The Washington Post’s Colbert King is speaking some inconvenient truths:
Today there is a New Confederacy, an insurgent political force that has captured the Republican Party and is taking up where the Old Confederacy left off in its efforts to bring down the federal government.
No shelling of a Union fort, no bloody battlefield clashes, no Good Friday assassination of a hated president — none of that nauseating, horrendous stuff. But the behavior is, nonetheless, malicious and appalling.
The New Confederacy, as churlish toward President Obama as the Old Confederacy was to Lincoln, has accomplished what its predecessor could not: It has shut down the federal government, and without even firing a weapon or taking 620,000 lives, as did the Old Confederacy’s instigated Civil War.
Not stopping there, however, the New Confederacy aims to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, setting off economic calamity at home and abroad — all in the name of “fiscal sanity.”
Its members are as extreme as their ideological forebears. It matters not to them, as it didn’t to the Old Confederacy, whether they ultimately go down in flames. So what? For the moment, they are getting what they want: a federal government in the ditch, restrained from seeking to create a more humane society that extends justice for all.
The ghosts of the Old Confederacy have to be envious.
There’s more, and it’s good stuff. What’s notable about King’s column is not so much the argument, but the venue in which the argument is being made. Usually the opinion pages of the Washington Post are far more decorous about expressing such ideas — or at least, that’s how it seems to me. But King doesn’t hold back.
For years, however, liberal bloggers and political writers have not been shy about pointing out the strong parallels between the Confederacy and the modern-day G.O.P. Historians and political scientists have noted the deep continuities as well.
For example, here is a new political science paper, as yet unpublished, about the political legacy of American slavery. This is the abstract:
We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in the American South trace their origins back to the influence of slavery’s prevalence more than 150 years ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves population in 1860 are less likely to identify as Democrat, more likely to oppose affirmative action policies, and more likely to express racial resentment toward blacks. These results are robust to accounting for a variety of attributes, including contemporary shares of black population, urban-rural differences, and Civil War destruction. Moreover, the results strengthen when we instrument for the prevalence of slavery using measures of the agricultural suitability to grow cotton. To explain our results, we offer a theory in which political and racial attitudes were shaped historically by the incentives of Southern whites to propagate racist institutions and norms in areas like the “Black Belt” that had high shares of recently emancipated slaves in the decades after 1865. We argue that these attitudes have, to some degree, been passed down locally from one generation to the next.
William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” As a man of the South, he would know.