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The loneliest man in Arkansas

October 10, 2012 - Harry Eagar
When a lot of people who ought to have known better were running around like crazy people accusing Bill Clinton of cocaine-trafficking and murder, Gene Lyons patiently debunked the nuts. Not that many people paid attention.

Being a good newspaperman in Arkansas is not easy, and a case can be made that it's harder than ever now. Lyons keeps trying.

As a Southerner myself, I think he has written a classic takedown of backwoods lunacy:

"They’re not conservatives at all, in the classical sense, but sentimental fanatics seeking to purge the nation of sin; adepts of 'limited government' with their noses buried in women’s panty drawers; apostles of a lost utopia located in a nonexistent past, most often in ’60s sitcoms like the 'Andy Griffith Show.' ”

If a conservative is one who wishes to conserve the good ideas of past generations, Lyons is exactly right that Southern rightwingers are not conservatives. In Arkansas today, Republican candidates are publicly praising slavery and calling for the death penalty for sassy kids.

My grandfathers, both genuine Southern conservatives, would have called these people lunatics. And they are.

In my grandfathers' days, these lunatics generally called themselves Democrats, for merely historical reasons -- when the North defeated the Confederacy,it was led by Republicans. Southern Democrats did a lot of harm to the party and to the South and to the nation, but their damage was limited because they did not control the entire Democratic Party.

The lunatics are now calling themselves Republicans, and only an optimist would say they don't have that party by the short hairs. Gene Lyons says:

"Dislike of Obama has grown to cultlike proportions across the region. Statewide polls show the president losing by thunderous majorities. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute highlighted in the New York Times shows that '“among southern working-class whites, Romney leads by 40 points, 62-22, an extraordinary gap.' In the Midwest, Obama leads among the same group. Subtract the African-American precincts, and the president might not win 30 percent of votes in states like Arkansas and Oklahoma."

The William Akin candidacy in Missouri is diagnostic. Akin's crazy remarks about reproduction were so offensive to so many Americans of all shades of opinion that the national party felt obliged to disown him. That stand for decency did not last even one full orbit of the moon.


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