Regional inferiority complexes

The seeming disaffection of the South has been a long-standing interest, though even I'm surprised by the extent of my current focus on it. Apparently, however, I'm far from the only one, as evidenced by the glut of posting on the topic pretty much all over the lefty blogosphere.

Digby's had me thinking about this disaffection with a post from this weekend about the historical entrenchment of the Southern resentment of Blue America. Or, to be more precise, Northern Blue America. I agree that the long-standing North/South divide is at play here. But I hadn't actually thought past that to what Digby and others suggest, that it actually goes back further, and is more syptomatic of a culture of both victimization and constantly simmering rage (for lack of a better word) that not only contributed to the Civil War, but to pretty much all the rest of the South's problems. In other words, the Civil War, among other things, were the result of a Southern penchant for a dissatisfaction with everyone, not the cause of it. From Digby's quote of historian Stephen Starr:

Granting the existence of cultural differences between the North and South, can we assume that they would necessarily lead to a Civil War? Obviously not. Such differences lead to animosity and war only if one side develops a national inferiority complex, begins to blame all its shortcomings on the other side, enforces a rigid conformity on its own people, and tries to make up for its own sins of omission and commission by name-calling, by nursing an exaggerated pride and sensitiveness, and by cultivating a reckless aggressiveness as a substitute for reason. And this was the refuge of the South.

Digby later notes:

History suggests that the southern culture has always been as defined by it's resentment toward the rest of the country as much as anything else.

Josh Marshall has more on this idea and its present-day implications and Digby advances the concept further today.

That's not to say that they have only themselves to blame for the state of affairs they now find themselves in, nor for the historic situation of the South in general. Nor that the root of the regional divides in this country can be so easily explained and blamed. And frankly, I'm not interested in the South's problems on this topic in and of themselves, nor in their solutions. I don't mean that as callously as it sounds, but the solutions are going to be complicated cultural adjustments, attitude shifts, and generational progress. Digby rightly notes that such changes aren't really the province of politics.

My interest in this topic pertains to how it relates to a winning strategy for progressives. More to the point, how it informs current debate on whether and what we should compromise in the so-called "values" debate in order to coax more conservative voters to our side. And what I think the topic of the Southern culture of dissatisfaction-with-anyone-but-themselves demonstrates is that such a debate is a non-starter.

Note that I don't mean writing off the South, my previous half-angry/half-joking posts notwithstanding. The South is an integral part of the United States and for all the stereotyping of redneck assholes, there're a lot of liberals, moderates, and even, reasonable conservatives in the Southern states that are worth coaxing to our side.

But that's missing the point, really. If we're going to modify our strategy based on clarifying our ideology (because it's inherently popular with the majority of Americans when we clearly define it) or even, being willing to meet in the middle on certain topics, fine. But what our strategy shouldn't be based on is any sort of compromise, pandering, or submission to the South as an entity in the hope that they might reward us with some votes. History has shown that they won't.

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