The Red-State Equivalent of Nuke-Free Zones

In a post joining the general hilarity over the four-hour briefing that Republican State Senators in my home state of Georgia were treated to in October on the deadly threat of Agenda 21, Dave Weigel of Slate made an astute observation:

Panic about UN-mandated “sustainable development” has marched right from the John Birch Society offices into the conservative mainstream. Glenn Beck’s new novel, out next week, takes readers inside a dystopian America run by sustainably-developing dictators….

Republicans had a rotten election day federally, but in the deep South, they generally expanded or held their legislative majorities. So we may see more of this. UN panic may become as popular as the Reagan-era hobby of liberal towns declaring themselves nuke-free zones.

As someone who was once involved in community and economic development work in Georgia, I can attest that there has always been a hard core of resistance, some of it ideological, but much of it just centered in simple greed, among southern political and business elites towards any kind of planning or land-use regulation. But back in the day there was nothing like this mass hysteria about bike trails signifying the impending arrival of blue-helmeted UN troops to force suburbanites into urban concentration camps, separated forever from their SUVs.

Trouble is, much of the deep South, and particularly Georgia, really needs some “sustainable development” thinking and definitely some regional planning. Georgia has 159 counties, 28 of them in metropolitan Atlanta alone. Multi-jurisdictional cooperation is an absolute must. The transportation system in much of the state is a nightmare. It’s a really, really bad time for the dominant political party to be overrun by people who think it’s communistic to place any limits on development or pay any attention to its impact on public infrastructure and natural resources.

But Weigel is right: the ever-increasing self-isolation of white southerners into a right-wing ghetto where non-ideological information rarely penetrates does tend to become self-proliferating. But it’s still weird. The Deep South has never been a hotbed of progressivism. But when I was growing up in Georgia in the 1960s, people pretty much gave members of the John Birch Society a wide berth (there was a property owner on a major thoroughfare where I lived in an Atlanta suburb who festooned his land with Bircher “U.S. Out of the U.N” signs, and children were warned to avoid it on Halloween). Now members of the majority caucus of the state legislature are earnestly listening to their ravings. This is not a good sign.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.