The Irony of the Solid South: Democrats, Republicans, and Race, 1865-1944. By Glenn Feldman. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2013.
As a work of history, this book is mostly fine scholarship. It is long, detailed, and thoroughly documented. Unfortunately, the author does not stop with writing history but adds personal, highly biased, and condescending political opinions about the current voting tendencies of “plain-folk Christians” (308) of the South. His thesis is that multiple ironies can be seen in white southern voters maintaining allegiance to an ideology (conservatism) since 1944 rather than to a party (Democrat). Although his case is nuanced, the gist of it is that white southerners have always suffered from a “cultural pathology” (309) in which they lump racial, religious, and economic issues together and vote as a bloc for whichever party is the most conservative on them; the fact that they still vote as bloc today, albeit now as Republicans, proves that they are still just as racist, theologically misguided, and otherwise backward as their forefathers.
One of several troubling accusations the author makes is that white southern Christian conservatives today practice “the New Racism” (407), which is really just the same old racism in a new package. His evidence is mainly that they despise Barak Obama. He conveniently ignores the fact that most of these voters would gladly support a conservative black president, such as a Herman Cain or a Ben Carson.
On economics and religion, the author displays intellectual arrogance and biblical ignorance by claiming that the GOP’s fiscal conservatism is “embarrassingly difficult to reconcile with the New Testament message of Jesus Christ.” (308) He goes on to lament how “unquestionably maddening” (309) it is to watch poor white southerners vote against their own material interests in every federal election. He thus implies that a fiscally responsible federal government is un-Christian, but growing the national debt and unfunded liabilities to unsustainable levels is morally right, since, after all, a lot of that money goes to help the poor.
The author takes cheap shots at those with whom he disagrees, describing, for instance, the Tea Party as “Frankensteinian,” (236) calling Texas Congressman Ron Paul a hypocrite for his stance on Social Security, and labeling Christian historian, David Barton, a “quack” for heading up “the United States-as-a-Christian Nation School” and allegedly making statements of “praise for slavery.” (330) These are half-truths at best and gross distortions and mischaracterizations at worst.
The material presented in the first 290 pages, which covers the years 1865-1944, does not support the conclusions reached in the last 21 pages (the Epilogue) about the reasons for the current voting behavior of white southern conservative Christians. That, along with the frankly insulting tone the author takes in describing this group, detracts from the quality of what otherwise would have been an excellent history book.
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