As a Southerner, I’m endlessly fascinated with the rest of the country’s apparent need to beleive that the South is some kind of horrible, regressive place that’s somehow the source of all the nation’s problems. It isn’t everyone, of course – but for a disturbingly large number of people in the US, some Southern but most otherwise, it’s a convenient fiction. It’s most obvious on race, of course – where, to hear some people tell it, racism just never happens anywhere else – but it’s certainly not limited to that.
I ran across an example today where someone (let’s call him “Norm Ornstein,” because that’s his name) intelligent enough to hold down a job as a columnist for the Atlantic, can’t do basic math so long as pointing the finger at the South is clouding his brain.
His basic complaint is that the Republicans are too partisan these days (“off the rails” is a term he employs), and somehow, this is all the South’s fault. His proof is that on key “radical” issues, more “Deep South” Republicans can be found voting in the radical way than Republicans not from the Deep South.
THe problem is that unless I’m somehow reading these numbers wrong, they don’t make the point he thinks they do – and in fact no one who took the 3seconds it would take to do some basic division would get the impression he’s getting.
Case in point:
Of the 151 GOP nay votes on the fiscal cliff, 82 came from Deep South Republicans.
So … um … about half? Half of the nay votes came from Southerners, and that’s somehow proof that the South sunk this thing? Well, to evaluate that, we’d have to know about the makeup of the House, but that’s easily achieved. At the time of writing, there appear to be 110 southern Republican Representatives and 119 non-southern ones. So, 82 out of 110 southerners – 75% – voted “nay” on the fiscal cliff, and 69 out of 119 – 58% of non-southerners did likewise. Um … ok … well, I guess the southerners voted nay more than the rest, but gee, nearly 60% of the rest voted against it too? So, what then? The argument is that if a solid majority of a group votes in favor of something the author objects to, then that’s no big deal, as long as it’s not a somewhat-more-solid majority?
Of the 67 nay votes on Sandy, 31 came from Southerners.
Again, 31 out of 110 southerners – 28% – voted against emergency funding for Hurrican Sandy, and 36 out of 119 non-southerners – 30% – did likewise. This time it’s just shameless: the fact that a smaller percentage of southerners than non-southerners voted in the “radical” way is somehow meant to signify that southerners are more radical. Mmmmmmmmkay.
He’s not even done:
And of the 138 Republican nay votes on VAWA [Violence Against Women Act], 79 came from Southerners.
79/110 (72%) southern, 59/119 (50%) non-southern. Well, alright, this one might maybe count as a point in favor of his thesis, but it’s still not all that striking.
So, to tally up, we’ve cherry-picked three supposedly “radical” votes as our benchmark, and shown that in exactly one of these three cases there’s a passably convincing trend of southerners outvoting non-southerners in the “wrong” way. When only a third of the evidence that you yourself cherry-picked actually supports your thesis on closer examination, you’re shootin’ blanks, mate.
So, Norm Orenstein can take his ill-supported but definitely bigoted theory and shove it right back up his ass where it came from.
What’s sad about it is that he won’t have to. If he’d run some numbers like this about minority Representatives, or female Representatives, it would of course be a wholly different story. Assuming the editor even let it go to “print,” there’d be a shitstorm as people went over every claim with a fine-toothed comb. But southerners, as everyone knows, are fair game in the national media. You can say anything about them you want, no matter how negative, and your numbers – if you can even be bothered to provide them (and Orenstein doesn’t for his other points that “Southerners say stupider things on average.” No really – read the original for yourself.) – don’t even have to check out. Awesome.