Would a Perry v. Obama Contest Be a Confederacy v. Union Rematch?
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Indeed, Perry's neo-Confederate links have been well-catalogued, particularly by Salon's Justin Elliott. (In 2000, Elliott reports, Perry wrote to Denne Sweeney, leader of the Texas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, to assure him that "I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques and memorials from public property." He added, "I also believe that communities should decide whether statues or other memorials are appropriate for their community.")
But the Confederate-Union friction that would play out in a Perry-Obama contest runs deeper than ideology; it's a matter of culture. This would be an election that more starkly illuminates America's cultural divide than any that have come before it in modern times.
Southern Confederate Culture
Conservative culture in the South, unlike the conservative culture of the Big Sky West, is deeply rooted in the Civil War and its aftermath. Deep resentment courses through the veins of conservative Southerners for feeling that the pooh-bahs of the North, wearing a mantle of moral superiority on the matters of slavery and civil rights for African Americans, hypocritically shame Southerners for their history.
It's not as if the North is exactly clean on these matters. One only need summon up the history of school desegregation in Boston, or the memory of the 1967 riots in Newark, N.J., to know that. Nor was the cause of abolition one universally shared in the North prior to the Civil War. Northern industrialists and retailers relied on the commodities delivered by the hands of slaves -- cotton, rice, tobacco -- to fuel their factories and marketplaces.
With economic power concentrated in the Northeast, the states of the old Confederacy felt themselves pushed around by a power that would deprive it even of its hagiographic history of the glories of its war heroes -- heroes who fought, of course, to preserve the institution of slavery, and the preservation of a less-than-human status for African Americans.
The South has a proud military tradition dating back to the American Revolution, but its present expression is rooted in the Civil War. In his speech to Liberty University, Perry spoke of being a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, a sort of military unit unaffiliated with any of the armed forces. Cadets live in a military style, wear uniforms, and are subject to inspections, drills and punishments like those endured by soldiers living in a barracks.
A tradition at Texas A&M has students placing pennies at the feet of a statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross, an early A&M president who was also a Confederate general. So it should come as no surprise that Perry -- who flew C-130 cargo planes during a stint in the Air Force -- named both Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Brevet Major Gen. George Armstrong Custer when asked, in 1991, to name which historical figures he would invite to a fantasy dinner party. (Custer was famous for his brutal incursions against American Indians after the Civil War, and his ultimate demise at their hands.)
Religion and Culture
Perhaps the ultimate expression of culture is religion. While white culture in the South comprises people of more diverse backgrounds than it did in the past, it is still more homogeneous than that of the North, with many inhabitants able to trace their lineage back to before the Civil War. Protestant practices do vary in the South among different denominations, and the distinction between charismatic and fundamentalist sects is significant, but southern religion nonetheless has a character that is distinct from that of most Northeastern churches, which have absorbed people from a broader range of backgrounds. In the South, Protestants are more apt to view their religion in nationalistic terms, seeing it as part and parcel of the American story. To them, the multicultural spirituality and looser religious practices more common in the North can look alien and threatening.