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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Come to think of it, things have been awfully quiet on the End Times front. Living in the South, one grows accustomed to hearing about a never-ending series of conspiratorial threats and eschatological panics.

Prophetic fads sweep the region. It’s Satan worshippers one year, “secular humanists” the next. Subliminal messages are described in popular music; supermarket barcodes harbor the Mark of the Beast; logos on boxes of soap suds give evidence of corporate diabolism.

Under President George W. Bush, a series of preposterously bad novels by evangelical authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins became huge bestsellers. Dramatizing the Book of Revelation as an action-adventure melodrama like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator films, the books portray born-again American suburbanites as Jesus’s allies in an apocalyptic struggle against a U.N.-sponsored “World Potentate,” who looks “not unlike a younger Robert Redford” and speaks like…

Well, like Barack Obama, actually. Which I think explains something about what appears to be happening in the 2012 presidential election. To an awful lot of white Protestant evangelicals across the Deep South especially, President Obama has become no less than a secular stand-in for the Antichrist — a smooth-talking deceiver representing liberal cosmopolitanism in its most treacherous disguise.

Dislike of Obama has grown to cult-like 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 — one reason many Republicans suspect that national polls must be skewed.

So is it all about race? Not entirely, no. Many of the same voters who see President Obama as an African-born Muslim Socialist would very likely support, say, Condoleeza Rice. (Or think they would, anyway.)

Nor, however, are their fears entirely irrational. Because if the polls are right — and a disinterested observer would have to say that professional pollsters have grown increasingly accurate at predicting recent contests — the 2012 presidential election may not bring about “The Rapture,” but it could definitely mark the definitive end of a political era.

Specifically, it doesn’t matter how badly President Obama loses the five Deep South states won by Alabama governor George Wallace in 1968 — along with, say, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma. Should he prevail in most of the nine “swing states” where everybody agrees that the contest will be decided, and where Obama currently appears to lead by strong majorities, the white, GOP-accented South will find itself politically marooned.

Again.

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