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Mon June 28, 2004
Where We Stand: Voices of Southern Dissent
This book of essays is not a debate. Published in the midst of the campaign season, it is a call to arms by a group of writers who believe the Bush presidency to be the worst and the most dangerous, ever.
By Don Noble
Tuscaloosa, AL – Where We Stand will inevitably be compared and contrasted with the 1930 collection of essays I?ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Twelve Southerners.
Those twelve ?Agrarians,? men who were in fact poets and professors, were writing to dissent against the way they saw America and the South moving. They praised Jeffersonian agrarianism, traditional religious and aesthetic values, and decried materialism, urbanism, and especially industrialism.
This new volume is, again, by twelve distinguished Southerners, this time three of them women. And they are again intellectuals, professors, and activists, and again in dissent, but there the similarities end.
The avowed, explicit message of this book is that the Bush administration ?is running the federal government as you might imagine the Confederates having done if they had won the Civil War,? with arrogant disdain for human rights and by economic and ideological favoritism disguised in the wardrobe of family values, Judeo-Christian piety, and so on.
The essays in Where We Stand were finished only a few months ago and the volume was rushed through the press at what must have been record-breaking speed.
This volume is not a debate. Published in the midst of the campaign season, it is a call to arms by a group of writers who believe the Bush presidency to be the worst and the most dangerous, ever, and who ?share the beliefs that the current policies of our national administration sacrifice the interests of the poor and the people who work for a living to the interests of a privileged elite, that the power of money and the military must be tethered, that the natural environment must be sheltered, and that racial justice matters.?
The volume carries a Foreword by President Jimmy Carter, who is more moderate than most of the others.
?Being a super power does not guarantee super wisdom,? he writes. ?We have fared best when we have reached out to responsible partners in the international community for counsel, support, and partnership.?
Carter also laments the growing chasm between rich and poor, both here in America and globally.
The editor and contributors, of course, take up various issues. The longest essay, thirty-six pages, by Daniel Pollitt, is concerned with the loss of civil liberties, the Patriot Act, and the incarceration of American citizens and others without due process, lawyers, habeas corpus, indictments, trials, and so on.
Historian Dan Carter reviews the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq and, more broadly, laments the huge costs of our military expenditures. He quotes President Dwight D. Eisenhower: ?Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.? We don?t hear enough about Ike these days.
John Egerton writes a kind of historical summary of his book, The Southernization of American Politics, and actually is not very optimistic about the chances of removing the Bush administration as long as the eleven Southern states go Republican.
Closer to home, Paul Gaston, originally of Fairhope, Alabama, is equally discouraged, since not only did Alabama vote for Bush over Gore 56 to 44 percent, his town of Fairhope, founded as a Single Tax, Utopian, communal community by Gaston?s grandfather, voted for Bush 75 to 25 percent. Fairhope is obviously no longer inhabited by a majority of socialists, artists, and poets.
Sheldon Hackney, another Alabamian, writes about the American culture wars and identity politics, and explores why Southern white identity in particular is unmeltable in our melting pot America.
Make no mistake: this is not a balanced look at our political, social, economic, social moment. This book will infuriate its conservative readers, if it has any, but, like Michael Moore?s new film Fahrenheit 9/11, it is more likely to inspire the liberal choir.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.