Sunday, February 15, 2009

Into Deep Red Territory

There's a lot of talk about the Republican Party becoming a regional party based in the South.

But it's actually worse than that.

The Republicans don't dominate any region the way that the Democrats dominate New England, the Middle Atlantic States, or the industrial Midwest. The GOP is strong in the Great Plains wheat belt where it's tough to see a Democratic presidential candidate doing well in Oklahoma, Kansas, or South Dakota. But McCain lost the Omaha electoral vote in Nebraska and came close to losing North Dakota. The Republicans are also losing ground in the Mountain States where Idaho and Utah are still safe states, but Colorado and Montana went for Obama.

The Republicans are strongest in the Old Confederate states, but are far from being dominant over the whole South. Obama won Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, and Georgia was in toss-up status almost until the end. That means that South Carolina was the only safe state for the Republicans in what might be called the "Atlantic South."

Where the Republicans really dominate is in the "Deep, Deep" Southern sub-region of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana where the hangover from the segregation era is still strong.

Perhaps one idea of the strength of the "segregation hangover" comes from reports (via the African-American Political Pundit) on the death of Billey Joe Johnson, a highly recruited football player.

Johnson, age 17, died from a shotgun wound at a traffic stop by local police officers outside the town of Lucedale in George County, Mississippi on Dec. 8, 2008. The police claim that Johnson shot himself while the police officer was returning to his car to run a license check.

The George County Sheriff’s Department claims that on that fateful morning, Billey Joe attempted to break into the home of an on-again, off-again girlfriend in the nearby city of Lucedale. According to the sheriff’s department, he left the scene and ran a red light at 5:34 a.m. After a 1½-mile pursuit, Billey Joe got out of his truck, met sheriff’s deputy Joe Sullivan and handed over his license. Then Billey Joe returned to his truck, put a 12-gauge shotgun he used to target deer to his head and committed suicide. It was 5:40 a.m.
Perhaps the police story will eventually pan out after all the investigations. But it doesn't look like there's any more chance of Billey Joe Johnson committing suicide than there was of Steve Biko bashing his head against the wall in his prison cell in South Africa.

Certainly Johnson's father doesn't buy the story and he's keeping the truck his son was driving in the hope that it will provide evidence--“They must have tortured my baby,” he says.

Neither is the NAACP which claims to have determined that the death was not suicide.

Oh yeah, Johnson's girlfriend was white.

According to one of Johnson's friends, there was some racial hostility over Johnson's relationship.

“It’s George County, it’s a little Southern town,” said Bradley, who is white. “You’ve got a bunch of racist people down here. You have people who hated on them because it was black and white.”
It's not just that George County is racist, it's the likelihood of that racism exploding into official murder when a young black man crosses many of the lines bounding in his behavior within a white supremacist community.

This is the kind of place where the Republicans domination has retreated as the Republicans are increasingly driven out of the cities and suburbs. McCain beat Obama 82.5 to 16.4 in George County. McCain had huge margins in nearby counties as well.

In "Deep, Deep South" areas like George County, Republican politics is closely connected to racial oppression. One of my brothers-in-law lives in Breau Bridge, LA along the Gulf Coast and claimed that whites there maintained such a climate of fear that there wasn't a single Obama sign in town even though almost half the population was black.

It will be interesting to see if anything comes up in the state investigations.

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