Reading coverage of Wilsongate (Hecklegate?) and other recent coverage of conservative Southern politicians, it seems that articles like "What's the Matter With South Carolina" in Politico, or the New York Times piece about how the brothel-visiting Louisiana senator David Vitter manages to remain popular in Louisiana, "Obama Factors Plays to Vitter Advantage," are ignoring what strikes me as an obvious answer to the question they raise.
Why is it that Rep. Joe Wilson, a former aide to segregationist Strom Thurmond, literally can't contain his rage, when President Obama discusses health care? Why is that South Carolina seems to be a particularly fevered hotbed of resentment/anger toward President Obama? Why is it that in Louisiana a senator like David Vitter can remain politically viable by running hard against Obama and painting an opponent as an Obama supporter? In states with high unemployment (South Carolina) and low rates of insurance coverage (Louisiana), why is there so much hostility to things like the stimulus and the expansion of health insurance? After all, when President Bush created an incredibly expensive new prescription-drug entitlement and ran up huge deficits it didn't seem to inspire outrage there.
To anyone familiar with recent—or distant—American political history the answer is obvious: race. As Thomas Schaller’s book Whistling Past Dixie demonstrated, Southern whites were driven into the arms of the Republican Party by the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights, and among Southern whites racial attitude is a better predictor of how a person will vote than views on abortion or taxes.
Yet reporters go through all sorts of contortions to come up with all sorts of other reasons as to why Obama—his initiatives, his persona—cause people in these states to get extremely agitated. Is this just naiveté among the reporters covering the story, who may be too young or unsophisticated to grasp what may really lie behind the roots of anti-Obama rage in the former Confederacy? (The Times piece does note that Obama got only 14 percent of the white vote in Louisiana.) Or is there a form of political correctness at work—i.e., is there a culture at mainstream publications that discourages open talk of how politics in certain parts of the country remain poisoned by the legacy of institutionalized racism?