Skip navigation

The South rises again, making Bush a winner

Canadians, by a 3-to-1 margin, wanted John Kerry to win the U.S. presidency. Lots of reasons drove that preference, but geography reflected one.

Consider the Electoral College results. Mr. Kerry's America, California excepted, is Canada's America -- states strung out along or near the Canadian border: New England; New York and New Jersey; the Great Lakes states, minus Ohio; the Pacific Northwest.

These are the parts of the United States with the greatest social, political and economic affinity for Canadians. The trouble is, for Canada, they're losing population and political clout.

George W. Bush just needed to do as well in this election as in 2000 to win by more. The Electoral College, reflecting population shifts, had awarded more votes to traditional Republican states such as Arizona, Colorado and Texas. By standing still, Mr. Bush would have gone forward. He did better than that, winning a larger share of the popular vote than in 2000.

The war in Iraq is a disaster. The U.S. has experienced net job losses. The fiscal deficit is horrible. Yet Mr. Bush not only won re-election, he won by more than in 2000.

There's an old academic theory -- recently reworked in an intriguing book, Regions Apart, by Canadian sociologists Edward Grabb and James Curtis -- that North America is really split into four regions: French- and English-speaking Canada, the U.S. North and the U.S. South. The theory is worth thinking about today, because it helps explain socially, culturally and politically what's happening in North America.

The North won the U.S. Civil War and, for a century thereafter, its economic power and cultural assumptions dominated the continent. French Canada, with its Catholicism, and the U.S. South, with racial segregation, protected themselves from the North's influence. English-speaking Canada, while part of a different country, accepted the economic and cultural assumptions of the victorious North.

In recent decades, however, the South gave up Jim Crow and began to play, not its defensive, regional role in U.S. politics inside the Democratic Party, but an aggressive, offensive, national role largely inside the Republican Party.

The South's core values -- family, faith and country -- spread into other parts of the nation, or at least found common cause with those values pre-existing elsewhere, to forge a political coalition that has become the majority one in U.S. politics. It's the one that put Mr. Bush in the White House, and has now kept him there.

The South's revenge, if you want to call it that, has another dimension: a deep suspicion by whites of government. When the government (read Washington) intervened to end the Jim Crow era, then launched the Great Society anti-poverty programs, affirmative action and other measures to assist minorities, it struck a majority of white southerners as intrusive, costly and unfair.

They want their taxes kept low, and their government limited in size, in part because they think taxes will go to someone else. That's why they would often rather have churches or non-profits deliver services, because they can control these institutions. This kind of delivery of public services also fits their sense of what religion's power is in the secular realm.

So family (remember how southern "gentlemen" insisted they were fighting the Civil War to protect their "womenfolk"), religious faith, passionate patriotism and deep suspicion of government now reflect the dominant political culture in America. Even in some of the northern states such as Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin, a large minority of the population shares this "southern" political culture.

With all the emphasis on Iraq, the "war" on terror, health care and the economy, what many election observers underestimated was the cultural force and political power of these southern ideas.

Canadians overwhelmingly are American northerners in their cultural values and political ideas. But northern ideas, though still potent, don't drive the U.S. any more.

Republicans, with their southern ideas and values, hold a majority in both the House and the Senate and will run the administration. They have a vice-grip on political power in Washington, a set of bedrock cultural and political assumptions about how to organize society, and a fierce determination to keep remaking the U.S. in ways that most Canadians won't like or even understand.

jsimpson@globeandmail.ca

Recommend this article? 0 votes

Back to top