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Two Weeks at the Heart of the Republican Base

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Two weeks ago I returned from visiting my family in the Mississippi Delta. My youngest son and I went to my uncle‘s funeral. His ashes were to be buried in the cemetery that contains the graves of my family going back to my great-great-grandmother (or was it three ‘greats’?) who was born in the first half of the 19th century. I dug the hole that would serve as my uncle’s grave close to my grandparents’ graves, and I led the prayer for the nine of us who came to the burial. Nine people attending a funeral in a cemetery bordered by a church and corn and soybean fields, in the Delta’s summer heat and humidity, the musical accompaniment courtesy of the cicadas rubbing their legs together. Not bad, not bad at all.

After the funeral we all came back to the house, and I barbecued some pork and beef ribs for those who came with us. My youngest son listened as my older brother and I talked with one of the attendees, a woman who was a distant cousin, and who, along with her husband, is a community leader. My youngest son later asked me why we were all talking about corn and other crops with such enthusiasm; after all, he’s a young scion of what I refer to as the Age of Wonders, the days of the Internet, cell phones, stem cells, practical applications of quantum physics, and miracle drugs.  As I listened to my son (who thought the whole discussion was silly; pointless in the modern world), I couldn’t help but be reminded of a scene in the movie, Deliverance, in which Burt Reynolds and his sole surviving friend are at a dinner table with some locals, and two old women are discussing just how big their cucumbers and squash were in the past season. I told my son that just as grown folks in industrial areas will often talk about what they see as the finer points of industry, those who make their livelihoods in farming communities will talk about the fruits of the soil.

But while the woman and my brother and I were talking, I could see the conversation going in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with, so I told my son that if he wanted he could go play on the Playstation, and he happily complied. I did so because the woman was starting to talk about her opinions of blacks, and while I wasn’t afraid of her influencing my son in any way, I was certainly concerned that he might speak up against her. After all, a dinner after a funeral was no place for a political discussion. My brother watched me as I politely listened and struggled to keep a sincere smile on my face. He knows my political leanings and my opinion of racism, and he had to be laughing to himself about it.

This was – is — the Delta. Things are much the same as before: poverty, lack of education, racism simmering but never quite coming to a rolling boil,  but I’m happy to report that there are some reasons for hope.

As I’ve said before, I’m a contrarian – how else can I refer to myself? I am a white man, strong Christian, retired military, raised virtually next door to ground zero for white racism, yet I am quite liberal. That fact doesn’t sit well with my family, and we’ve never had a visit where there wasn’t a lively discussion of politics. My brother is as strong a libertarian politically as I am a liberal: every day after work he’s got to have his hour with Bill O’Reilly, but at least he agrees that Limbaugh and Hannity are idiots. During the requisite political debate, my brother said how little we "really know" about Obama, how the media was so much kinder to Obama than to McCain, how the media paid "every bit as much attention" to McCain’s allegiance with Reverends Hagee and Parsley as to Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright, and quite a bit more. There’s no need to argue these points again, these horses are dead, but I stood my ground, of course; all the while wondering how it could be that my highly intelligent brother could have been so easily drawn in by these false Republican talking points.

About Glenn Contrarian

White. Male. Raised in the deepest of the Deep South. Retired Navy. Strong Christian. Proud Liberal. Thus, Contrarian!
  • Clavos

    Check #78 – Hawaii is what we were talking about…perhaps you didn’t get the ‘HI’ reference, which is the two-letter postal symbol for Hawaii.

    Thank you, Glenn, I’m so glad you’re here to enlighten me and help me overcome my abject Third World ignorance.

    My point was and is that I said nothing about HI directly, so your comment was misdirected to me, though perhaps you were too eager to condescend and didn’t notice that.

  • Clavos

    “And the other 15%? What do they do? Murder/suicide?”

    Remember this question the next time you call me on logic or assumptions.

    Remember that exchange the next time someone employs irony or sarcasm to you — print it out and keep it in your wallet for future reference.

  • Clavos

    Yes, he is, Mark.

    But he has acquired friends in high places (and a lawyer) and is vigorously fighting to be free.

    Third World country.

    BTW, I keep forgetting to ask you: have you heard about the widespread horse killings here in SoFla? The police say that it’s being done to sell the meat on the black market. Here’s a video from the Miami Herald.

  • Mark

    What with hurricanes, bugs and hungry people it doesn’t pay to be a horse in Florida.

  • Cindy

    They have bugs in Florida?!

  • STM

    Glenn: “Huon Valley not far from Hobart.”

    Hobart is my favourite city, anywhere. I love the Huon Valley too, but I prefer the countryside going the other way heading north towards Launceston.

    My favourite picnic spot, anywhere: a summer field, requiring a clamber over a stile, within waliing distance of the convict-built stone bridge at Ross (1820s).

    Second-prize, down on the grassy bank of the river at the other stone bridge at Richmond.

    I used to fly down there for long weekends.

    It’s worth it. How come you were down this way Glenn??

  • STM

    Clav: “not one of them could be a member of the G8.”

    And long may it stay that way :)

  • Cindy

    p.s. to Clav,

    We are buying next year. House up for sale in the spring. We had a narrowly missed foreclosure ‘opportunity’ which would have taken place on Oct 2. I imagined a man coming over and saying ‘get out’ I won your house in the Capitalist lottery–sorry you couldn’t come up with the back taxes.

    We came up with the back taxes. No reason to press our luck and get behind again. Besides imagine what one could do with $11k if one didn’t have to hand it over to the local govt to pay for new cop cruisers–which they need so they can be comfy while they are sitting around waiting for someone to speed.

    Meanwhile, I went to the library and the inter-library book satchels are 2 high and 8 feet long. There are carts and carts of books everywhere because they laid of 6 people. My road still isn’t fixed and we are now told gypsy moths are to be part of our natural environment–get used to it. Most of my tax money goes to indoctrinate children anyway. (I don’t have any children so I think it’s a bit commie to expect me to pay for the indoctrination for everyone else’s. Socialist bastards.)

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos -

    If you don’t want me to ‘lecture and enlighten’ you on third world countries, then don’t post as if you’re ignorant of them.

    Just because one is from a third-world country doesn’t mean they have an appreciation of all third-world countries…nor does it mean that you automatically are an authority on life in third-world countries. It only means you have a greater likelihood of such…but that’s all.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    STM -

    It was a couple of port visits I made on the USS Abraham Lincoln a decade or so ago. On my last one I took leave (it was to be my last overseas port before I retired), rented a car, drove to my heart’s content, and fell in love with the place.

    If you get a chance, there’s a cave where the park rangers give walking tours – the outside isn’t much, the inside is small but very nice…but the park ranger leading us was a woman who had a wonderful voice, and between her voice and the acoustics of the cave…friend, it’ll bring tears to your eyes.

  • Val MacEwan

    I’ve lived in the rural south most of my life. My parents, both college graduates from the 1930s, had a difficult time transitioning from Cincinnati to rural farmland but did so in the 1960s as Dad was hired as labor negotiator for major appliance manufacturer. I briefly taught in a private school that was founded in 1968 to combat desegregation (but I wasn’t aware of this at the time I joined the staff). You pretty much wrote what I would write — and I think this is a truly well-written article. Thoughtful, thought-provoking… good work.

    Food for thought – I live in rural NC, town of +/- 12K, our violence and crime comes, for the most part, from people who’ve moved here from northern cities. Families send their teenage children here to live with aunts, uncles and grandparents – to get away from inner-city violence and drugs. Instead, they bring the violence here and teach our children how to form gangs and fight. They teach a new bigotry and morbid racial strife. And the drug traffic? Unreal. Rural areas don’t have the manpower to stop the pipeline, so drugs start here from the ICW and move westward toward Charlotte. Fishermen no longer catch flounder – there’s too much money in drugs. (generalized statement, of course it isn’t true for all fishermen, let me be clear… lest some take offense)

    These are the facts for my personal geography. I worked for the local police dept for years and also at nearby university in demographic research while in graduate school.

  • STM

    Did you get to the Big Smoke Glenn …. to Sydney?

    Not the natural beauty of Tassie or Hobart, but I think – and so do most of my countrymen – it has the world’s most beautiful harbour (although Istanbul and Porto up the river a bit might be its equal).

    As Doc describes it, “Do you mind if we build a city around this amazing harbour and we’ll try not to intrude too much”.

    Or something like that.

    I have been to San Francisco a few times and it kind of reminded me of Sydney a bit. To the point where I used to forget where I was sometimes until I realised everyone was speaking with a strange accent and driving on the wrong side of the road.

    Cheers mate. Glad you liked Tassie. You’re not alone. Enjoyed your story too.

  • Clavos

    Just because one is from a third-world country doesn’t mean they have an appreciation of all third-world countries

    Well, you’re right about that, I don’t have much “appreciation” of Third World countries, and I’ve traveled (and worked) all over Latin America and parts of Asia, as well as parts of Africa.

    Third wold countries for the most part are mired in grinding poverty and hopelessness for the underclasses, while their ruling classes’ existence is often unequaled in its lavish wealth and power, even in the First World.

    Not an admirable societal model.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos -

    Well, gee whiz, if you’re against having such a gap between the ultra-wealthy and grinding poverty, then you should have been greatly alarmed at how the Reagan tax cuts for the wealthy initiated the present gap between America’s ultra-wealthy and joe everyman.

    America’s middle class was strongest during the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, when our top marginal tax rate was much higher than it is now. Then Reagan comes in and declares, “Government’s the problem!” – and what happened? A ballooning deficit, our industry fleeing overseas, and the wealthy padding their pockets rather than reinvesting their money into those industries.

    Ah, but I forget – if the American conservatives do it, then it’s okay, but if it’s a third-world robber baron, well, THAT’s just not kosher, is it?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    STM -

    Thanks – I appreciate the compliment.

    Never been to Sydney – only to Perth (three times) and Tasmania (twice). I’d love to go to Sydney to see it – heck, I’d like to emigrate there – but my financial adviser said no way…and she usually gets her way.

    Besides, I suspect she’s somewhat intimidated by the idea (in her mind only) that she’d be competing for me against all the women in Australia, and that they all look like Nicole Kidman.

    But crossing the Outback (in a Land Rover, not on foot) is still high on my to-do-while-I’m-still-alive list.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Val -

    Thanks – and I can’t argue with what you said about the flow of the drugs from the inner city to the rural South.

    When I grew up there, I saw marijuana only once…but I know drugs are much more of a problem now than before.

  • handyguy

    By the way, Florida lost population during the past year, for the first time in a long time.

  • Clavos

    You’re right, handy, and I hope it keeps up, the state’s been overcrowded (particularly here on the tip) for years.

  • Clavos

    Well, gee whiz, if you’re against having such a gap between the ultra-wealthy and grinding poverty…

    Actually, I’m not. I only pointed it out to illustrate what makes those countries Third World; I don’t really care of they are, I don’t have to live in any of them.

    There is no similarity whatever between poverty in the US and poverty in the Third World. You of all people should know that.

    And, unlike any Third World country, our middle class is the largest class (in population) in the land, and includes people of all races and from all backgrounds, including plenty of people actually born elsewhere, as we have here in Miami, where 51% of the population was born in another country.

  • Andy Marsh

    I corss the Outback all the time…only because they insist on seating me so far away from the bathroom!

  • Dr Dreadful

    But crossing the Outback (in a Land Rover, not on foot) is still high on my to-do-while-I’m-still-alive list.

    Prepare BLOODY well first, or it’ll be the last thing on the list you ever do… :-)

    Andy: LOL. Stan may need that one explained… although they do have locations in some peculiar places. I know for a fact that there’s one in Rio de Janeiro – and I’ve heard that there may even be a couple in Australia. One can only wonder what they make of it Down Under…

  • Dr Dreadful

    …plenty of people actually born elsewhere, as we have here in Miami, where 51% of the population was born in another country.

    The United States?


  • STM

    Doc: “One can only wonder what they make of it Down Under…”

    They think it’s hilarioous. But since they also have a soft spot for Americans, they easily forgive their considerable eccentricities :) Next time I go to the US I want to try the Outback’s “Bloomin’ Onion”.

    Glenn, I went to Perth last year, but hadn’t been there since the early ’80s. In 1981 I flew on the first regular non-stop Sydney-Perth flight. Everything used to go via Adelaide previously, so it was a big deal and the airline gave me a seat to write it up. I met a girl there and had a great time.

    However, it’s really changed. It’s grown considerably, although it still feels a bit like a small city to me.

    They had a round of the Red Bull Air Race there and I had to get a cab from my hotel down into South Perth. The cab driver said to me, “Mate, the traffic’s really bad, I don’t know how long it’ll take. It’s like peak-hour (rush-hour) today.”

    So we’re driving along, and it’s like a Sunday afternoon. I thought, OK, maybe it’s crowded on the freeway. But when we get on that the cars are all four lengths apart and going at 100km/h.

    I had a giggle and said, “Your idea of heavy traffic and mine are obviously two different things”.

    “Oh,” he says, “You from Sydney or Melbourne are ya?”

    Later on I caught the train down to Fremantle and then had a wander around the beachside suburbs too. Pretty nice, and some expensive real estate.

    Would be a nice place to live but it’s a bit too isolated for me although I have a couple of mates who shifted there who have done very, very well for themselves.

    Still dreaming of shifting to Hobart, but my wife’s from Queensland and doesn’t like the cold winter weather in Tassie.

    Her idea of “nice” is 40C, humid and roasting, even in the shade.