Monday, November 01, 2004

Kurt Andersen on The Red States

The Corsair likes Kurt Andersen, as no one in their right mind could ever accuse the man of being boring -- a cardinal sin in The Corsair's moral universe. The Corsair has had a vague, off and on acquaintance with Kurt since 1995. An amateur sociologist who has bathed deeply in the sapphire rivers of cultural reporting at Time and The New Yorker, editing at the infamous Spy ( a mighty influence on this blog) and New York Magazine, where The Corsair was a fact checker under Kurt's editorship in '95.

A Great American Novelist, an internet age entrepreneur (full disclosure: The Corsair interviewed with Kurt for a position at, but did not get the gig), a public radio international host and, once again, most recently, an editor once again, proving Nietzsche's darkly symmetrical idea that, in the end, all is eternal recurrence.

All that experience chasing after and chronicling the Zeitgeist dovetails prophetically into his current obsession and, ancillary to that, the battleground states in the Presidential election of 2004, in the last standing World Superpower, where the fate of the world will be resolved. That current obsession is, of course, 19th century American history, and the novel on that subject that he has been writing for years. But what has that to do with the battleground states?

Well, Kurt writes in his blog today an incredibly provocative and interesting post entitled: "Keeping Slaves, Killing Indians, Being Republican", which says, in part:

"... As the German-Scandinavian product of the Republican midwest (Nebraska), I have taken a certain extended-regional pride in the political progressivism of those three German-Scandinavian midwestern states -- not just in the way they vote for president but in the mostly sensible, low-key, fair-minded ways they seem to manage their affairs generally.

"And as I have stared at the electoral map these last days and weeks, counting and recounting, I kept returning to another, more expansive basic fact of domestic geopolitical history. Today's ahistorical, anodyne way of stating this fact is that the west (except for the Pacific Coast) and the south are 'red,' while the northeast, most of the industrial midwest and the Pacific Coast are 'blue.'

"But it strikes me (undoubtedly because I have been reading and thinking a lot about the 1840s and 50s for the last couple of years) that a true, harsh and meaningful way of explaining the red-blue split is this: the more recently that a place permitted slavery or engaged in wars on Indians, the more likely it is to be a Republican state today. Republican states in 2004 are those where slaves were kept or Indians shot during the last 150 years."

Wow. Oh, it's on like popcorn! As The Corsair likes to get his American history freak on (go, Kurt), from time to time, we responded:

From the point of view of the mid 19th century -- post Missouri Compromise -- Kurt's argument is strong. Of the eleven states which joined the Confederacy at the election of Lincoln in 1860, only two -- marginally -- are up for grabs, namely, Arkansas and Florida, but, generally, both are generally considered "red states." I think the latest polls show both trending towards Bush.

Certainly, it is "ironic, at least, that white southerners and westerners today tend to feel less obliged to try to compensate somehow for the racist misdeeds of our collective past." Mention of any form of obligations are deftly brushed aside by the all purpose, mighty, "politically correct," a rebuff so expertly designed to make the one feel all silly and naive and liberal.

Ironic that matter, of course, in the sense that New Englanders and residents from Middle Atlantic states, resoundingly "blue states", have had, for well over 150 years, strong anti-slavery traditions in place -- Quakers, Transcendentalists (esp. Emerson) , Abolitionists, the Liberty Party, the Free Soil Party, etc -- and express a far greater sense of obligation nowadays than their Southern and Western brethren, whose far more recent past involves egregious behavior towards Native Americans and African-Americans, most recently the "anti-Native American sovereignty" obsessions of Republicans from those former pioneer states.

An interesting point re: sensible social legislation and Scandinavian immigrants to the midwest from the 19th Century to the most recent republican shift. The Lutheran church was --and still is -- strong among this group of immigrants. And while, from the 1840s to now, the Lutheran Church concentrated on issues of, say, education and social welfare from a progressive standpoint (The Elementary School Act of 1842 comes to mind), the evangelical swing to the right, affecting most of American Christians of late, I believe (IMHO), has become a major factor capitalized upon, so brilliantly, by Karl Rove.

Love him or hate him, Karl Rove has changed the shape of America in ways that we are only beginning to grasp. (How is that for even handedness?)

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