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Welcome to the new Civil War

The American Civil War of a century ago has never completely faded into history.

It might even be said, as Andrew O’Hehir argues HERE, that the old Civil War has morphed into a new one:

The new Civil War is not entirely or even principally about race, although there’s no mistaking its pernicious racial component. Even making allowances for Bobby Jindal and Allen West, the neo-Confederate forces are perhaps 99 percent white, in a nation whose fastest-growing demographic groups are neither white nor black. While the issues of the new Civil War are contemporary, its rhetoric is ancient and all too familiar, from states’ rights and resistance to Washington to claims of a special relationship with the Almighty and vague appeals to distinctive “cultural traditions,” employed as a justification for bigotry and oppression.

While the Civil War of the 1860s really was about slavery first and foremost – it was the foundation of the Southern economy, and had concentrated immense wealth in the hands of a small landowning caste – the true subject matter of the new Civil War is much less clear. Abortion and same-sex marriage play a crucial role, to be sure (and we may soon see guns and marijuana enter the picture as well). Those are symbolic issues that reflect larger social tensions around gender roles, sexuality and the “war on women,” but they are not just symbolic issues. Many people on the neo-Confederate side see abortion and Adam-and-Steve marriage as moral outrages or offenses against God, to borrow Lincoln’s phrasing, which must be stopped at almost any cost. Of course, pro-choice activists and marriage-equality advocates see those issues as matters of basic economic justice, guaranteeing to all people the kind of basic personal autonomy that men take for granted, or the common-law legal and medical rights that heterosexual married couples have long enjoyed.

We appear to be moving into an unstable Missouri Compromise period of American history, in which regional tiers of states adopt sharply different policies on reproductive rights and marriage rights in particular, but also seem locked into fixed political identities and differing views on fundamental questions of national identity and the national future. Within the past week, we saw Illinois and Rhode Island – core “neo-Union” states, if you will – move closer to legalizing gay marriage, while the Republican governors of Michigan and Virginia (exactly the kind of “border states” where these battles are being fought on the ground) snuck new restrictions on abortion through the legal back door.

If you correlate the states where both same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions have been banned and the states with the harshest restrictions on abortion, you begin to measure the breadth of the neo-Confederacy: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah. Most (but not all) are onetime Southern slave states and hotbeds of evangelical Christianity, and most (but not all) coincide with the familiar red-blue split between Republicans and Democrats. The battleground states of the moment, on these issues as on many others, are strikingly familiar: Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. All four are currently in the grip of neo-Confederate forces on a state level, and all four have enacted gay-marriage bans and abortion restrictions, even though Obama won them all in both of his election campaigns.

Do I even need to mention that none of the neo-Confederate states are in the Northeast or on the West Coast, regions where abortion remains widely available and same-sex marriage is rapidly becoming routine? Or that the neo-Confederate states of the South and the Plains States have sent nearly all of the intransigent, anti-taxation Tea Party members to Congress, while the neo-Union states of the East and West, with their polyglot, immigrant-rich populations, have elected few or none?

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