Thursday, November 04, 2004

A southerner in a blue state speaks out

I came in this morning and asked people if they felt better on day 2 in Bushworld (thanks, jimbo. No one did. My office mate said he felt worse, was even angrier and then began to rant on how it was toothless guys in the south who did it. Now, I grew up in the south and have lived in the south for 28 of my 36 years. Yes, there are toothless, ignorant people there, but most of them are so poor and live in such rural areas that I seriously doubt if they voted at all. The south is a strange place. It is, admittedly, not a good place (in most parts) to be black, hispanic, jewish, asian, gay, or even female. But there are plenty of educated, open-minded, generally good people there who are just as upset as those of us in the blue states. I was in the south in 2000 and believe me, people there fought to get Gore in office. But the south is still pretty afraid of change--even some of the more liberal folks in the south don't like to rock the boat too much. I mean, it took a civil war to convince them to get rid of slavery. It took a pretty radical civil rights movement which finally ended in legislation to give blacks equal education and to allow them to sit at the same lunch counter with white people.

Those two revolutions have really scarred them. For them, change means revolution, chaos, not something gradual or positive. The south has a long memory about such things. People still talk about the civil war as if it happened yesterday. And the civil rights movement, it's even more a part of their memory. It's hard to explain, too, how moderate and liberal southerners are both proud of their heritage and ashamed of it. In many ways, I am nostalgic for the antebellum south, but I know that the cost of such a way of life was too much to pay. It is a dream, anyway, painted by those who would like to think that if things were still the same, their lives would be better.

I don't want the Democrats to meet them halfway, to give ground to those who would go back to separate but equal. But I do want them to stop labelling them as half-witted bigots. There are half-witted bigots in the north, too. In fact, by sheer population count, there may be more. The south has economic issues that the Democrats could capitalize on. Most areas in the south are growing in population, but at the same time, have a large uneducated population that cannot be readily employed in all cases. Educated people leave (witness me), leaving a gaping hole in a lot of businesses. How do you build a technology sector when all the programmers move to California? Education is a big issue there, both because they would like to keep the brain drain from happening and because most of the states' schools are at the bottom of the list. Test scores are not going to help them. They need the basics--textbooks, supplies, good teachers, buildings. A little more federal funding could go a long way in a lot of places. Check the NEA for real data, especially the report on expenitures, which shows that southern states spend less per student that the Northeast (almost half as much in many cases) and that teachers in the south receive a significantly lower salary.

And I think the Democrats could get to the women. But they'll have to be careful here. The women of the south do not like Teresa Kerry types, generally. Many of them choose to stay at home, even when they have the education and the skills to get an excellent job. They just feel it's the right thing to do. But they also feel unappreciated and many of them would like to go back to work part time, but not at Wal-Mart. There aren't that many good part-time jobs for women with brains and skills. And working women would appreciate eliminating the wage gap and some help moving up the ladder.

So stop reviling them because you don't understand them and find some common ground. And you don't need to give up your own values to help sort all this out. It will help us all in the long run.