Whistling Dixie In Ohio

“Southern man, better keep your head / Don’t forget what your good book said / Southern change gonna come at last / Now your crosses are burning fast… I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking / How long? How long?”

– From the song “Southern Man” by Neil Young

It feels like the wrong kind of “southern change” has come here to Ohio as Dixie has risen and spread its ruinous rebel red menace forcefully northward, no longer confined to the old Confederacy. Who really did win the Civil War? For all the hue and cry of the South being a conquered people, it is the North that increasingly finds itself under the dominion of the Confederacy. The United States won't have to re-fight the Civil War to set matters right. Rather, North and South should simply follow the example of the Czech Republic and Slovakia: Shake hands, say it’s been real, and go their separate ways.

I often think about what America could be without the anchor of the South. Maybe Ohio and the North should think secession. Economically and socially, secession would be painless for the North. The South has always been a gangrenous limb, one that should have been lopped off and discarded decades ago. America is a democracy in spite of the South, who only adopted the tenets of a civil society via force or federal legislation — never voluntarily.

Per data from the Southern Education Foundation, nearly twice as many people live below the poverty line in the old Confederacy than in the Northeast and Midwest combined. More than 2.4 million extremely poor children — 42 percent of the nation’s total — live in the South. You are three times more likely to be murdered in Dixie than anywhere in New England, despite a feverish devotion to law-and-order that has made eight Southern states home to 92 percent of all U.S. executions since 1980 and home to the nation’s highest incarceration rates (Christian Science Monitor). The South has the highest infant-mortality rate, the highest teen pregnancy rate, the highest rate of divorce and the highest incidences of sexually transmitted diseases, while it lags well behind the rest of the country in terms of test scores and opportunities for women. The Confederate states rail against the tyranny of big government, yet they are some of the largest recipients of federal tax dollars with several states (Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) receiving nearly twice the amount per capita than Ohio (The Tax Foundation). They steal business away from Ohio the same way that developing countries worldwide have always attracted foreign investment and job relocation: through low wages, anti-union laws, privatization of state assets and lax environmental oversight. The tobacco grown by Dixie kills over a half-million Americans each year. The old Confederate states have some of the highest rates of cancers in the country (7 of the top 10 per the National Cancer Institute); in some forms of cancer nearly double the national average in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia due to an appalling disregard of the environment and corresponding overexposure to toxins. Think “cancer alley,” global nuclear waste depositories (some European countries export their spent uranium waste down south), the proliferation of petro-chemical industrial agriculture and little environmental regulatory enforcement.

This re-emergence and spreading epidemic of Confederate-style politics resurrecting itself today under the guise of Tea Party faux populism is merely the symptom of a much deeper problem: The North and South can no longer claim to be one nation. It’s 1860 all over again and Ohio seems to be caught in the middle — pulled up and forward in one direction with the North, then jerked forcefully back down from the South. If you want proof, just look at the electoral map from the last six presidential elections. They nearly mimic the pre-Civil War 1861 U.S. map that shows the “free states” border above the old Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River and the “slave states” lying in the gutter below. Or consider that in 2000, George W. Bush lost the U.S. popular vote by 550,000 votes, but he won the old Confederacy by a resounding 3.6 million votes. Since 1992, Democratic presidential candidates have won only four old Confederate states. 

As the electoral center of gravity has shifted in the United States, so too have the orientations of the two major political parties. Both parties now pander to the old Confederacy. For Republicans, the South is their base. For Democrats, it means the near-abandonment of their history of progressivism in an often futile effort to swing one or two Confederate states to their side. The Democrats lost their historic claim to the South when the party fractured over the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement. With Dixie up for grabs, the Republicans went carpetbagging for electoral votes by raging for states’ rights and opposition to the Civil Rights bill. Every victorious Republican candidate since then has dished out exactly what Southern voters want to hear.

Imagine then, for just a moment, the North as its own nation. Over 80 percent of Tea Party congressional representatives would be foreigners. If you were to expel all Southerners from Congress (both parties, mind you) the new liberal majority would be able to correct the most objectionable aspects of Southern culture and the corporate plantation-style dominance of our government would be greatly constrained. Instead of endless culture wars that take attention and focus away from real problems, politics would be broken down to what it really is--a struggle between haves and have-nots — a few Wall Street bankers running for office against 200 million credit card and mortgage customers being nickel-and-dimed to death. That is the real demographic divide in a country in which the top one percent has 40 percent of the wealth. If the North and South were separate nations, we could end the hypocrisy of Red-state welfare. Instead we could provide them with foreign aid contingent upon sincere efforts to clean up the environment and improve human rights. We could send Peace Corps volunteers down South to teach the necessary skills that would allow Southerners to pull themselves out of poverty and illiteracy while simultaneously promoting a better understanding of American values.

Here in Ohio, the Dixification of the “Party of Lincoln” is near complete. I have been thinking about this threat for years, but the recent redlining of Ohio’s voters through redistricting has heightened my concern for our collective future. Think citizen disenfranchisement — Southern style. In many ways the fate of Ohio has been sealed through redistricting tactics and voter suppression laws hatched in the South, as voters no longer choose their leaders, rather they are in effect chosen beforehand by partisan gerrymandering schemes to eliminate competition to render elections meaningless. Much like the South has done for generations, voting is nothing but a false show of democracy with outcomes already decided and narrow ideology allowed to proceed largely unimpeded. The Ohio Republican legislature has eliminated multi-party competitive elections by pooling voters inclined to back them with bizarrely-shaped district lines while isolating voters who might oppose them in electoral wastelands. In a state which is nearly evenly split between the two major parties with 39 percent of registered voters being Democrats and 38 percent registered as Republicans, one would think that Ohio would have districts that reflect the true nature of our voting population. Yet, what we have now for at least the next ten years are 16 Congressional House districts with 12 of them being sure-fire Republican-held seats, not remotely representative of the state of Ohio, hostile to Northeast Ohio, aligned with Dixie.

Redistricting in Ohio is a behind-closed-doors process, controlled by Republican Party insiders who are close to major campaign corporate and individual donors who seek to squash the competition and narrow the debate to coincide with their low-wage, privatization, income-inequality Southern agenda. In 2010, Ohio Republicans barely won elections for governor and attorney general, each by less than 0.05 percent of the vote, thus gaining complete control to gerrymander the state map to lock in Republican rule at both the state and Federal levels for at least a decade, if not longer — imposing their will upon an entire state of 11 million-plus people.

By the time you read this, Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, stalwart members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who were thrown together into the same district, will have faced off in the new 9th District Democratic primary in which we will have been forced to eliminate one of the House’s two most consistent economic and social justice populists. Both of these exceptional individuals deserve to represent Ohio. The loss of one of them will set us back, send us way down South…to the “Land of Dixie”…look away, please look away.

Today’s burning legacy of Southern culture is the cult-like worshipping at the Alter of the Rich. It’s plantation politics — if you shackle the poor and unshackle the rich, they’ll rev up the economy. But for whom? Think of this as the super-myth — the one underlying so many other Southern fallacies. For decades, America’s economic policies have been based on the notion that catering to corporations and the wealthy is the way to stimulate the economy. Republicans routinely insist that we need to bail them out, lower their taxes, allow them to repatriate billions in overseas profits, and free them from annoying government meddling. If we don’t, the “job creators” will stay in a funk, and the economy will stay in a rut. But here’s a pesky fact neither corporate America nor the Southern GOP establishment is trumpeting: After-tax corporate profits are currently at an all-time high. Rich people don’t create jobs when we hand them big windfalls.

We still can’t shake the Southern peasant mentality that says we should go easy on the “best and brightest,” whose greed nearly knocked our economy back to the Great Depression and who have rigged the system in part by perpetuating the myth that in creating more wealth for them will save us from ruin. That is the myth at the core of trickle-down economics and the basis for the Southern economy since Reconstruction. The still brutal Southern strategy of racial exclusivity, deep income inequality, evangelical fervor and militaristic nationalism which has now infected the National discourse — is insulting to humanity, to a civil society, to people who do the work. Author Matt Taibbi sums it up best when he states: “In a county where every Joe the Plumber has been hoodwinked into thinking he’s one clogged toilet away from being rich himself, we are all invested in rigging the system for the rich.” This system is rooted down South and manifesting itself on a national scale.

The top one percent can spend their billions on walls and gates and private security guards to insulate themselves from the pitchforks of the angry masses. But today in Ohio, where do the rest of us look in the Yellow Pages to hire private protection from Southern culture? Where do we find protection from insider trading? Against fraudulent bankers? Against unknown chemicals being injected into to our hydro-fractured landscape? Against price-fixing of commodities such as corn and gasoline? Is each individual Ohio family supposed to hire the Pinkertons to keep the local factory from dumping dioxin in the community drinking water source, or the local power plant from ejecting mercury? Will we have to call in the Federal government to save us…? To restore democracy?

“How long, How long” did it take to change the Southern man? “How long, How long” will it take to seize back Ohio, take it back from the South?

Chris Perry

My Family and I relocated to the City of Lakewood in 2008 to be near my Wife’s extended Family. We have two young children that attend Lincoln Elementary School.

I have over 25 years experience as a community organizer, political campaign manager, director of a non-profit, environmental and social/economic justice writer, lobbyist, demonstrator, non-profit board member and lifelong community activist and volunteer. I am passionate about economic and social justice, environmental causes and identifying and addressing the root cause of social, economic and ecological ailments that undermine our long-term prosperity and sustainability.

In my spare time I enjoy time with my wife and kids hiking, kayaking, gardening, traveling, enjoying all four seasons and exploring all that Lakewood and Northeast Ohio have to offer. I’m also an avid runner and have a passion/addiction for running marathons and 100-mile ultra-marathons.

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 9:23 PM, 03.20.2012