Where We Stand: Voices of Southern Dissent
I found this article about a book, and was wondering if anybody had read it and if it was any good, or just the usual Yankee political crap.
Where We Stand: Voices of Southern Dissent
B Y J O N E L L I S T O N
Edited by Anthony Dunbar
NewSouth Books, 234 pp., $24.95
Can you imagine a president of the United States asserting that "the greatest challenge facing the world" is "the growing chasm between rich and poor people," and that "extreme inequality is a moral issue" that the nation must address? Or offering this bit of critical thinking on foreign affairs: "Despite our superpower status, we should not expect to impose our values on others with the force of arms. … Being a superpower does not guarantee super wisdom."
If you can’t, then pick up a copy of Where We Stand: Voices of Southern Dissent. This newly published collection of 12 essays features a foreword from former President Jimmy Carter in which he writes these very words. Professing a deep concern for the present state of the nation–as he did in a short but moving speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston–Carter joins some of the South’s leading progressive activists, attorneys, thinkers and writers in calling for a sea of change in Washington.
Though it’s sharply critical of the White House from start to finish, Where We Stand is not a broadside in the style of the plethora of Bush-bashing books now gracing the shelves. Instead, it’s a collection of detailed, probing and thoughtful analyses, one that offers a distinctly Southern perspective on how to put the country back on course.
Of course, we Southerners, whatever our political stripe, rarely find ourselves in unanimous agreement about policy matters. Accordingly, this is also a wide-ranging critique, put forth by authors who don’t present any one fix for the crisis at hand, outside of a turnover in the Oval Office. In his chapter, "The Southernization of American Politics," John Egerton, the author of several books on Southern political culture, suggests that the contributors share at least one theme, presented in the form of a declaration: "This is where I stand as one Southerner, one American, one voice in opposition to the materialistic, militaristic, ideologically driven nation we seem hell-bent on becoming."
Two Triangle-based contributors also add their voices to the opposition. Gene Nichol, dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, reports in a chapter called "Ignoring Inequality" that North Carolina, like many Southern states, has seen its fortunes decline as a result of federal policies that favor the rich. "Our median family income is now almost $5,000 below the national average," and "about one in seven Tar Heels live below the poverty line," he notes in a grim review of a recent U.S. Census Bureau report on income and poverty. "Local newspapers gave the poverty report fairly prominent play," he says. "But, as usual, it was a one-day story. No expressions of outrage appeared. No emergency proposals followed. The Congress stood mute. The Executive branch was unmoved."
To let such inequalities go on unchecked is costing our nation dearly, Nichol argues. "The growing, silent marriage of privilege and privation mocks the American commitment to constitutional democracy. We ignore it at the cost of our national mission. We look past it at the cost of our best selves."
Dan Pollitt, the veteran civil rights attorney and UNC law professor, explores in depth another mounting threat to democracy. His 26-page chapter on "Civil Liberties in a Time of Crisis" is a solid primer on the PATRIOT Act and other counterterrorism laws that have imperiled essential rights of expression, assembly and freedom from government surveillance. He notes that resistance to these measures has come from several quarters, including liberals, libertarians and conservatives. One Southern tradition, then–that of opposing federal restrictions on basic liberties–may prove crucial in our modern-day showdown over these issues.
Overall, the authors remind us, again and again, that the progressive strain in Southern politics is still vibrant, though it remains enmeshed in our long-standing dilemmas over issues of race, religion, economic inequality, regionalism and nationalism. Consequently, harnessing the South’s progressive energies in an effective way will prove as difficult–and as important–as ever come the November 2004 elections. "Beating ‘these people’ (to use Robert E. Lee’s phrase) will be a tremendous challenge," Egerton writes, but "there can be no peaceable regime change in Washington without a strong assist from progressive Southerners."