Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Southern Discomfort

Paul Krugman says that the Southern (and especially Mississippi's) drift to the Republican Party is all very simple to explain: racism - plain, pure and simple:

Why do Mississippi and its neighbors support politicians whose economic policies seemingly run counter to their interests?

Do I really need to answer that?

Fifty years ago the politics of race in America weren't at all disguised. Jim Crow laws both impoverished and disenfranchised Southern blacks; Southern whites voted for politicians who promised to keep things that way. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act ended overt discrimination. Yet race remains a major factor in our politics.

Why are Mississippi and the rest of the South trending Republican? Maybe it has something to do with some people in places like Mississippi figuring out that the state can use the Senate to get lots of subsidies from the federal government and still foster a pro-growth economic policy in a family values society. But not all Mississippians are like that, and the ones who are that way don't always get their way. Professor Krugman can take comfort and find his Democratic legacy in the run-away power of the Mississippi trial lawyers bar, which almost succeeded in driving every single obstetrician out of the State, among other choice accomplishments, before the state legislature finally took action to stop them just months ago.

But there is plenty to think about with respect to the economics of the South. Clever, good economists would search for economic reasons - maybe hidden economic reasons - to explain the Southern Republican drift. Professor Krugman can't be bothered with any of that. Nor does it appear that Professor Krugman has actually ever lived in Mississippi - not even for a little while. But he KNOWS what racists they all are down there. He doesn't let his complete lack of experience stop him from forming and sharing absolute conclusions that just happen to conform to his vulgar Northeastern style prejudices.

Prior posts have noted that Mr. Lott's paens to Strom Thurmond were awful, and Mr. Lott has retreated from them. But the riff Professor Krugman spins from Senator Lott's excesses is transparent, opportunistic and ridiculous. For example, no sensible person could write: “[T]his year efforts to suppress nonwhite votes were remarkably blatant. … Topping it off was last Saturday's election in Louisiana, in which the Republican Party hired black youths to hold signs urging their neighbors not to vote for Mary Landrieu.”

Does Professor Krugman think this use of African-American workers was somehow unfair? The workers apparently didn't threaten their neighbors. So what's wrong here in Professor Krugman's giant mind? Did the Republicans have an obligation to hire only white campaign workers? Even worse from Professor Krugman’s point of view, I suppose, the Republicans ran television ads with African-American actors telling people not to vote for Mary Landrieu! How dare they! And does Professor Krugman's outrage work both ways? Was Mary Landrieu (a white!) making an unfair effort to suppress white voter turnout when she personally told people not to vote for her Republican opponent?

As Professor Krugman puts it: Might I suggest that this tells us something? Yes, yes, it does, and in so many ways: It tells us that Paul Krugman does not think like an economist.

UPDATE: More from the Minute Man.

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