H. Brandt Ayers: Whistling past Dixie — again
Feb 12, 2012 | 2513 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An older, wiser, frustrated Barack Obama, having abandoned hopes of leading a united, post-political nation, prepares for his re-election campaign by conceding to his opponent more than half the electoral votes needed to win.

Democrats, again, seem determined to treat the South like the little boy approaching the graveyard who whistles to keep himself from believing that ghoulish racists in there will transform him into one of their own if he is caught.

The fear that seizes the heart of the Democratic Party when it crosses the Mason-Dixon line is based on outmoded myths and illogical calculations.

By choosing Charlotte as the convention site, the party has sent a signal that it intends to compete in the upper South, North Carolina and Virginia.

As to the rest of the region, the pyramid of states from South Carolina to Texas, the White House has in effect sent flowers; it has sent wreaths to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington, a gesture little noted or long remembered.

Though Obama was never more inspiring than when he talked of one nation, undivided, there was always a logical inconsistency in his appeals to an E Pluribus Unum united America.

In his books, in his experience and so probably in his mind, he did not include in that vision the region, which is larger than many countries and once was a nation — the American South in all its diversity and similarities.

He is a stranger to the South and, evidently, the region is to him a strange place.

Who is this stranger, and did he really believe what he said about wanting a more unified, post-political America?

A glimpse deep into his thinking emerges from hundreds of pages of White House documents examined by Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for the New Yorker magazine.

Lizza first repeats what is well known about his character from winning conservative support for the presidency of the Harvard Law Review to his record as a mediating force in the Illinois Legislature.

Yes, by nature and practice as president, page after page of Lizza’s essay in the Jan. 30 New Yorker shows that time after time he has genuinely tried to be conciliatory toward congressional Republicans.

In 2011, he proposed the American Jobs Act to stimulate the economy and create jobs. His repeated appeals to the GOP House fell on deaf ears. Again that year, he and Speaker John Boehner seemed to agree on a “grand bargain” of cuts and taxes, but the Tea Party caucus objected and the Speaker withdrew.

His belief that he could work with Congress to accomplish grand things for the country encountered the Bush recession, which was deeper than his worst predictions, and an opposition of historic rigidity.

Analysts from a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, Norman Orenstein, and from the non-partisan Brookings Institution, Thomas Mann, have co-authored a book that describes congressional intransigence as almost religious or blind, unreasoning prejudice.

They write, “One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Irrationality approaching political dementia tends to blossom most gregariously in one-party states where there is no give-and-take from a loyal opposition and only one voice is heard.

The South increasingly is enacting the second version of a solid one-party region, all the more reason for an alternative voice to be heard.

When I discussed Democrats’ reluctance to compete in the South with a former White House chief of staff, John Podesta, he said it isn’t a mater of politics but demographics.

If by that he means the party will avoid the South until its small towns, cities and rural areas have the same levels of income and education as the home of Harvard, Cambridge, Mass., by then our grandchildren will have grandchildren.

A more immediate invitation to return to the fold based on economic and social changes has been issued by the black CNN analyst Roland Martin and in a book, Blue Dixie, by Bob Moser, chief political reporter for The Nation.

The first law of politics for a candidate or a party is: Showing up.

You can say and believe almost anything about a stranger, but when he comes to your house and you have a good talk, your perspective is likely to change for the better.

If instead of whistling past Dixie like frightened boys national Democrats showed up, they might find that instead of ghoulish creatures there is the friendly ghost of flawed but progressive Gov. Jim Folsom inviting, “Y’all Come.”

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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