Last month Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said at a political dinner in Tennessee: "We don't do Lincoln Day Dinners in South Carolina. It's nothing personal, but it takes awhile to get over things."
Of course, it was a joke and some people seem to be taking it a little out of context. There are plenty of things that Senator Graham has said and done in Congress for which one could dislike and oppose him, but this struck me as nothing more than a mild joke in front of Republican partisans in Tennessee.
But there is a kernel of truth in this divide between North and South, about how 140 years after the Civil War ended that people are still so emotionally involved in it to wave battleflags of the losing side as a symbol of the continuing rebellion.
I was reminded about a book written in the mid-1970s by Carl Oglesby, THE YANKEE AND COWBOY WAR. The book had a curious theory behind it, that the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas and the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon eleven years later were visible signs of a battle between two factions of America's ruling class, the old money Eastern Establishment Yankees, and the new oil money Cowboys of the South and West. The Yankees were seen as the bankers and traders, more Eurocentric, perhaps cursed with a touch of noblesse oblige. The Cowboys, as Oglesby defined them, were seen as philosophical descendents of the Old South, springing from a slave-owning society, necessarily stratified and militarily inclined in order to keep the incredible inequality of a plantation-type society going.
That Oglesby quickly dismissed the "lone nut" theory behind JFK's death in favor of political intrigue seemed at the time a mature and insightful view compared to those authors cowering under the threat of being called a "conspiracy theorist." He pointed out how competing factions in the intelligence community seemed at different times to be subverting JFK or Nixon. Soon after Watergate and publication of THE YANKEE AND COWBOY WAR, political analysts from the right were willing to proffer conspiracies behind pushing Nixon out of office.
"Yankee versus Cowboy" was a theory that had resonance twenty-five years ago.
The theory of new money versus old money battling it out for control of America does not seem to apply so much anymore. First, what was new money back in the 1950s and 60s is not new anymore. The Rockefeller family, which would have to have been the Yankee establishment, has always been about oil, presumably the territory of new money. The first President Bush was from strong Yankee stock, but moved to Texas to insinuate himself in the oil business. While the intelligence community after WWII was defined as military intelligence (Cowboy-ish, conservative) versus the CIA (newly-stocked with allegedly liberal Yankees from Ivy League schools), much of the competition among the services seems to have sorted itself out after the troubles of the Sixties and Seventies.
How does this reflect itself politically? I think that the Republicans have done very well over the past twenty-five years in consolidating any divisions in the ruling class of America. The first President Bush, considering his probable history in the CIA for decades before he was named Director of that agency, was no doubt the perfect compromise candidate for the intelligence community as well as the ruling class.
Bill Clinton, inheritor of the Senator Fulbright wing of the Yankee establishment (I know, both Fulbright and Clinton were from Arkansas, but we are talking here about the philosophy and state of mind of Yankees, not any physical location), was an aberration of what has been a consolidation of the ruling class of America. Clinton's "capitalism with a conscience," the old Democratic view that the middle class will not complain about the rich's further acquisition of wealth when their less greedy needs are met, has been replaced with a rawer version of capitalism. Cowboy Capitalism. With the second Bush's Presidency starting in 2001, with each tax cut for the wealthy and each change in law that gives corporations more power over individual citizens and freedom from oversight by the government, the more economically-stratified America becomes.
So how come the South is still not over the Civil War? Sure, there was the Reconstruction, which ended long, long before anyone's great-grandfather was born. I think it's the same reason we have the idea of red state versus blue state and any other number of divisive labels and issues created for the hoi polloi. In order to rule over the working class that vastly outnumbers them, it is necessary for the wealthy to keep and create new divisions among suckers down below.
Senator Graham was just telling a joke. The joke is on you.