3:00 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we have for you Mr. Michael Lind, the co-founder of the New America Foundation and also author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics and What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America’s Greatest President.
Michael will deliver a briefing on the living legacy of the U.S. Civil War, which is the 150th anniversary of its first major battle is taking place tomorrow. Without further ado, here is Mr. Lind.
MR. LIND: Thank you. In the 1960s when I was a child growing up in the state of Texas, which was then overwhelmingly a Democratic state. I asked an old Texas Democrat why, if he was so conservative, he voted for the Democratic Party. And his answer got me to thinking about this. I’ve thought about it for half -- nearly half a century since then. His answer was, “We vote the way we shot.” That is, the way we shot in the Civil War, which at that point was almost exactly 100 years earlier.
Now, since then, Texas, along with the other Southern states, has undergone a realignment and it’s become largely Republican. But nevertheless, the sectional differences that have persisted since the Civil War inarguably, as the Southerners used to insist, it was a war between the states or the sections, it was not a civil war in the sense of the Spanish Civil War or various French civil wars in which you had neighbors against neighbors across the country, but it was more between regions, as in some other civil wars, for example, in Switzerland in the 1840s.
But whether it’s called the Civil War or the War Between the States, or as we say sometimes in the South, the Late Unpleasantness, it continues to mark American politics. And just to begin this introduction which I hope will turn into a conversation after my brief remarks, I wanted to set this up with a few charts.
Here we see 1864, the red states are the states of the Confederate States of America. The dark blue states are the core states of the United States of America at that point, although the federal government claims that the confederacy had never seceded and that this was merely a rebellion, not actually a secession, because states cannot secede. And to this day in U.S. Government records, this is referred to as a rebellion, not as a secession. And the Lincoln Administration’s theory was that it was simply a riot by a great number of people simultaneously in this region, because these states actually had never left the Union.
But be that as it may, if you’ll notice the light blue area, this is the so-called border states – West Virginia and Kentucky and Missouri, Tennessee in some maps. Eastern Tennessee in particular is considered a border state.
Now, here’s the electoral map in 1860. This was one of those elections, as has happened sometimes in other countries, including in Latin America, where a split among the candidates resulting in a candidate winning under the first-past-the-post system with only a minority of the vote precipitated a great violent convulsion. I won’t go into the details of Civil War history here, but once again you notice it’s actually kind of a three-way split between the border South behind John Bell, Breckinridge taking the deep South, and Lincoln winning the New England and Great Lakes states as well as the West Coast.
Now, let’s flash-ahead to McKinley versus William Jennings Bryan, McKinley the Democratic and Populist, William Jennings – I’m sorry, William Jennings Bryan the Populist and Democratic candidate in 1896, and William McKinley, the Republican. Here you see that the Civil War divisions are still being recapitulated in electoral politics.
Now, I’m going to skip over most of the 20th century just for dramatic effect. We come to 2004. This looks somewhat similar, doesn’t it, to the 1896 electoral map, in this case, George W. Bush carrying the red states against John Kerry with the blue states. But you see that same pattern of New England and the Great Lakes states and the West Coast, which I’ll try to explain briefly later.
Flash ahead to 2008, and here you have a – Barack Obama wins, manages to enlarge the blue state coalition at the expanse of – perhaps temporarily – of the red state coalition. But this has now become the basic framework of American politics. Again, it was for most of American history as the country expanded to the West. What I’ve left out of this is the period in the middle of the 20th century when there was a transition during the New Deal era up until the 1960s, 1970s, where there were Northern Liberal Republicans moving into the Democratic Party following Franklin Roosevelt who had been a young Republican at Harvard, and of course, he really had more in common with his cousin Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive Republican, than with most Democrats in his own party at that time, though he tried to downplay that.
And then by the Carter years, Jimmy Carter really is the last Democratic president who gets majority of the Southern vote. Lyndon Johnson is the last Democratic presidency to win a majority of the white vote in the South or the United States as a whole. So the New Deal and the Civil Rights Revolution leads to this turmoil that, at the end of it, as we see in this electoral map, you get a more or less perfect reversal of the political pattern of the post Civil War years except the parties have changed their names but their geographic bases, and to some degree, as I’ll suggest their philosophies have remained the same for over a century.
Abraham Lincoln told the story about – in terms of the politics of his day, parties exchanging their constituencies, about two men who got in a fight and they fought so hard that they fought each other into each other’s coats. So at the end of the fight, each one was wearing the coat the other one had been wearing at the beginning. And that’s kind of what has happened in the United States. The party of Lincoln – Lincoln was the first Republican president – is now based in the former Confederacy, and the Democrats, who for most of American history were the party of the South, plus immigrants, particularly the Irish immigrants in the Northeast, are now the party, at least in terms of their electoral geography, of Republicans like Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley and – yes – Herbert Hoover.
So the next slide, I want to show some of the cultural factors that influence this. Here you have dialects of the United States. And as you’ll see, this maps very closely onto the electoral maps that we’ve seen in the case, at least, of the presidential elections. There is a Southern Dialect Region, a Greater New England Dialect Region. You can simplify these somewhat because the Western Dialect Region is largely an outgrowth of the Greater New England. California, Oregon, the state of Washington, were settled largely by New England Yankees in the 19th century, and the only significant white Southern migration there came with the Okies during the Dust Bowl period to California and other states in the 1930s. But the political culture of the West Coast was deeply influenced by that of New England and the Midwest.
You see this kind of intermediate area, the Midland, and this becomes clearer when we look at the next slide. These are ethnicities in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What you see if you look at the South is the black area is African Americans, where they’re the most numerous part of the population in the Coastal South and in the Lowland South, where – which were the center of both of the plantation economy and then later of sharecropping.
This large gray area in the Appalachians and in the Ozarks, all the way over to Texas, that group, it says American in the census. It’s very interesting. This is the only group that identifies itself as plain American. Actually, it’s the Scots-Irish. I’m part Scots-Irish. The Scots-Irish are an interesting ethnic group in the United States because they – or I should say we – do not consider ourselves an ethnic group. The Scots-Irish have traditionally considered themselves just plain Americans and everybody else is somehow un-American compared to them. Partly it’s because they were poor and despised. They are not English, they are not Scottish, and they’re not Irish.
As James Webb, a Scots-Irish senator from Virginia has pointed out in his writings on the subject, the Scots-Irish were basically lowland Scots who were defeated in the wars with the English, and then used by the English to – as essentially mercenaries against the Catholic Irish in Ireland after the English conquered Ireland, and so they settled Northern Ireland, Ulster, where their descendents live to this day. Once they had sort of gentrified and pacified the area of this first English frontier, then the English landlords moved in, raised up the rents, and forced them to the British colonies where they were so disliked by the Quakers and by the New Englanders, among others, and also the very wealthy Southern gentry, that they ended up in the real estate that nobody else in the country wanted, which was the hills of Appalachia and of the Ozarks. And so this is a very traditionally less educated, rather violent, rather honor-obsessed culture.
Now, if you look above the South and North and the Midwest, what you see is this white area. These are German Americans, but that’s somewhat misleading. All that means is that people of German descent are the most numerous in those regions, but those are actually very ethnically diverse regions. So what basically happened in this country was most of the European immigration in the 19th century went to the Northeast and the Midwest. If you were an enterprising European immigrant, there was really nothing to attract you to the poor hills and hollers of the Upland South or to the slave-based plantation economy of the Lower South, a very hierarchical aristocratic place.
And so the North became pluralistic in its politics from a very early era. Already, there were Nativists in the North, including the American Party, who resisted European immigration in the 1830s and ‘40s. But mass immigration – in this case – and we had a white racist, white supremacist immigration policy. Asians were forbidden to immigrate. Only free white people from Europe could become naturalized citizens up until after World War II with few exceptions. Well, what this did was it radically changed the nature of politics in the North because there was no longer a single Northern pride. If you were a Northern politician, you were addressing people of British colonial descent even in a white supremacist era, and you were also addressing German immigrants and Irish immigrants and Welsh and French and various others and Italians and Poles later in the century.
So the idea of the United States as simply a kind of homogenous tribal society where everybody is the same race and the same religion, at least in the dominant culture, that died out in the North. It became a kind of brokered ethnically plural area even before the Civil Rights revolution of the 20th century. Much of the South is still extremely homogenous. There are large areas populated by people who are descendents of British immigrants – English and Scots-Irish and Welsh from before 1776, before the American Revolution.
So I’ll just finish up by talking about some of the legacies besides these cultural differences in contemporary politics. One of them, which I’ve sort of implied, is the culture war that is -- this is the term for the cultural differences between the two parties. If you look at religious fundamentalism, for example, sometimes the religious right claims that it represents people of faith more broadly against secular humanists. In fact, the religious right is largely Southern Scots-Irish evangelical Protestants. They’ve had alliances with traditionalist Catholics, with Orthodox Jews, and in some cases, with conservative Muslims on some issues, particularly in the international politics of birth control and abortion. But nevertheless, this is -- the Bible Belt is largely a Scots-Irish evangelical Protestant phenomenon.
The South is an honor culture, which the North and East and Midwest are not. That is according to anthropological studies, you are no more likely to be mugged by a white Southerner – I’m talking about white Southerners in this case – than you are by a white Northerner who is a stranger. You are much more likely to be murdered if you’re a white Southerner by your spouse, your business partner, your brother, or your sister in disputes over honor. And there’s some correlations in this case between white Southern culture and those of these other very honor-based societies, including some in Southern Europe and in Latin America.
So there’s that culture war aspect, and there’s also, not to be slighted, the political economy aspect because the United States has had two economies from the very earliest years of the republic. In fact, a lot of the compromises over slavery in the Constitution reflect this. You had what became a very rigid dividing line with the indirect and ultimate cause of the Civil War, the emergence of two separate societies within the same federal government. And you see something like this in China today on a smaller scale where they talk about Hong Kong after it’s been incorporated as two systems within one country. Well, leading up to the Civil War, there were two systems within one country.
The Civil War ended with the preservation of the country; it did not eliminate the two systems, and the two systems in many respects continue to this day. One system is based on free labor, but also on highly-paid wage labor. The Southern system, even after slavery and racial segregation were abolished, the compared advantage of Southern states according to Southern legislatures and governors, is the fact that they have low-wage labor and that their laws make unionization difficult if not impossible.
The other difference you see between the regions in terms of political economy have to do with trade. The center of American manufacturing from a very early area – era was Pennsylvania and the parts of the North where there were large coal and iron deposits. In the days of early industrialization, location was kind of – just as in the Ruhr in German and in the Midlands in Britain – the factories sprang up where there was either direct or water-based transportation to coal and iron deposits. And so Pittsburgh, in particular, became the champion of American industry being protected from its British rivals in the 19th century. So there’s always been a very powerful faction, which nowadays is sadly called “the Rust Belt” or “the Manufacturing Belt” for policies to promote manufacturing.
In the different periods in American history, those have been different policies. In the 19th century, the manufacturers favored high tariffs and protectionism because they wanted to catch up with the British industry, the major competitor. By the 1900s, the U.S. had the largest economy in the world and the most powerful manufacturing. At that point, the manufacturers wanted to liberalize trade because they wanted to expand foreign markets, and they no longer feared British or European competition. By the 1970s with German and Japanese competition, and then more recently Chinese, the manufactures have moved back more into the protectionist direction seeking to preserve themselves from the effects of globalization.
The South has always been in favor of free trade because it has been a commodity exporting, non-manufacturing region. In the 19th century, the South specialized in cotton, which was the single most important raw material for the single most important global industry of the 19th century; that was textiles. The American South was the Saudi Arabia of cotton. The cotton was shipped to Liverpool in Britain and then to the British factories in the Midlands. And it was turned into clothing, which the British sold to people. It was the first mass-produced consumer staple that was traded in global trade in all of human history from these steam-powered textile mills. Before that, most world trade had been in luxuries for the elite -- in spices and tea, gold, silver, things like that. So the British textile industry was the first great mass-production industry, and it was fed by cotton.
And the relevance of the Civil War is the South believed that Britain would intervene on its side to preserve its -- in the way the United States has intervened on behalf of various oil exporting countries in the Middle East in order to preserve this critical industrial material. And when Britain did not intervene in the Civil War, the South’s fate was sealed. So the South does have its own manufacturing belt that has developed since World War II as a result of two particular trends. One is the U.S. military. Throughout the New Deal period, from the 1930s all the way up until the 1970s and ‘80s, Southern Democratic congressmen made sure that military contracts were steered to Texas, to Mississippi, to Alabama, to various other places. That’s why the NASA facilities are in Houston among other things, so that -- because of the power of Lyndon Johnson, a Texan congressman, and then later senator and Vice President. So there’s a chain of military bases which are essentially federal state capitalism throughout the South.
More recently, Southern state governments have been luring Japanese and German investment with the promise that they will open up plants in largely white, rural parts of their states. It’s essentially a racist policy to avoid blacks and Latinos, and it’s happened to these areas of rural white poverty on behalf of Daimler-Benz, Toyota, Nissan, various other companies. And so these European and Asian companies have exploited this low-wage, largely white Southern labor. And so that has built up a second Southern industrial base. But neither of these gives the Southern industrialist any interest in trade protectionism, because they’re promoting industry either through federal investment or by luring European and Asian companies to their part of the country.
So the Civil War continues in some ways. You have a lot of the issues, both the cultural differences between the regions persists. They’ve been eroded somewhat over time, but nevertheless, as you can see from these maps, they’re still very, very deeply entrenched. And you have a struggle in political economy between a kind of low-wage free market or free trade system on the one hand, which works very well if you’re exporting commodities or very low-value added manufacturing. And the older Northeastern Midwestern industrial complex, which is not necessarily against free trade, it’s not necessarily protectionist, but it does require a far more sophisticated system of public support for manufacturing and R&D than the Southern economy traditionally has done.
But with that, I’d like to take some questions and turn this from a monologue into a conversation. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. As we move to the Q&A portion, please state your name and publication for the transcript, and wait for the microphone which could be coming from either side. We’ll go ahead with Reymer.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. My name’s Reymer Kluever from the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Two questions: First, you just – when you last were here, you mentioned the Japanese and German investment in the South, and basically, (inaudible) in the background there is basically a racist concept because all those factories are in rural areas where white poverty persists. So who is choosing those points where the – where those locations for the factories? Is it a political concept in those states, or who is – where does it come from?
And perhaps one second question, more broadly put: Do the divisions of the Civil War reflect in the Tea Party movement and where you find its – the defense of – more of the Tea Party movement?
MR. LIND: Well, to answer your first question first, I, for one, find it ironic that the Germans, the very enlightened system of co-determination among labor and business, when they open up factories in the United States – these are corporate decisions; I mean, it’s not, obviously, German Government – they tend to go to areas of the country where they’re attracted by the promise that unions have been crushed, that no one will be unionized, there are what are called right-to-work laws in the United States, which essentially make it all but impossible to form unions, even if the workers want unions.
These are states that pride themselves, like my native Texas, on being low tax, low service. They spend very little on education, on infrastructure compared to Germany or to Japan. And yet these are the ones that are getting the German and Japanese corporations. The Japanese labor management system is somewhat different from the German, but it’s still far more enlightened than labor management relations in Alabama or Mississippi. So I do think this is something that – Germany and Japan would never tolerate foreign corporations deliberately pitting – the Lindberg in Germany, for example – against one another to drive down standards. We take it for granted in this country.
In terms of the Tea Party, I think there’s a very, very strong element – although I hesitate – I wouldn’t call them neo-Confederate. What you have to remember is the Civil War was a moment in this long struggle between North and South, but it – many of the themes existed for generations before the Civil War and exist afterwards, and so I don’t want to unnecessarily vilify them for describing them simply as Confederates. The real difference is between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, arguably.
This goes back to the founding of the country to George Washington’s first cabinet. His secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, one of the authors of the Federalist papers, favored a strong national government. He was not a liberal and he was not a small-d democrat. He’s very elitist. He wanted business and government to work together to promote industrial capitalism in the United States. And essentially, the Hamiltonian party, under various names like the Whigs and the Lincoln Republicans, was the Northern party all the way up until at least the early 20th century. It was carrying out its major mission, which was using a strong central government to build the infrastructure and to use tariffs to build up America into the world’s leading manufacturing base. It was catching up with Britain. So in that sense, the Hamiltonians were sort of like the Japanese in the Meiji Restoration or like the Germans after Bismarck in unification. They were trying to catch up.
The Jeffersonians, followers of George Washington’s first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, later president, favored a minimal government, agrarian economy. They were very, very suspicious of banks and of businesses. Jefferson wanted to prevent the industrialization of the United States, which, he viewed, would create a large, impoverished working class. And he thought that the truly virtuous people were farmers who owned – white farmers, in the case of his vision, justly named a white supremacist country at the time – free white farmers, owning their land, even though he himself was a very rich Southern slave owner. But that was the Jeffersonian ideal.
His follower, Andrew Jackson – sometimes this is called the Jacksonian tradition, and some people distinguish between the two – in my view, the Jacksonian tradition, after Andrew Jackson, president of the United States in the 1830s – it’s just kind of a cruder form of Jeffersonianism. But if you look at the ideology of the Jeffersonians, the Confederates, the Jacksonians, there’s clearly links with a lot of the modern Tea Party thinking – states’ rights.
What’s particularly interesting to me as a historian is the idea of nullification. This first arose in disputes in the late 1790s. When Thomas Jefferson and Andrew – and James Madison, who was his ally – later, Madison backed down and changed his mind about this. But they claimed that the states could nullify federal legislation. They could – the states would have a veto on federal policies that were unconstitutional. And you saw some of this with governors’ influence – now those Tea Party Republicans rejecting federal aid, for example, saying this is unconstitutional. Some of them have taken it – the federal aid as part of the stimulus. Some of them have rejected it.
You have, increasingly, the Right – which didn’t talk like this is the past – describing itself as constitutional conservatives, which is a kind of Jeffersonian or Jacksonian take on the Constitution. And you define states’ right. Texas Governor Rick Perry, I don’t – he’s not serious about it, but he was asked about whether Texas should secede and become an independent republic, as it was briefly between 1836 and 1845. And so he thought, “Well, we may consider that.” But that’s always been part of Texan rhetoric. As a Texan, I don’t take that very seriously.
So I think what you find missing in contemporary American debate is the other side. That is: Where are the Hamiltonians? If you look at the Democrats who now should be the Hamiltonian party, if you look at the states that support them and their manufacturing base and their industrial union base and all of that, both President Clinton and President Obama, to my mind, have largely internalized the rhetoric of the post-Reagan Jeffersonians. That is, they believe – and they may be right; they have pollsters and they were elected, they may know what they’re doing – but they believe that you have to echo this rhetoric of this kind of neo-Jeffersonian right.
So, for example, the – President Obama is always bragging about how much government spending is being cut. He has said – what is manifestly not true – that only the private sector creates jobs. Well, in every modern industrial democracy the public sector accounts for an enormous percentage of the workforce, and rightly so.
So at the moment, you have these very energized neo-Jeffersonians or Jacksonians or neo-Confederates in some cases. But on the Lincoln side or the McKinley or the Alexander Hamilton side, there are few people – I’ve defended the Hamiltonian tradition; on the right, David Brooks has. There are few people who have good things to say about it. But we’ve been in a kind of neo-Jeffersonian era since Reagan, where the mainstream Democrats feel that they actually have to work within this kind of Jefferson-Jackson paradigm, where we’re against big government, too. Right?
And so they’re not making the full-throated defense of big government – and which comes in conservative as well as liberal versions. I mean, there are right-wing Hamiltonians who say we need public-private partnership. We’re going to have big industrial corporations, but they need the science and universities and R&D, the needed national infrastructure bank or some other way to fund infrastructure.
And so we were sort of in a moment where there’s only one side in the debate, I think, and that’s this kind of Southern, Jeffersonian side.
MODERATOR: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: My name is Kathleen Gomes. I’m a correspondent for a Portuguese daily newspaper called Publico. Thanks for doing this. How strong or fluid are these divisions that you’ve been talking about? Because what we saw in 2008 was that President Obama won in a couple of states that had been Republican for a large number of years. And also, the other question, which is, I believe related, is: Has the Obama presidency heightened in any way these divisions in contemporary politics? Thank you.
MR. LIND: Well, to answer your second question first, I don’t think it’s heightened them. I think that, pretty much, this realignment was – had taken place by the beginning of this century, perhaps by the 1990s. If you look from the 1990s and the 2000s, and look at partisan voting or partisan polarization in the House of Representatives and the Senate – that is people who vote with their parties and against the other party all of the time or most of the time – partisan polarization is higher now than it has been at any point since the decade following the Civil War, during Reconstruction.
So there’s this deep, deep division. And one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to get anything done is because in this period of transition, from the – maybe the 1920s all the way up until the 1980s, when you had progressive Republicans and you had conservative Democrats, people would cross party lines. So, for example, if you look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more Republicans voted for it than Democrats, because at that point, the Democrats still had this racist, Southern segregationist wing.
And so what you got at that period were presidents like Eisenhower and majority leaders like Lyndon Johnson – when he was Senate majority leader – who could put together these cross-party coalitions. And people try to do this to this day, but it’s just – it’s very difficult. There are fewer and fewer conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. And so therefore you have this kind of polarization.
Can you remind me what your first question was?
QUESTION: It was how strong or fluid are these divisions? Because the population is changing a lot, the population – the American population. So how should we expect these divisions to change in the next years or so?
MR. LIND: Well, it is fluid. What you find with immigrants – and the country’s being transformed chiefly by Latin American immigrants at this point, though there’s also rising East Asian and South Asian immigration, and the sources may change in the years to come. There’s sort of a myth that immigrants come to the United States and then they lose their ethnicities and then they become generic Americans. What actually happens is somewhat more complex: Because these regional cultures are very powerful, immigrants tend to assimilate to the regional culture, at least where you don’t have an enormous diaspora where you can spend all of your time within this foreign-speaking – what is just foreign language or something.
In the 19th century, all the way up until World War I, when it was repressed quite brutally, the largest diaspora community was Germans. So there were German newspapers, German theaters, German clubs and things like that. Today it’s the Spanish-speaking. But even if you look at Latino Americans, by the third generation, American Latinos – native-born Latinos have lost Spanish; they’re native English speakers, and so on.
And so one of the predictions has been that this will shake everything up, but I think it depends. That is, if you’re a Mexican American and you’re second or third generation and you’re growing up in a suburb in Alabama, you assimilate differently than you do if you’re a third generation Mexican American in Wisconsin. And particularly – social scientists call this the founder effect. That is the first pioneers to an area sort of establish the culture to which subsequent waves assimilate, even if they’re very quickly outnumbered. It’s simply because then the first generation to assimilate then assimilates the second generation, even if they’re quite different, so on and so on.
So I think these regional political cultures, a lot of them do go back to the initial regional founders – the Scots-Irish in the case of the Upland South. As I said, the West Coast has a very what some historians call the moralistic culture, which the earliest founders from New England brought with them. So if you look at California, initiative and referendum and a lot of these political devices; you also find these in the Midwest and in the Northeast. And will immigrants from Latin America, East Asia, South Asia – who knows in the future, parts of the Middle East, Central Asia – will they assimilate to this kind of New England culture if they move to California? Will they become Southern rednecks if they move to Texas?
My guess is, probably, the answer is yes. You see the persistence of regional dialects, for example, which no one would have predicted a half a century ago. They predicted that, because of the television – first radio and then television, it would erase all of these regional differences. But people – and it’s true in every country; it’s not just true in the United States – people, both ethnic groups and regional groups, persist in their dialects because it’s a way of distinguishing the insiders from the outsiders. And this is true of Sicilians and Venetians in Italy, and Bavarians and people in East Germany.
And so I think there was an old modernization model where, at least within the nation state, everything would become very homogeneous. I do think there’s a greater homogeneity at the elite level in the United States than there’s ever been before. That is if you’re talented, you go to the Ivy League or to any number of very good state schools, you get kind of assimilated into the corporate boardroom culture, you lose – you drop your native accent, whatever it is – whether it’s Italian American from Queens or African American or you name it.
But I think those in the elite think the country is much more homogeneous than it really is. And you have to remember, this is the third most populous country on the planet. It’s more like – and its diversity in some ways is more like India or Brazil than it is like even China, just to discuss some of the other big countries out there.
MODERATOR: Down here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Corine Lesnes from Le Monde. I wanted to ask about the Civil War commemoration. When – I was surprised at how much – in Europe you think that the Civil War was about slavery, and here, in some places, you think it’s about states’ rights. So what do we learn that you study the commemoration? What do you learn of the things are happening? And the other thing, since you’re talking about Jefferson and Hamilton and those guys – is there anything – we also feel that the system is not working, right? And sometimes it seems the Constitution could be put to blame, which is not – definitely what not people do here. Do you think there is a chance of reforming Constitution and what would you change if you could or if you wanted to? Do you think that would be useful? Thank you.
MR. LIND: Well, Civil War commemorations, this comes up every decade or two. And there’s a dwindling number of white Southerners who insist that the Civil War was – had nothing to do with slavery or race, that it was about the tariff and – or it was about central government. And the problem with this is it’s true. There were deep regional divisions over the tariff as I pointed out. The South as an agricultural commodity exporting region suffered from paying higher goods from protected industries in Pittsburgh than it would have from importing things directly from British manufacturing.
At the same time, of course, there were these divisions between states’ rights and centralism among Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians. That did not lead to an attempt to destroy the country before 1861. The reason the Southern elite tried to destroy the United States of America was because the election of Abraham Lincoln indicated that there could become a permanent anti-slavery majority not just in the White House, but in the Senate and in the House, and that over time this majority would eliminate slavery – might do so gradually, there was no immediate threat, but that over time – and they would be forced to swallow massive economic losses because of their wealth, as strange as it seems in a civilized society, their wealth was in slaves. The slaves were their assets. It was not the land. It was not the plantation house. It was their labor force. Their wealth was in their captive labor force.
And the only – it’s very odd – the only way to analogize it, I think, is to think if you’re an oil executive, your wealth is in the rig, it’s in the equipment, right? It’s not necessarily in the land that you’re drilling on. It’s in the actual – or an industrialist, it’s the actual machinery. So basically having reduced people to a kind of robotic function, it’s as though you own these machines.
And what happened indeed was what the Southern planter aristocracy, which was only a few hundred thousand people – there weren’t that many of them who were very rich major slave owners – they lost enormous amounts of money. They were just devastated. As a result of the abolition of slavery, they became landlords. And that represented a massive, massive uncompensated loss to them, because what they had done before the Civil War was – because cotton is a crop that tends to destroy the land, and this is true in the Ukraine and in Egypt and in India and various other places, a very destructive crop, you would bring your gang of slaves if you were a planter, you would grow cotton, sell it to Britain for a quick buck, totally destroy the soil, then you would move on. And so they moved West towards the Mississippi, ultimately ended up in east Texas was as far as they could go, leaving this ruined land in your wake.
Well, so here you are, you’ve lost your major economic asset, which is the slave labor force. Now you have this ruined land that you have not improved the way the free farmers of the West have done with fertilizer and with irrigation and all that, just totally devastated land, a workforce which you have to pay money for even if they’re tenant farmers or something like that. So it was a massive economic loss that I think all historians, serious historians, North and South, agree that it was the fear on the part of the Southern oligarchy that slavery would be abolished that lead them to try to destroy the country. And the South was – was not a democracy at that point either. It was reasonably democratic, at least among the standards of that time, with the universal suffrage among white male voters all the way up until the 1830s. The last great debate in the South about slavery took place in 1832 in Virginia. And there were anti-slavery Virginians.
There were Virginians like Jefferson and Washington who wanted to phase it out. There were slave owners like Henry Clay who favored colonization. It was kind of a harebrained scheme to free African Americans and send them either to Africa or Central America. But all this could be debated in the South before the 1830s.
At that point, the crackdown came and the South became a one-party police state. It was like South Africa from the 1960s all the way up until the end of apartheid. The postal officers, including the federally appointed postal officers in the South, read everybody’s mail, they intercepted anything critical of slavery and destroyed it. It really was a police state run by a single economic oligarchy.
As I say, there’s still some white Southerners for obvious reasons, because their ancestors fought for the Confederacy – I had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy and for the Union, on both sides – they don’t want – they admire the valor of these ordinary common people, and they don’t want to admit that if they were ordinary yeoman Southerners, they were tricked into a match game by a wicked elite, as a I see it.
This is fading over time, largely as a result of immigration. I think immigration in the long run – you’ll still have a regional culture in the South that favors states’ rights and so on, but I think it’s – you have fewer and fewer Southerners are descendents of white Southerners who fought in the Civil War. It will become kind of like Scots who are still reliving Bonnie Prince Charlie and so on in the 18th century. It will sort of fade away.
The French historian, Francois Furet, wrote famously in the 1990s that the French Revolution is over. And by that what he meant was that all the way up until the ‘80s or ‘90s, French intellectuals could get into fights over who was better, Robespierre or Danton or Louie XVI or – so all the science and French politics, they align themselves with factions in the French Revolution. According to Furet – I don’t know if he’s correct or not – just something happened, and this became ancient history.
And the British, for example, the American obsession with the Founding Fathers and with the Civil War just seemed strange to them because no one gets into fistfights in Britain over Disraeli versus Salisbury or the younger pet in Walpole. It’s all Henry VIII and King Arthur. It’s all just history. We are very far from being at that stage in the United States, but it might happen at some point.
Changing the Constitution? Was the Constitution defective? Yes. Yes, we have the most malapportioned Senate of any democracy on the planet today, except for Brazil. If it weren’t for Brazil, we would be the worst. But theirs is even worse than ours in terms of having tiny under-populated territories getting the same – you have Wyoming, which I think has about half a million people, has the same representation in the U.S. Senate as California, which has like 30 million people. It would be one of the largest countries in the world. And so you have in the separation of power system, which is kind of broken down informally as Congress in the course of the 20th century decided it didn’t want to govern and it kept pushing all these things to the President.
One of the suggestions for ending the debt ceiling impasse that’s been floating now by Senator McConnell is the Congress will simply delegate the power to make all of this legislation to the President, right? And I don’t know why they don’t just go home. They could pass a law saying all powers granted in the Constitution by the United States Congress are hereby delegated to the White House because – and there’s a political reason for this. Because in our system, responsibility is diffuse, unlike in a parliamentary system where at the end of the day, the prime minister falls if public opinion turns against the government.
In our system, it’s all about shifting the blame in separation of powers. And so the Founders, who were quite brilliant given the fact that there had been no nation state that was a democratic republic in history – all of the previous democratic republics were city states – they did a pretty good job, but they favored this very complicated separation of power system because they were trying to restrain tyranny. And what they did not perceive was that it – and actually Alexander Hamilton, he warns about this in the Federalist Paper. He argues that it seems to diffuse responsibility so that it’s all about forcing somebody else to do something, and then if it succeeds, you take credit for it because you’re part of the system. And then if it fails, well, it’s all the part of the White House or the Senate or the House.
And so can it be amended? Almost certainly not, because the Article V and some – and the other provisions for amending the Constitution, it’s booby trapped. It is all but impossible to structurally amend the Constitution. Now, we have 27-28 amendments over the years, but those have not actually affected the basic structure of the government. It has to do with individual rights, the income tax, things like that. And in particular, the Constitution was booby tapped by the small states so that the one thing that cannot be changed by amendment is the representation of the small states in the Senate.
So I’m very pessimistic about it. I think what’s going to happen is – and we’re seeing this now – as this very cumbersome system is simply not able to deal with one crisis after another, I think that the United States will move towards a plebiscitary presidential system, sort of Gaullist-type system, quite voluntarily. It won’t be because presidents seize power; it’s because they’re given power, because there’s so much gridlock in the legislative branch that the legislators themselves, they say, “Here, you decide. We don’t want to do it.”
I criticized a – the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he was a friend and mentor of mine, New York senator. One time in the 1990s, we joked about it, that he was on television saying that Congress cannot act until the President gives us his budget. Well, if you read the Constitution, all spending bills originate in the House of Representatives. It says nothing about the White House having any role whatsoever in the budget. This is a post-Franklin Roosevelt phenomenon. What happened was during World War I, Congress created the Office of the Budget, which became Office and Management and Budget today, to coordinate the spending in World War I. And then it was an independent agency. It was brought into the executive branch after World War II. But now we live in a system where the president and OMB are supposed to come up with a budget for Congress to either accept or to criticize.
And as I say, this has not been a usurpation of power by the President. It’s if you’re an individual member of Congress, you would rather have the White House propose something and then you can put your finger in the wind and test it. And if it’s popular, you’re for it. And if you’re – again, then you have somebody to denounce, whereas you might actually do something unpopular if you actually do what the people elect you to do, which is to govern.
So there are various ideas out there for constitutional reform. And constitutional scholars write anthologies and books about this every 10 years or so, but it never happens. So my prediction is it will be informally amended so that presidents increasingly will take actions that a gridlocked Congress cannot do. They – but they won’t say that they’re changing the Constitution; they’ll say this is part of the inherent executive power or something like that.
MODERATOR: Go ahead. China over there.
QUESTION: Hi. Wen Xian from People’s Daily of China. Well, on the – you were talking about how regional differences continue to affect national politics. Well, I’d like to know on the – how about the religious differences affecting national politics. Well, I do know – and for Governor Romney and Ambassador Huntsman, their religion is Mormon. And do you think – and at least some people are very sensitive about their religion. Thank you.
MR. LIND: This is an excellent question. Religion tends to be very highly regionalized in the United States because it tends to follow patterns of immigration. So for example, historically you had great numbers of Irish and Germans move to the Northeast and Midwest, including many German Catholics along with Irish Catholics. And then later on, you had Italian immigrants, Poles, Eastern Europeans. So Catholicism has traditionally been concentrated in parts of New England where – which was originally Protestant, of course, with the English – and the Midwest. The Mormons, being a kind of indigenous American subculture, are concentrated around Salt Lake City and in the Rocky Mountain state area and around Utah. The Bible Belt, as I mentioned, the religious fundamentalists, Protestant evangelical fundamentalists, more or less exactly tracks Scots-Irish, and Appalachians and into the Ozarks.
So there is some question as to whether, in the case of Governor Romney, whether that will be a factor, given the fact that the base of the Republican Party now is evangelical Protestant. I mean, obviously there are Catholics and Lutherans and Jews and Muslim Republicans that are prejudiced against Mormons – would affect this. And I don’t know. I’ve asked Republican operatives, who have told me both answers. Some think that he can’t be nominated. Others think that, given the fact, as they say jokingly, that his opponent is an atheist Muslim socialist – (laughter) – from the perspective of the right-wing base, that maybe a Mormon would be better than a Muslim atheist socialist. So we will see in the primaries.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for one more question, because we’re running out of tape, and Mr. Lind’s been up here for a long time in the heat, but let’s go to Laszlo.
QUESTION: Thank you. Laszlo Szocs from Nepszabadsag, which is The People’s Freedom in English, Hungarian daily newspaper. If you look at the six or seven Republican hopefuls challenging President Obama, you see that they are basically pretty much from all over the country, like Mitt Romney from Massachusetts, New England; Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania; the two candidates from Minnesota; Ron Paul is from Texas, and so on and so on. What difficulties do you think they have to overcome in – they are facing in overcoming the regional differences, the political heritage along the lines that you have just described to us, in order to find that common Republican ground and one message to make themselves electable nationwide, or at least beyond their own regions, which is the key to gaining the presidency. Thank you.
MR. LIND: Well, I think given the oppositional nature of the Republican Party right now, their message has to be that I’m against Obama and I’m against the Democrats. They don’t necessarily actually have to have a detailed plan to govern if they’re trying to mobilize discontent. You come up with the policies later. I think if – looking from the point of view of the Republican Party strategically, generally the party that is dominated by the South, and this includes the Democrats in the 19th century, it’s tended to do best when it ran someone from the Northeast or the Midwest in order – you sort of run against type. So that if you’re the Southern party, you don’t necessarily want the most right-wing Southern candidate, because that will alienate people in other regions of the country. So you want someone who is your ally, but who reassures people in the regions whose votes you want to split.
This is exactly the same logic that worked for Bill Clinton. As a kind of center-right Democrat from Arkansas, he was able to split the Southern vote, to some degree, the white Southern vote, in order to win two terms. If you look at John Kerry the Massachusetts liberal and Dukakis the Massachusetts liberal, they were not that successful because they were playing to the type of the Democrats of the Massachusetts liberal party. So we’ll see. It will be very interesting, particularly if Governor Rick Perry of Texas enters the race. And he might bleed some of the conservative activists away from Romney or Pawlenty or some of the others.
But I think that, just if you look at history, the best chance the Republicans have is to run not just someone from the Midwest or the Northeast who shares the principles of the Southern base, but also a governor because governors have an enormous advantage in running for president of the United States. They have been outside of Washington, so they can run against Washington, which is very popular in this populist political climate. And at the same time, they can say “I have actually run a state,” successfully or not; the two parties will disagree. So I wouldn’t underestimate the chances of a Northeast or a Midwestern governor doing pretty well.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.
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