Saturday, August 26, 2006

Is Ronald Reagan a spiritual direct descendant of Jefferson Davis? Southern Partisan magazine thinks so.

The cover of the Vol. 25 No. 1 issue of Southern Partisan magazine is a picture of Ronald Reagan giving a salute with the head line “The Legacy of Ronald Reagan,” which is the title of the article by P.J. Byrnes on pages 16-21.

The article is interesting to review in what it reveals of the Neo-Confederate idea of the South and what being a Southerner is and the Southern Partisan’s understanding of the nature of Republican Party’s politics in the South.

The introduction to the article is as follows:

“If Bill Clinton was the first black president, as some have argued, then Ronald Reagan was the first Southern president of the 20th century. You can[’]t count Woodrow Wilson (governor of New Jersey and an internationalist), Lyndon Johnson (architect of the welfare state), and Jimmy Carter (liberal at home, sissy abroad). Reagan believed in the things we believe in: less government interference in our lives, a tough policy toward the Soviet Empire, and a fierce commitment to God as a pervasive presence in every aspect of our lives, including the public arena.

Reagan reconstituted the Solid South and gave Southerners an opportunity to vote together in opposition to our old political enemies. In 1984, he swept the region; and as a consequence, voting Republican became respectable. (To be sure, the GOP ticket carried the South in 1972, but we were voting against McGovern rather than for Nixon.) When we voted for Reagan, we meant it. That[’]s why we were especially moved when we learned of his death. We felt as if a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis had died. Hence the following.”

After this introduction in the magazine is the main body of the article. I don’t know if the apostrophes “’” were intentionally omitted or not. There are various schools of Neo-Confederate writing of English. They don’t like the letter “z” and have adopted other spelling conventions and writing conventions. I have inserted the apostrophes for purposes of clarity.

There are two major themes in this introduction. One, this introduction concisely reveals the application of the idea of being Southern and Southerness by Neo-Confederates. Two, the what the politics in the Republican Party in the South is about.

For Byrnes, to be Southern is to have a certain systems of belief and persons who don’t have these systems of belief are not Southern, regardless of whether their families and forebears are multiple generations in the South. Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson are thus not Southern for they have un-Southern thought. It might be argued that Lyndon Johnson is Western or Southwestern, but Woodrow Wilson certainly was Southern. He was born in Virginia in 1856 and lived in the South during the civil war. His administration introduced segregation into the Federal government. He praised the movie “Birth of a Nation” stating, “It is like history written with lightening.” His retrograde racism is discussed in this short article.

As a conservative democratic and professor of political science his career advanced until he was president of the University of Princeton and from there started his political career, first as the governor of New Jersey. This is a link to a short summary of his career (The Bush White House has White Washed the issues of race out of Woodrow Wilson’s biography.)

As with most Neo-Confederate writing, P.J. Byrnes carefully selects a few historical facts to create his historical presentations.

In order to exclude Wilson, Carter, and Johnson and others in the South from being Southern P.J. Byrnes adeptly uses the terms “we” and “our”. Byrnes states Reagan believed in the things “we believed in.” And thus those who don’t believe in those things are un-Southern. Byrnes talks about “our old political enemies” and thus those who don’t share these enemies are un-Southern. Byrnes states “We felt as if a direct descendent of Jefferson Davis had died.” If you didn’t feel this way, you are un-Southern.

Byrnes writing is a process of exclusion to define a political and cultural viewpoint as Southern and to exclude and denigrate those who don’t share those viewpoints in the South as un-Southern. Southern patriotrism, such as pride in the south, Southern identity is harnessed to press individuals to support these beliefs, with the implication that those who don't, are not good Southerners.

Byrnes is fairly direct about what Republican party politics in the South is about. It is reconstituting “The Solid South” and solidarity “in opposition to our old political enemies.” Though not elaborating on who the “old political enemies” are, these “old political enemies” are surely the forces for civil rights and modernism in general. The “Solid” in the expression “Solid South” was always about the issue of race.

However, it isn't limited to the issues of race. Women voting, gay rights, immigration, evolution, and a host of other issues is part of the Neo-Confederate Southern identity in the opposition to modernism. Southern Partisan had a cover issue theme for one issue rejecting the 18th century Enlightenment as an attack on the South. (2nd Quarter, 2001, cover theme, "Sitting Amongst the Ruins: The South versus the Enlightenment, article by Thomas E. Woods, professor at Suffolk County Community College in New York, and associate editor for the magazine Latin Mass.)

Finally Byrnes fuses the issues of Southern identity and Republican Party politics in the South with the Confederacy with his closing statement. “We felt as if a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis had died.”

After the introduction, the article starts out with the subject of Reagan dying of Alzheimer. From this, Byrnes launches into a complaint that metaphorically America is suffering from a form of political and cultural Alzheimers and forgetting what Byrnes asserts are America’s older virtues which to him is a religious right America. Reagan is held to be a champion of these values against the modern age. Reagan being defined by the Southern Partisan as a hero of southern values, these values of Ronald Reagan asserted by Byrnes are therefore Southern values.

Brynes is engaged through the use of Southern nationalism in the construction of the South as a reactionary fortress and being Southern as being a reactionary and a Confederate. This is what Neo-Confederacy, Southern nationalism, is all about. It is about building an internal reactionary fortress in the United States, a form of internal secession, which a national reactionary politics can use as a base. If you can reserve 25% of a nation for a reactionary politics, a progressive idea has to garner two-thirds, 67%, of the vote elsewhere to pass.

(0.67) X 75% = 50%

You might as well give up on a progressive politics with these odds.
For conservatives, whether Southern or not, this is a very appealing set up. The reactionary fortress, internally seceded through a separtist identity, would find it had allies elsewhere.

In discussing Neo-Confederacy the focus has been primarily on certain groups like the League of the South, Southern Partisan, Council of Conservative Citizens, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but this is just one expression of Neo-Confederacy.

Reviewing two statements in Byrne’s introduction again:

“Reagan reconstituted the Solid South and gave Southerners an opportunity to vote together in opposition to our old political enemies.”

And the conclusion:

“When we voted for Reagan, we meant it. That[’]s why we were especially moved when we learned of his death. We felt as if a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis had died.”

Quite clearly to Byrnes the Republican party in the South is, or at least functions as, a Neo-Confederate Party, a resurrection of the “Solid South” by Ronald Reagan who Byrnes identifies with Jefferson Davis.

Indeed, it is a region in which most states have Confederate holidays and celebrate and identity with the Confederacy and use Confederate symbols. It is a Confederate identified region, and it has a politics. Of course Dick Army, Phil Gramm, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott and others would interview in the Southern Partisan.

The politics of Canada is Canadian politics, the politics of Scotland is Scottish politics, the politics of Japan is Japanese politics, and so on.

Neo-Confederate politics is a program of a separtist nationalism of a Confederate identified region with a Confederate civil religion. Look at that region, observe the politics, and that is Neo-Confederacy. The politics of a region that defines itself by the Confederacy is Confederate politics.

I elaborate some of these ideas in my paper, “Breaking the White Nation, “ at this link

Note 1: This issue of Southern Partisan has both an issue date, Jan./Feb. 2004 and a publication date, Nov. 2004.

Note 2: I have never figured out who P.J. Byrnes is.

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