (b) not named Mitt.

 

By: Steve Kornacki, Salon War Room, December 13, 2011

December 14, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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