Even as professional Republicans hasten to turn Mitt Romney into an unmentionable non-entity like George W. Bush, journalists are fanning out into the hinterlands like anthropologists to study the impact of President Obama’s re-election upon the GOP candidate’s dedicated supporters.
A friend who watched the election results in an Arkansas county courthouse described the reaction: “When “OBAMA AGAIN!!” flashed across my iPad, you should have seen the looks. Utter blank stares. Devastation. They couldn’t process the fact that the president had won. It was like a couple looking over a burned-out house, with nothing left but a chimney and a pile of ashes. It was quite revealing and a bit eerie.”
The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow profiled a Romney campaign worker in Hendersonville, TN struggling to contain her disappointment. It’s a terrific piece of reporting. Having confidently planned a victory dance, Beth Cox had trouble grasping the magnitude of the Republican defeat. It astonished her that even “Southern-values Virginia” had voted for President Obama.
Fox News pundits and right-wing talk radio had her persuaded that even historically Democratic-leaning states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would support the GOP. “And Colorado?” she said. “Who the heck is living in Colorado? Do they want drugs, dependency, indulgence? Don’t they remember what this country is about?”
It’s interesting that Cox sees President Obama, personally the straightest-shooter to occupy the White House since Jimmy Carter, in such terms. But then to the married, 44-year-old mother of two teenage daughters, the election was less a political event than an extension of what she calls her “Godly life”—an existence theologically and sociologically limited to persons who look and believe exactly like her.
Everybody outside that circle strikes her as suspect; Democrats as moochers, deadbeats and enemies of God.
It’s a mindset straight out of John Bunyan’s 17th century Puritan allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, as annotated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Some of her friends, she told the Post, have concluded that only God can save America from itself.
“God put us in the desert,” she said. “We are in the desert right now.”
Actually, she’s in a white-flight suburb of Nashville (which voted for Obama, like many Southern cities). Everybody in the South knows somebody like Beth Cox, a perfectly decent, intelligent woman whose spiritual home is the Southern Baptist mega-church of which her husband is pastor—one of those sprawling edge-of-town affairs with 7,000 members, auditorium-seating, volleyball courts, a children’s center and a “techno-lit recreation room for teenagers.”
Essentially theological Walmarts, such churches have grown up across the region to replace the small towns Southern suburbanites grew up in. Alas, most are turning out to be even more class- and ethnically-stratified.