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Op-Ed : The New and Old South | Batavick

Frank J. Batavick | CNBNewsnet

It was a little over 150 years ago on April 7 that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court UnknownHouse in Virginia, marking the end of the Civil War. We have just about closed the book on our nation’s Civil War sesquicentennial. But has the war ever really ended?

It is not difficult to answer this somewhat rhetorical question. There are too many symbolic and actual instances of the South’s refusal to concede defeat, from Confederate flags in yards and on license plates to objections to the Affordable Health Care Act on the basis of states’ rights.

Look at any map of the U.S. showing those states whose legislators have agreed to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion or sue Obama over his immigration policies and, with a few exceptions, you will see a map of the old Confederacy.

Likewise, look at any U.S. map that shows the 22 states that have passed new voting restrictions and, with some exceptions, you’ll see the Old South rising again. These states comprise 57 percent of the nation’s black population and, with picture ID requirements, the rolling back of days for early voting, and the cancellation of Sunday voting, are obviously trying to dampen minority turnout in the spirit of Jim Crow. Lastly, look at any map that shows the red and blue states, and you might as well roll the clock back 150 years.

In the old South, a small percent of the population— plantation owners and related businessmen— controlled most of the wealth and criticized big government for its tariff policies and opposition to slavery. In the new South, the majority party supports a tax schedule that serves the wealthiest 1% and criticizes big government for passing too many regulations.

The 2008 election delivered about 40% of the white male vote to Obama, but among Southern and Middle America white male voters, Obama was little more than a cypher. It was the black vote that made the difference in those states.

The level of animosity against our nation’s first black president is yet another echo of the rebel yell. Baseless charges concerning his patriotism, religious beliefs, citizenship, and pursuit of Marxist policies still persist after almost eight years. Too, certain factions in Congress have threatened Obama with impeachment numerous times over issues ranging from Benghazi to post–Sandy Hook gun laws.

Then there is the Tea Party, a phenomenon that sprang up like magic mushrooms after Obama’s first election. Who can forget the early rallies and the racist signs and tee shirts portraying the president as a witch doctor or a monkey? There was little push-back by Southern leadership. When asked about the Tea Party’s overt racism by CNN, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell replied “I am not interested in getting into that debate.”

McConnell has helped lead the charge against granting Washington, DC a voting seat in the House of Representatives, thus denying a voice to the district’s more than 330,000 African Americans.

Of course, secession from the union was what the Civil War was all about. In 2009 then Governor Rick Perry stated, “Texas is a unique place. When we came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that… But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people…who knows what may come out of that?” Perry later said that he wasn’t seriously suggesting secession, but such words from a Northern Democrat would have been quickly branded as seditious by the conservative media.

The list goes on: the reprehensible civil rights abuses of the Ferguson, Missouri police department; the frequent threats of government shut-downs emanating from southerners Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsay Graham over issues of federalism; Steve Scalise’s (R-LA) speaking at an international white supremacist convention in 2002; and the sparse participation of GOP leadership and southern members of Congress in activities marking the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma on March 7, 2015.

To those still sympathizing with the stars and bars of the old Confederacy, it might be helpful to offer some advice in the form of a variation on George Santayana’s famous saying. "Those who adhere to the past are condemned to repeat it."

Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ.  He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.