The Corner

The Problem With Kansas? It’s all those crazy white westerners and neo-confederates

“A savage, rather unsophisticated set of mores”…

One way of gnashing one’s teeth over the sudden scrutiny of the Obama candidacy, and its loss in Pennsylvania, is, well, to go back and blame American history for creating such illiberals. Now it’s not just those “white folks” or the “white working class,” but, you see, all those hick Southerners, wild Westerners, crazy Catholics and evangelicals, blood-drenched frontier warriors, sanctimonious Wilsonians—almost anyone other than the ancestors of those annoited it seems who now favor Barack Obama.

Cf. the recent essay by Michael Hirsh, which if it is serious and not a joke, is one of the most puerile things I have seen yet published in Newsweek, but also one of the most invaluable in revealing the attitudes of disdain behind the current liberal mindset as well as the ideology of Obamania. I think what Hirsh is describing was also once analyzed by James Webb, albeit he drew different conclusions:

“This region was heavily settled by Scots-Irish immigrants–the same ethnic mix King James I sent to Northern Ireland to clear out the native Celtic Catholics. After succeeding at that, they then settled the American Frontier, suffering Indian raids and fighting for their lives every step of the way. And the Southern frontiersmen never got over their hatred of the East Coast elites and a belief in the morality and nobility of defying them. Their champion was the Indian-fighter Andrew Jackson. The outcome was that a substantial portion of the new nation developed, over many generations, a rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores. Traditionally, it has been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest. But that latter sensibility has been losing ground in population numbers–and cultural weight.

The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue is unmistakable. We must endure “lapel-pin politics” that elevates the shallowest sort of faux jingoism over who’s got a better plan for Iraq and Afghanistan. We have re-imported creationism into our political dialogue (in the form of “intelligent design”). Hillary Clinton panders shamelessly to Roman Catholics, who have allied with Southern Protestant evangelicals on questions of morality, with anti-abortionism serving as the main bridge. Barack Obama seems to be so leery of being identified as an urban Northern liberal that he’s running away from the most obvious explanation of his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former Weatherman Bill Ayers: after Obama graduated from college he became an inner-city organizer in Chicago, and they were natural allies for someone in a situation like that. We routinely demonize organizations like the United Nations that we desperately need and which are critical to missions like nation-building in Afghanistan. On foreign policy, the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition once kept the Southern-frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism in check. Now the latter two, in toxic combination, have taken over our national dialogue, and the Easterners are running for the hills.”

There’s much more. But if one finishes this silly piece, there is still hope. You see Hirsh also quotes Michael Lind to the effect that the problem is not just Southerners or Westerners per se, but “folk cultures” and the loss of “patrician cultures”.

As a lifelong Westerner (five generations on this farm), I confess that many of us (including the Democratic Party of old) thought that the loss of dominance of partician culture had saved the United States, and is precisely what makes us now different, thank God, from Europe. Ask the Bosnians—or for that matter the Europeans themselves.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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