Letters

"Who are the hateful states now?" Northerners and Southerners spar over David Talbot's review of "American Brutus."


Salon Staff
November 24, 2004 2:00AM (UTC)

[Read "Old Times There Are Not Forgotten," by David Talbot.]

I'm writing with a suggestion from a proud liberal who is equally proud to be living south of the Mason-Dixon line: Enough already with the piling on.

An excellent review by David Talbot of Michael Kauffman's "American Brutus" was nearly spoiled for this blue American by its snide, bookending swipes at the "backward" Southern states that evidently are solely responsible for reelecting George W. Bush. I for one am growing tired of the self-righteous posturing from my fellow liberals on both coasts and their claims that, save for the one region of this country I call home, America would otherwise be a more advanced, enlightened and civilized society.

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Last I checked, this country's three most recent Democratic presidents emerged from Southern states. Further, unless the 2004 Electoral College map has changed in the past 10 minutes, the "Southern mentality" apparently infected New Hampshire, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, both Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Alaska -- all of which went for Bush.

Look, all of us on the left are discouraged and disheartened that we have to watch King George and his cronies damage the country we love for another four years. But blaming entire regions of that country for his reelection is not the way to endear ourselves to those moderates who, for whatever reason, felt more comfortable pulling the lever for the GOP this year.

Need I remind the Left Coast that you elected the Terminator as your governor? Georgia may have its faults, but at least our trees are made of timber -- not plastic.

-- Michael Terrazas

Once again you have ignorantly decided to make Southerners the scapegoats for the stinking mess our political system is in. Your completely nonsensical conclusions and accusations are about as intelligent and well-placed as those who decided to go on a crusade to rename french fries as freedom fries or worse.

You should be grateful that we are still around; otherwise how would you indulge in your ivory-tower fantasies of superiority to the unwashed masses of dirt farmers chanting "The South will rise again!"?

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-- Virginia Charlot

David Talbot writes, "Nearly a century and a half after the South was defeated, it is the South's social agenda and the South's beloved president the rest of us are forced to live with."

What a final line to an essay that was supposedly about Lincoln's killer, an awkward low blow against a supposedly homogenous geography.

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I've subscribed to Salon.com for three years, but lately the tone, namely the ugly circular firing-squad mentality of your writers, has really started to get to me.

And now you've fallen to blaming the "South" for the state of the country, forgetting that Idaho, Nevada and Iowa are hardly Southern states, all of whose electoral votes went to Bush. The South hardly holds a monopoly on the conservative Christian agenda.

First it was Nader's fault and the Green Party, and now it's the South. Gosh, you've got everyone to blame but yourself. Everyone's ruining "your" country -- except that it's not just your country, whether you like it or not.

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-- Kim Hill

The recent election is another sign of the South's refusal "to accept the triumph of Northern values"? What exactly are Northern values? Anthony Walton, who wrote "Mississippi: An American Journey," described this scene from a 1989 Brooklyn march: "The sidewalks were lined with thousands of jeering whites throwing watermelons, rocks and dirt, spitting and shouting 'Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!' while holding guns to their heads. Tens of thousands of Brooklynites were waving red-white-and-blue flags, screaming veterans were dressed in military uniforms, signs and banners, GO BACK TO AFRICA and LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT and AMERICA FOR AMERICANS were hung from buildings." Are those Northern values? Looking through history, we find that Ulysses S. Grant owned slaves and that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "It cannot be maintained by any candid person that the African race have ever occupied or do promise to occupy any very high place in the human family." Are those Northern values?

Finally, the man you call "the South's beloved president" hails from a prominent Connecticut family. If the South alone had voted for this man, he would not be our president. Why did so many other states also vote for him? The answer to that question is much more complicated than your regional stereotypes. Before Salon threw all its weight behind Kerry, you published an article about the Democratic candidates attacking Dean for wanting votes from "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Kerry criticized this remark, and your writer called him prissy, noting that the 'pickup truck' vote, often ignored by Democrats, would be necessary for their victory. That article was written in November 2003, so why was everyone surprised when so many states (not just Southern ones) voted for Bush?

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The people from the coasts of America are not all good-hearted, loving progressives. The people in the rest of the country are not all (not even mostly!) simple-minded bigots. Until Democrats quit condescending and convince these people that their interests lie with the Democratic Party, Republicans will continue to pretend to be for the 'plain folk,' while robbing us blind!

-- Mary Davis

Thanks for the laugh in the punch line to your book review. The Connecticut-born, Yale-educated, all-hat-and-no-cattle Shrub isn't beloved of anyone I know, and he damn sure ain't Southern. (Ask anyone: Texas isn't the South).

Too many folks down here defend him and a majority (but not the sum total and certainly no one I call a true friend) would rather vote for him than Kerry, it's been proven. But please stop slopping every Southerner with that wide, overreaching brush.

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Liberals live in the South, too. It's harder, yeah, but that's what makes us tough. As another famous Yankee said in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Maybe lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for." Uh, that's the "lost cause" of freeing the South from repression and ignorance, Mr. Talbot, not the L.C. of the despicable coward Booth.

You think you've got it tough? We Southern liberals stand our dirty ground and fight, while you whiny East and West Coasters snipe away in relative freedom, ignoring the red thinkers in your midst just because you (rather closely) outnumber them.

-- Mark Hughes Cobb

Yes, they do like to shoot Republican Presidents like Lincoln, don't they? Weren't Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley Jr. trying to force their liberal drug-addled values down Jerry Ford's and Ronald Reagan's throats also?

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David Talbot's comparing the recent election results with the Civil War period is an overly dramatic stretch. Most conservative white Southerners don't hate Northern liberals; in fact, if they are guilty of anything, it's apathy at what Northern liberals think about them. They don't hate you, and they don't care what you think.

If I were G.W. Bush, I'd watch my back. It seems a lot of Northern liberals would consider assassinating him as a legitimate form of "regime change." Who are the hateful states now?

-- Van Souther

Much as I appreciate the eloquence of your story about John Wilkes Booth, I read it with mixed emotions. I am three-fourths Southern (my grandfather was born in Canada). I was educated principally in Chicago and Boston. I voted for Kerry and watched his concession speech with great sorrow. I understand the blue-state talk about secession, but even if it were possible, I would miss you, and I hope you do not go. I am greatly tempted to move to Canada -- "back" to Canada, as it were.

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Please keep in mind that even in South Carolina there is a large patch of blue. Work took me to South Carolina, but I do not really understand the place. It strikes me as being a strange mixture of an individualism that is not based on a true respect for individuals and an authoritarianism that is not based on a true respect for authority. I do not have the sociological statistics at my fingertips, but my own observation is that South Carolina is a contentious, dysfunctional state. The fervor of the religious right, I believe, historically originated in the need to bring civilization to the frontier, an effort that never entirely succeeded. The moralism that we see in national politics today is a projection of unresolved local problems onto a larger stage. That, plus a deeply inbred capacity for hypocrisy that originated over the issue of slavery.

For this reason, I am mystified when Democrats ask what they should do differently to win more votes in the South. I do not see what Democrats could possibly do to address the insanity of this place. Southern literature is not called "Gothic" for nothing.

-- John Chesnut

If you look at the assassination of John Kennedy carefully, it took place in a Southern city, Dallas, carried out by a group of Southerners from New Orleans and other Southern cities, with ties to the most right-wing forces in the U.S. government, against a president who was "Northern," pro-civil rights and "too" liberal. Kennedy was the Lincoln of his day, at least in position, and the Oswalds (there were really two people named Oswald) are the John Wilkes Booths of their time. And if another "Northern" president gets elected, the assassins will be readying their guns. The Civil War continues to this day.

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-- Greg Gibbs

David Talbot's article says John Wilkes Booth was from Maryland. Well, then he was a Yankee, not a Southerner. As for the South routing Yankee John Kerry with its beloved Southern president, bullshit -- people know Bush is originally from Connecticut.

Bush's win is not a North-South issue at all. It's much more complex, and people who voted for or against him are spread out all over this country. It's ludicrous and hateful and totally counterproductive to keep painting with such a broad brush.

There are enough real problems to contend with in the coming four years. We don't need made-up ones like reheated Civil War bullshit, geographic bigotry, and snotty condescension to go along with them.

Bigotry is bigotry, regardless of the target. It's wrong and shameful in any form. So stop it with the kneejerk hateful ignorance and go back to the insightful intelligent reporting for which Salon was once respected.

-- L.J. Gouveia

It may be a bit overdrawn to compare the racist Booth with the good citizens of the red states, but there is one point worth making here: We in the North have no problems with supporting Southern politicians, and in the case of progressives like Clinton, Gore or whoever, we're happy to do so. There is a very large percentage of Southerners, however, who will not support a leader from the North, especially one with a Brahmin accent. Bush tapped into that by whooping up the faithful with the phrase "Massachusetts liberal." Can you imagine, say, Kerry taunting Bush in front of an audience of Pennsylvanians by mocking the feudal political ways of Texas? The bottom line is that when the pundits lament the Dems' failure to empathize with fundamentalists, the true bigotry by voters is heavily weighted on the other side.

-- John DAlessandro


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