Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I like it, but I don't buy it

According to an independent Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll released over the weekend, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jim Webb has pulled ahead of Senator George Allen. The poll puts Webb at 47.9% and the incumbent Allen at only 46.6%. The Zogby poll is the third poll released in the last week that shows Webb within the margin of error and the first to show him ahead of Allen.

Defeating George Allen has become as important as re-defeating Joe Lieberman. And the poll numbers are indeed encouraging. But I suspect this is one of those situations where there is going to be a major diversion between what voters are willing to say to a pollster and what they feel in their hearts.

Today in the newspaper I saw a review of what looks like an important book, There Goes My Everything, about the absurd and dissonant beliefs held by white southerners opposed to the civil rights movement. From the review of the book:

There was a time and place in which, remarkably, labels such as "progressive," "radical" and "outside agitator" were the worst insults a man could level at another. Social reform, as regards African American rights, was practically inconceivable to many mid-20th century white southerners, for whom a couple of hundred years of the most virulent racial epithets were no more than everyday banter.

As Jason Sokol makes plain in his levelheaded account of the civil rights movement, "There Goes My Everything," when considered from the vantage point of the would-be oppressors rather than those dead set on overturning oppression, tolerance of and unquestioning devotion to the South's social caste system could be every bit as deadly as a lynching party, with more staying power and far more people personally affected.

"Black actions only occasionally upended white myths and transformed worldviews," Sokol writes. "Often, those actions nudged white southerners closer to the comfort of traditional racial visions" -- which is to say, the notion that southern African Americans not only enjoyed their lot, but "belonged" to whites, in a chummy, good old Uncle Tom and Jim Crow kind of way -- as in, have fun painting my barn while I go fishing.

The majority of whites viewed the situation as amenable and beneficial to all, until Mother Russia decided to stir things up with all her social propaganda in the 1950s and early 1960s, rousing African Americans to all kinds of unconstitutional acts and giving rise to one of the most wayward, desperate party lines you will ever come across: When in doubt, don't blame human folly, madness, ignorance, stereotype and hatred, accrued over decades, for the general discontentment of blacks -- blame the communists. Better still if the proper Southern parent could proselytize in the name of God at the same time.

"Being a Christian is accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior ... and just because I don't want my granddaughter to go to school with a Negro boy, I don't see what it has got to do with my being a Christian or not," one woman insists. And just like that, one has the sensation of being dropped headlong into a Kafka novel, where delusion is so ingrained and so resolutely personal -- at the core level of the individual -- that one would assume that hardly anyone else, let alone hordes of people, could utter similar pronouncements. And yet there they are, on page after page of "There Goes My Everything," a region-wide denial-fest recalling the attitudes of the German partisans who maintained that the Holocaust never happened.

So when these folks are asked, face to face (or on the phone) whether they are racists (and that is what a Virginian will be admitting by supporting Allen), some significant percentage are self-aware enough to toe the socially acceptable line give the PC answer. But get 'em in the privacy of a voting booth, and they are free to follow their white sheet tendencies.

I of course hope I'm wrong. But put me down in the skeptical column.


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