They Keep Driving Dixie Down

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Boy
have the bells been ringing. You know the ones that rang on "the
night they drove old Dixie down."

I've
been thinking a lot about that song lately, given the drubbing the
South has been taking in the media. (Not just the national media,
but in the Southern newspapers as well. Self-hating Southerners,
I suppose.) I keep wondering why no one, besides LewRockwell.com
and a few others, will stand up for the South against this latest
reconstruction of history.

Why
aren't more people outraged when Democratic congressman and Presidential
candidate Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, said "the Confederate
flag no longer has a place flying anytime, anywhere in our great
nation"? What right does he have to tell South Carolina what
flag to hoist on the statehouse grounds, or to tell me what to fly
in my own yard?

If
Americans had any courage, rebel flags would pop up everywhere just
to spite him.

Why
aren't more people outraged that the Democrats are going to drag
a good Southern judge's name through the mud, based mainly on the
fact that he is a Republican from Mississippi? Instead of defending
the judge's record, the new Senate Majority Leader — a Tennessean,
no less — told National Public Radio that Judge Charles Pickering
really is a friend of minorities. Why didn't he say that the judge
is a friend of all Americans' liberties, no matter their race or
ethnic heritage? Groveling gets one nowhere in the mean world of
Washington politics.

Back
to that great song, lush with atmosphere. I love the version by
The Band, but Joan Baez did a credible job too. But one shouldn't
be too willing to admit a fondness for such lyrics these days:

Virgil Caine
is my name and I served on the Danville train
‘Til Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65 we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell, it's a time I remember,
oh so well
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing?"

The
song touches on the noble Confederate cause, yet to admit that the
South embodies some of the most honorable traditions in American
history is akin to saying that one believes in lynching and wants
to restore slavery.

It's
nonsense, of course. But those who want to destroy the reputation
of an entire region smell blood now that they drove Senate Majority
Leader Trent Lott down from his post. Lott, of course, said some
generous things about a 100-year-old colleague, praising Strom Thurmond's
presidential run on the Dixiecrat ticket. I've been to many going
away parties, where speakers say overly effusive things that aren't
meant to be thought about too closely. But in the world of Washington
gotcha, the Democrats scored a big victory.

Despite
the ambush, Lott and the Republicans could have turned the problem
into an opportunity to inform and enlighten the public. Rather than
deplore segregation while explaining that the States Rights Party's
platform was remarkably close to the platform of America's founders,
Lott became a born-again supporter of affirmative action, and was
cast aside by most everyone, Democrat and Republican. Conservatives,
especially those cheeky young neocons who run the publications that
represent the pitiful remnants of a once great movement, were the
worst distorters of the truth.

Their
goals are not based on principle, but on partisan maneuvering. How
can the GOP refashion itself into a hip, new party that appeals
to minorities, with baggage such as this? That was their motivating
thought, even though no one in their right mind believes that black
Americans will in our lifetime abandon their commitment to Democratic
socialism in favor of Republican national socialism.

I'm
not interested in being hip, if hip means abandoning the limited-government
principles that are supposed to be the bedrock of the Republican
Party. I'm more concerned about salvaging a few scraps of Christian
civilization than being an acceptable guest at cool parties. If
defending the truth means a temporary setback in one's long-term
political strategy, so be it.

But
it keeps getting worse. In California, a candidate for the state
Republican chairmanship, Bill Back, has been savaged for having
in 1999 distributed an article by William Lind asking "What
if the South Had Won the Civil War." One cannot even ask a
serious historical question, or distribute an article that asks
such a question, or argue that Reconstruction destroyed race relations
in the South, without being drubbed into silence. (Whatever happened
to free academic debate? Oh yeah, it exists, but only for those
on the left side of the political spectrum, such as when a black
Vanderbilt professor argued recently in a Nashville newspaper that
Confederate soldiers should have been executed like dogs.)

"The
thoughts behind it [the Lind article] have no place in modern America,"
thundered Jim Brulte, the California GOP's principle-less Senate
Republican leader. Now, we're not even allowed to think incorrect
thoughts.

Is
this still America?

Secretary
of State Colin Powell argued that there was nothing of any value
coming out of the States Rights Party platform, which — as one writer
noted on this Web site — means that Powell either hasn't read the
platform or doesn't believe in the US Constitution.

Why
does the South evoke so much hatred?

It's
not the region's racial past. I grew up in the supposedly enlightened
North, where segregation was even more rife. I lived in a 95-percent
white county that bordered on heavily black Philadelphia. There
was no integration, other than the nasty, government-mandated kind
— such as when the feds plopped a hideous, crime-ridden high-rise
housing project in the midst of settled South Philly Italian neighborhoods.

In
my travels, I've found less respect for blacks by white people
up North, than by white people toward their black neighbors down
South. When I lived in the South, most of the blacks I knew had
a respect for their region, and were far less willing than northern
liberals to denigrate all things Southern and often had a sense
of humor about racial issues.

Here's
the answer. Modern-day liberals, and the Cold War liberals who claim
the mantle of the conservative movement, understand that the idea
of the South — the South that stood up to northern aggressors, to
Reconstruction-era dictators, and to federal authorities in the
civil rights era — still resonates among those Americans who want
to stand up to centralized government.

They
know that honoring rather than running down the South (and Christendom,
for that matter) can ignite resistance to their political goals.
That's what this really is about.

If
the South stands only for racial hatred, why is a Romanian friend
of mine here in Southern California, who spent much of his life
living under a communist tyranny, and who has never been to the
South, so eager to fly the stars and bars from his car's antenna?

I
grew up as far, psychologically, as one could get from the Deep
South. Yet I remember kids often sporting the rebel flag on T-shirts
and on car bumpers. My Dad, despite his hopelessly left-wing politics,
insisted until his dying day that the Southern cause was a righteous
one. It was a view he freely expressed, even I suspect in the New
Jersey public school classroom where he taught social studies. My
family was more Seinfeld than Gone with the Wind, yet I learned
to have a healthy respect for my neighbors below the Mason and Dixon
line.

When
I moved for a short time to middle Tennessee in my late 20s, I was
disappointed by the degree to which the region embraced the national
culture. The ideas that are destroying America are destroying the
South also. But there was something special about the place nonetheless.
There was the warmth and friendliness of the people, and the independent,
conservative, and Christian attitudes that hung on. I got tired
of the small town ethic, with its limited career opportunities and
frightfully slow pace of life. Still, I remember the South with
fondness, and wonder where the Southerners are now to defend their
homes, their history, their sense of honor.

Maybe
they can't get their voices heard in a media dominated by liberals
and neoconservatives, the two sides most eager to portray the South
as a dark and mystical place where everyone harbors a secret desire
to lynch his black neighbors. Whatever the case, it's a sad commentary
on our society. Even sadder still that one cannot defend the South
in polite company. It's a good thing I have no plans for public
office.

January
15, 2003

Steven
Greenhut (send him mail)
is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County
Register in Santa Ana, Calif.


     

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