WHISTLING DIXIE

Minneapolis

I admire the spirit of Bob Moser’s impassioned “A New Southern Strategy” [Nov. 27], saying that Democrats should not write off the South in future elections, and I hope he is eventually proven correct. But I fear that his plea is premature, based on this year’s evidence. The South is the only section of the country where the Democrats did not pick up significant gains in House races. Indeed, a winning strategy for Democrats in 2008 might be to say that the Republicans are becoming a regional party, out of touch with voters in the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Coast and, increasingly, the Mountain West.

Moser’s good news from the South is based on Democratic Senate victories in Missouri and Virginia. But Missouri is actually a Midwestern state, with its more Dixie-accented southern counties voting red in the Senate race. In Virginia, the overwhelming margin in a razor-thin victory came from the DC suburbs, which are much more East Coast than Dixie.

For years the Democratic Leadership Council and other conservatives have warned Democrats that they must water down their progressive ideas if they want to win in the South. That has meant dampening the enthusiasm of many working-class, minority and progressive voters elsewhere, whose indifference has hurt the party more than conservative Southern Democrats have helped it.

The hopeful sign this year is that Democrats can win without Deep South white voters. In 2008 they should concentrate on shoring up their support in the rest of the country. Florida and Virginia, with substantial populations of Northerners, should also be targeted, along with hurricane-racked Louisiana and populist-friendly Arkansas. But it’s still too early to place much hope on winning over the rest of the South. Maybe in 2010.

JAY WALLJASPER


Kansas City, Mo.

Bob Moser writes that “in the Bible Belt Ozarks of southern Missouri, [Senator-elect Claire] McCaskill emphasized her blue-collar message without running away from her progressive positions.” True, but Moser leaves the impression that Ozarkers actually voted for McCaskill. In fact, the Senator-elect didn’t come vaguely close to winning a single Ozarks county, where her vote percentages ranged from 25.2 percent (Barton County) to 42.6 percent (Greene County, home of two secular universities and a relative bastion of enlightenment). In booming, aptly named Christian County, McCaskill drew a mere 35.3 percent. Was she honest? Sure. But that hardly helped her in the benighted Missouri Ozarks, which in 2006 (as always) voted more like Tom Frank’s Kansas than did Kansas itself.

DAVID DUNLAP


MOSER REPLIES

New York City

While my story focused on the significance of Democratic Senate victories over incumbent Republicans in Missouri and Virginia, Democrats also took five Republican US House seats in Dixie and came within whiskers of capturing two more. Jay Walljasper doesn’t count that as “significant.” But it’s not too shabby when you consider that Democrats targeted fewer races in the South than anywhere else.

As I will argue at length in these pages in a future issue, Walljasper’s notion of a uniformly conservative South where Democrats can’t compete without watering down their “progressive ideas” is simply false. His suggestion that Democrats in 2008 should “say that the Republicans are becoming a regional party”–i.e., a Southern party–as a campaign tactic is a disturbing echo of Tom Schaller’s argument, in Whistling Past Dixie, that Democrats should not only steer clear of the South in 2008 but should run against the South as a way of whipping up resentment against conservative Republicanism. Morally and strategically, such a “non-Southern strategy” would be a disaster. Democrats would be the party of national division; at the same time they would further alienate a region that is projected to contain 40 percent of the US population (read: electoral votes) by the 2032 elections. And whatever Walljasper thinks, a party that demonizes the South will not have a prayer of picking off Southern “border states” like Virginia, Arkansas or Louisiana–or Kansas, for that matter.

As for Missouri, there are few debates of longer standing than whether that culturally divided state is “really” Southern or Midwestern. But I think we can all agree that the Bible Belt of southern Missouri is as Dixie as it gets. David Dunlap is correct that Senator-elect McCaskill didn’t win the Ozarks. My point was that, like Jim Webb in Virginia, McCaskill took her message of economic populism directly into the “reddest” parts of her state and purloined enough votes in Missouri’s Republican stronghold to put her over the top statewide. In Greene County, for instance, McCaskill did five points better than in her previous statewide race–while Republican Jim Talent did five points worse. McCaskill credits her victory to her success in cutting into Talent’s vote (along with Rush Limbaugh’s Michael J. Fox impersonation). I take her word for that.

BOB MOSER


THANK A CONSERVATIVE TODAY

Burke, Va.

Wrong, wrong, wrong–“It’s Over For Bush” [Nov. 27]. The Dems who won ran as conservatives. You think Heath Shuler is in your camp? Ya think Jim Webb is in your camp? Where’s Senator Lamont? Oh, yeah–he got stomped by the pro-strong-defense Lieberman. The facts are not on your side.

MIKE LONG


Manlius, NY

I am a registered Republican (leaning independent) who voted for a Democratic House and Senate. Why? Because (1) neoconservatism is absolute insanity; (2) the Iraq War is destabilizing and inflaming (rightfully) the world against us; (3) 1 and 2 trumped everything else; (4) “W” and President Cheney deserved a thumpin’.

Maureen Dowd said it very well on Meet the Press–41’s team has to reprogram the brainwashed 43 from the neocon cult. It was the independents and thinking conservatives who voted against W, and they deserve the credit for the midterm election. You would be wise to recognize that we didn’t vote against Alito and Roberts or for illegal amnesty and guest-worker programs, transvestism or NAMBLA. If you interpret this as a mandate for the liberal agenda, you could be back outside looking in in 2008.

TONY SKLANEY


LEARNINGS FOR GLORIOUS NATION

Philadelphia

In “The Tao of Borat” [Nov. 20] Richard Goldstein misunderstands Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy in both the Borat movie and Da Ali G Show. I don’t believe “a joy of bigotry” is as much a part of the allure as Goldstein suggests. In the theater where I saw Borat, the audience alternated between laughing at the satirical parts and gasping at the sections where Baron Cohen coaxes people into revealing their darker prejudices. At the heart of his comedy is a satire of provincialism–in the villages of Eastern Europe and in small-town middle America. In both cases racism and anti-Semitism are still alive, well and highly deserving of critique. On top of this Baron Cohen adds another layer focusing on Americans’ general ignorance of life in Eastern Europe. Obviously no journalist, even a bumpkin from “Kazakhstan,” would openly advocate killing “the Jew” or buying a 12-year-old wife with a tight “vageena” to push his plow. The revelation and skewering of all of the above is what make the Borat shtick so pointed, so successful and, at its heart, progressive.

CHRIS VECCHIO


Minneapolis

Baron Cohen plays the Shakespearean fool, the noble savage, the village idiot. The perception of his naïveté or primitiveness allows him to lull the objects of his satire into a sense of security. When Borat (easily) got the frat boys to say slavery would be good and that minorities have all the power in our country, there was no laughter in the audience when I saw the movie, but rather a collective gasp.

Like alcohol bringing Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic ranting to the surface, Borat is the alcohol that elicits not very deeply buried prejudices in the people who share the screen with him.

SARA HURLEY


GOLDSTEIN REPLIES

New York City

The joy of Borat is feeling superior to the butt of his jokes. When the target is a benighted American, you get one kind of pleasure. But in this put-on everyone is the butt, including Borat himself. A hapless Central Asian visitor, he reeks of stereotype, and to the extent that these racial and religious signifiers are funny, part of the thrill is the forbidden frisson of bigotry. That’s the power of Sacha Baron Cohen’s art (when he chooses to engage it). He’s in the tummler tradition of Philip Roth, and in this school of mordant comedy the sources of embarrassment are multiple and complex.

RICHARD GOLDSTEIN


IMMIGRATION BLUES

Borrego Springs, Calif.

I’m a German socialist, I have lived for seven years in this country, legally–and I read The Nation. I had to go to the US Embassy in Frankfurt to a special American doctor to be checked for my health before coming here. I couldn’t have AIDS, a chronic illness, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure and so on. The medical examination took more than two hours. You can’t get US residency unless you are totally healthy. Maybe you can understand that I’m very angry when I read that you see no difference between legal and illegal immigrants [“Letters,” Dec. 4]. What are the laws for? It is mocking all legal immigrants in this country. Who is checking the health of illegal immigrants–bird flu, AIDS, the new aggressive form of TB? In Germany nothing like this could happen, because we believe in the law. A country that gives up its laws ends in anarchy, and we all know what that means.

PETER MYRDAL


San Jose, Calif.

This is not so much immigration as it is colonization. The majority of the Mexicans coming across our southern border illegally today believe that much of the Southern United States belongs to Mexico. I have read this in Mexican-language publications, and I have seen it on banners during demonstrations. My grandmother came across that border and became an American citizen because she believed in this country and wanted to escape the hell that Mexico was for poor women. The last thing she would have wanted was to see her beloved San Francisco become like Mexico.

I live in an area with a lot of immigrants, some legal and some not. Those who come here legally follow our laws and try to become part of our country while retaining their cultural values and identities. However, many of those who come here illegally do not follow our laws, for the most part, and the last thing they want is to become part of this country. They want to take what they can get and return to Mexico. Not all illegal immigrants are noble people trying to find a better life; some are just looking for a way to take advantage of Americans’ openness and generosity of spirit. They also play on your liberal guilt.

The truth is, Mexico had the same advantages of climate and natural resources as did California. California became the seventh-largest economy in the world. Mexico is an economic basket case.

DAVID HOVGAARD


DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARTIES!

Belfast, Me.

Why is it not glaringly obvious to The Nation that the three female politicians in the December 4 cover cartoon have all been sexualized (with prominent cleavage) but that not one of the nine male politicians has been portrayed sexually? Do you not recognize this as sexism?

SARA SHUTE


Buffalo, NY

Dismayed, this white subscriber wonders what African-Americans will make of the December 4 cover cartoon depicting triumphant Democratic politicos’ victory party. Of eleven Dems, ten of whom are shown playing musical instruments, there are two blacks. Charlie Rangel is the only figure not assigned an instrument; he just dances with an abandon that raises uncomfortable echoes of Bojangles. Meanwhile, Barack Obama rates an instrument, but the most trivial one of all: a triangle, which he strikes while displaying a glassy stare and gap-mouthed grin reminiscent of Stepin Fetchit.

TOM FLYNN

An unscientific poll of the staff on this matter drew these observations: “Oy vey, to me, party time involves cleavage”; “if only I had a cleavage!”; “they do look rather breast-implanted–the cake looks good, though”; “one of the guys was depicted with a beard and another has a mustache–secondary sex characteristics–I think we’re in the clear”; “that bagpipe looks pretty phallic to me”; “I thought the triangle symbolized that he’s a triangulator, in the Clinton tradition”; “Bernie Sanders only got a whistle–is he going to cancel his subscription?”; “Uh-oh, there’s champagne and a big cake–full of transfats, no doubt–prepare for denunciations from AA, OA and Mayor Bloomberg!”   –The Editors