Political Animal


November 16, 2012 9:35 AM The Red-State Equivalent of Nuke-Free Zones

By Ed Kilgore

In a post joining the general hilarity over the four-hour briefing that Republican State Senators in my home state of Georgia were treated to in October on the deadly threat of Agenda 21, Dave Weigel of Slate made an astute observation:

Panic about UN-mandated “sustainable development” has marched right from the John Birch Society offices into the conservative mainstream. Glenn Beck’s new novel, out next week, takes readers inside a dystopian America run by sustainably-developing dictators….
Republicans had a rotten election day federally, but in the deep South, they generally expanded or held their legislative majorities. So we may see more of this. UN panic may become as popular as the Reagan-era hobby of liberal towns declaring themselves nuke-free zones.

As someone who was once involved in community and economic development work in Georgia, I can attest that there has always been a hard core of resistance, some of it ideological, but much of it just centered in simple greed, among southern political and business elites towards any kind of planning or land-use regulation. But back in the day there was nothing like this mass hysteria about bike trails signifying the impending arrival of blue-helmeted UN troops to force suburbanites into urban concentration camps, separated forever from their SUVs.

Trouble is, much of the deep South, and particularly Georgia, really needs some “sustainable development” thinking and definitely some regional planning. Georgia has 159 counties, 28 of them in metropolitan Atlanta alone. Multi-jurisdictional cooperation is an absolute must. The transportation system in much of the state is a nightmare. It’s a really, really bad time for the dominant political party to be overrun by people who think it’s communistic to place any limits on development or pay any attention to its impact on public infrastructure and natural resources.

But Weigel is right: the ever-increasing self-isolation of white southerners into a right-wing ghetto where non-ideological information rarely penetrates does tend to become self-proliferating. But it’s still weird. The Deep South has never been a hotbed of progressivism. But when I was growing up in Georgia in the 1960s, people pretty much gave members of the John Birch Society a wide berth (there was a property owner on a major thoroughfare where I lived in an Atlanta suburb who festooned his land with Bircher “U.S. Out of the U.N” signs, and children were warned to avoid it on Halloween). Now members of the majority caucus of the state legislature are earnestly listening to their ravings. This is not a good sign.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Speed on November 16, 2012 9:44 AM:

    The whole country needs to get serious about sustainable development (I live in Southern California, also a nightmare area of mindless building). But there's little chance of it happening, since Americans are addicted to the idea of "endless growth" and pipe dreams about limitless energy.

  • BillFromPA on November 16, 2012 9:56 AM:

    What we're seeing here is what I call 'Onsite Immigration'. When various national and ethnic groups first came to America they set up mini-cultures in urban areas based on their life back home. Chinatown, Little Italy and the like were common in most major cities and remain to this day, although with much smaller populations. Those immigrants and their decendants became more comfortable with their new country, caused some changes in American culture and so they left their little homes away from home.

    Now, a certain segement of the long established American culture is becomming more uncomfortable with the present state of affairs and the obvious direction, they failed to 'take back America' and the America they want to take back doesn't exist anymore. They're 'self-ghettoizing', to coin a term. They have their own reality, divorced from actuality. At some point their numbers will peak and subsequent generations of them will become more comfortable with America as it is, leading to their Little Confederia dwindling just as Little Italy is.

  • plimschmuggin on November 16, 2012 9:59 AM:


    There are a lot of urban planning efforts throughout the state of GA.

    It is true that many of our nubby-brained state politicians tend to ascribe to boffo conspiracy theories that allow them to feel like heroic warriiors, but look into activities at the GADNR and GDOT and UGA and GA Tech and others and you'll find considerable efforts aimed at developing and implementing smart-growth strategies.

  • c u n d gulag on November 16, 2012 10:05 AM:

    The Federal Government needs to check to see if someone's switched the Fluoride they're supposed to be putting in the water in the Southern states, with Lysergic acid diethylamide - aka: LSD 25?

    I'm serious!
    I've DONE acid - and these people sound like they're tripping!
    'Agenda 21,' Black Helicopters...'
    No gnomes and trolls?

    Oh, and don't forget - Agenda 21 also involved wetlands, so, as the great Charles Pierce keeps reminding us, 'The UN is coming for our golfs!"

    Maybe the John Birch Society was right all along - that flouride WAS the real evil!
    Maybe instead of just hardening our teeth, it's hardened our brain cells, skulls, and hearts.

    We have a nation where at least 27% of our citizens are clinically insane and completely delusional.
    Maybe we need to start to substitute the Flouride with some heavy-duty anti-psychotics?

    And some people wonder, "Why can't we all just get along?"

  • martin on November 16, 2012 10:05 AM:

    Believe me, there are still plenty of US Out of UN signs prominently posted in Alabama. I'm sure there are plenty still around GA, too.

  • Peter C on November 16, 2012 10:12 AM:

    The Republican Party is now the party of the militantly ignorant. All votes for any Republican empower the people in their party who believe with unshakable faith that which is demonstrably absurd. Frustratingly, this militant ignorance leads to bad local policy and gridlock in Washington which prevents solutions to problems and needlessly prolongs national economic suffering.

    We must stop electing people who cannot distinguish between reality and delusional paranoia.

  • delNorte on November 16, 2012 10:22 AM:

    "...the ever-increasing self-isolation of white southerners into a right-wing ghetto where non-ideological information rarely penetrates"

    These are just southerners, it's a 50 state phenomenon - and as long as this group exists in large enough numbers make money from, they will continue to be exploited by the grifters and snake oil salesmen (such as Glenn Beck) among us. There's a lot of money to be made in exploiting the worse angels of human nature.

  • beejeez on November 16, 2012 10:46 AM:

    I used to think Republican officials used to talk up UN-commie-sharia conspiracies just to gull some votes out of the rubes. The evidence is mounting that the idiots really believe that crap. God help us.

  • Peter C on November 16, 2012 10:52 AM:

    @delNorte is correct; this is not just a problem in the South. I've known people in both Michigan and New Jersey who think this way. They all are victims of FOX.

    Sadly, FOX is very effective at appealing to a particular personality type. - people who are aggrieved and threatened and fearful. FOX makes them feel smart and savvy and part of the 'in' crowd. And, at the same time, it feeds them a constant diet of 'cities are DANGEROUS', 'Government officials are STUPID and CORRUPT', 'Holliwood is LIBERAL and IMMORAL'. Every story has been cherry-picked to reinforce a theme. The criminals are always black. The victims are always white. The scary people are always foreign. It's intentional and strategic and designed to evoke a visceral response rather than a rational one.

  • Craig on November 16, 2012 11:09 AM:

    One bit of good news, Ed. Chip Rogers, the idiot State Senator here from my home county, who set up this silly and embarrassing fiasco, lost his leadership job in the Senate yesterday.

    I'm not sure his replacement is any better, but at least Chip is gone.

  • max on November 16, 2012 11:18 AM:

    the ever-increasing self-isolation of white southerners into a right-wing ghetto where non-ideological information rarely penetrates does tend to become self-proliferating. But itís still weird.

    I am going to disagree. Since I grew up in Texas (in the 70's), the Lost Cause mythology was never prominent. But it was still there, in the background, as this sort of embarrassing episode. Meanwhile, Democrats ruled the state, and the country, for the most part, so information was commonly held. Once the big R switchover started, things started changing.

    When I have gone back and looked at it, the propaganda (no other word for it) from the 1850's and 1860's is just chock full of all kinds of fantastical stuff. (The popular fantasy was how black people were going to rise up, Golem-like, and kill all the white people. Or in fact, had already started.)

    But again, during the period you and I are talking about the Democratic party was dominant in the country, and in the South. So my thinking here is that rather than saying the South wasn't a self-isolating ghetto, it was more that the rest of the country shared in the assumptions of said ghetto.

    Once the shift (D to R) occurs, it suddenly becomes necessary to start rewriting history, so you have 'conservatives' trying to take over the schoolbook committee in Texas, so they can get on with doing a Stalin and airbrushing FDR out of the picture. (Or repainting him, actually.)

    It looks to me, again, like there's simply a consistent pattern of embracing nonsense throughout the South pretty consistently, and that matters because there always seem to be some authoritarian types at the wheel, ready to turn yesterday's triumph into a defeat and vice-versa.

    More plainly, the political culture of the South demands the culture be run by fabulists, and so it seems Southern politics is populated by a rather amazingly enormous number of bald-faced liars. That the same culture celebrates itself as being of the highest morality is a contradiction that I don't think can be resolved. (Thus the need for even more fabulism, to cover the cracks.)

    If there's a real difference, it seems to me to be that there is effectively only one unified TV network across the entirety of the South, and people swallow that stuff whole and demand that everyone around them follow suit.

    ['Same stuff, but way more intense.']

  • rdale on November 16, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Utah (AKA Glennbeckistan) has a lot in common with the deep south, with an entrenched white culture that vaguely tolerates different ones. This state struck a chord: "the ever-increasing self-isolation of white southerners into a right-wing ghetto where non-ideological information rarely penetrates does tend to become self-proliferating." Change "white southerners" to "Utahans" and you've got it. Add in a big dose of "Jeebus tells us to hate the outsiders" and it's a real toxic stew. I first moved here in the 1970s and well remember the fight over a proposed land-use planning bill in the then-Democrat state government. Communism!

  • Bob on November 16, 2012 12:32 PM:

    Let me make one point about:

    ...this mass hysteria about bike trails signifying the impending arrival of blue-helmeted UN troops to force suburbanites into urban concentration camps, separated forever from their SUVs.

    I picked up bike riding for fitness several years ago. I'm a regular group rider on weekends. I've found an amazing (and very large) sub-culture of bike riders that consist primarily of people you might identify as your grandparents. These are people from all walks of life and all political persuasions (though predominantly liberal). They most definitely drive the discussions on bike lanes and mass transit. Opponents of bike stuff and sustainable living may have images of "tree-huggers" in mind but that's not my experience of it. It's just everyday folks.

  • Robert from upstate on November 16, 2012 1:02 PM:

    I was part of a meeting many tears ago on one of Georgia's sea islands discussing how to protect in from over development. When I suggested state mandated land use controls and wetland regulations might be one way to reduce development pressures, I was viewed as a cross between a naif and a space alien. Eventually the owners of the island donated it to the State.

  • emjayay on November 16, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Based entirely on having a college roomate from the South, plus a bare minimum of actual thought, I also came to the conclusion that there is a basis of delusion in the Southern mindset. I figured it was based on centuries of belief in Jesus and in their personal righteosness in the eyes of God, while maintaining that all the black people who were doing all the hard work under the whip and living on scraps in shacks were either not exactly human, or perfectly happy and better off than their ancestors in Africa, or both. And then another century of not letting the descendants of those slaves eat in restaurants or use the same drinking fountain or railroad waiting room or much of anything else.

    And of course those same sorts of Southern types continue to depend on delusions like the one about how the ideas that are the basis of modern biology and medicine and earth science and physics are completely wrong.

    The bald faced lying of the Romney campaign necessarily has different roots. Maybe having to believe that some local huckster actually found and lost golden plates which he magically translated using a magic stone, revealing among other things that American Indians were really Jews or something, even despite the obvious ridiculousness plus DNA evidence that clears these sorts of things up quite definitively today. Or that more recently God just happened to tell them that black people were maybe not the spawn of the devil exactly when any such beliefs became unsustainble in American culture. Uh oh, it's a bit of the Black people delusion again.

    Plus for Romney of course that he is personally righteous in the eyes of God while collecting millions in the process of throwing people out of their jobs and trashing their pensions. Plus the business ethic that nothing matters in closing a deal except closing the deal.

    I guess we all depend to some degree on delusions, but some do seem a lot more delusional than others.

  • castanea on November 16, 2012 3:32 PM:

    "Southern California, also a nightmare area of mindless building..."

    Southern California probably has the best, or nearly so, handle on smart, eco-friendly development of any large locality in the nation.

    If it seems to be somewhat out of hand at times, it is only because the pressures associated with rapid population growth are exceedingly high.

  • Dave on November 16, 2012 4:44 PM:

    I'm encouraged to see this stuff emerging into wider distribution. Do you have any idea how hard it has been to get normal people to believe that anyone outside a trailer park actually believes this nonsense?

    Now we have state senators in Southern states talking about commie-era mind control devices and instituting parental death penalties for rebellious children.

    Bring on more of that stuff, please. Maybe people will start paying attention to who the heck they vote for in their state elections.

  • Doug on November 16, 2012 7:39 PM:

    Could part of the problem with such people in the southern states be because the dominant southern society was, for nearly three centuries, trying to convince itself that the economic system it depended on, slavery, was good, even though everything the members of that dominant society saw and experienced about slavery showed them the exact opposite? That can't be healthy for the members of such a society.
    With people moving about the country more and more than ever, many of those with such attitudes may very well be transplants from the South or their children. Then add to that group the usual amount of nutjobs found in any society and - voila! - a majority; especially in small towns, rural areas and such and particularly obvious during low-turnout elections.
    I do find it interesting that while wacky left-wing ideas may get enacted in a few isolated locations, there never seems to be nearly so much fairly widespread support for left-wing radicalism/insanity as there seems to be for right-wing radicalism/nutjobbery.
    Maybe it's because even left-wing radicals tend to learn from their experiences...

  • Yellow dog on November 18, 2012 9:37 AM:

    One day the venerable legislature will fail quorum because all the members have been rounded up by the blue helmets on their way from Alpharetta. Yes, the Georgia General Assembly is still ready to call up interposition after all these years. Long live John C. Calhoun... Bruce Katz, not so much. May no bike path or blue helmet ever threaten Georgia's right to make itself a laughingstock.