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Conservatism and The South (and Sunbelt)


It seems “weird[]” to Matthew Yglesias that I’m not convinced that Americans in the South and the Sunbelt have less intellect, and less prudence, than other Americans. It seems weird to me that he finds it weird.

Andrew Sullivan adds a comment of his own on the regional basis of conservative politics: “The alliance between conservatism, as it was once understood, and the historically Democratic American South is, in my view, a brilliant maneuver for gaining political power, but something that has mortally wounded the tradition of limited government, individual rights, balanced budgets, political prudence and religious moderation that were once hallmarks of conservatism.”

Sullivan’s comment follows an approving citation of Hart, but Sullivan’s own indictment leaves out the Sunbelt. Either way, it seems unlikely that limited government would have been advanced if Ronald Reagan had never been president and Newt Gingrich had never been speaker.

The Medicare vote in 2003 provides a test case. Were Southern Republicans less likely to vote against it than non-Southerners? No. One-third of the limited-government dissenters in the Senate GOP were Southerners, as were a third of GOP senators generally. Southern House Republicans were slightly more likely than non-Southern Republicans to vote against it. And these numbers understate the limited-government proclivities of Southern Republicans, since some of the dissenting non-Southerners wanted a more generous benefit (e.g., Lincoln Chafee) or had other objections to the bill (e.g., Gil Gutknecht).

But perhaps Sullivan will make a persuasive case for his theory in his forthcoming book.


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