You might think the South finally won The War.
Southerners hold both the presidency and the vice presidency. Last time that happened was 1841.
Trent Lott of Mississippi runs the Senate. Georgian Newt Gingrich revolutionized the House, even if J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois leads it now.
Economically, the South is booming. Collectors pay more for old Confederate dollars than their face value in U.S. currency.
Culturally the South holds sway. Mississippian William Ferris, former head of the Center of Southern Culture, leads the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Endowment for the Arts is chaired by Bill Ivey, who stepped up from 27 years as head of the Country Music Foundation in Nashville. Then there's the global impact of CNN, beaming out of Atlanta. There its founder, die-hard Georgian Ted Turner, used to run "Gone With the Wind" in his office building 24 hours a day.
What more could Southerners want?
Well, for one thing, another stab at secession, according to organizers of the new Southern Party, born last month in Flat Rock, N.C. They're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
"Those two yo-yos in the White House, if they're Southerners, they're scalawags," says party first vice chairman and chief of staff Jerry Baxley of Virginia, resurrecting the term for turncoat opportunists of the Reconstruction South. "They care nothing for the Southern people. They care nothing for the Southern region. They care for nothing but advancing themselves."
Weary of an ever more intrusive federal government and a militant secularism hostile to Southern cultural touchstones like prayer in schools, the party has dusted off former Alabama governor George Wallace's 30-year-old claim that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the national parties, Republican and Democrat.
But it's Wallace's third party war cry with a difference.
For one thing, "we don't want the White House, just a decentralized regional government," Baxley says.
For another thing, racism is passe.
"The leaders of the Southern Party are often asked if our affinity for the Confederate [flag] . . . is also indicative of . . . racial malice . . . or religious bigotry . . . . The simple answer is a firm 'NO,' " says a policy paper on the party's Web site--www.southernparty.org.
The party, whose logo features Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee and the Confederate flag, denounces "despicable hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan" and "rejects their attempt to pervert the symbols of Southern Freedom and valor into symbols of racial malice."
While the Confederate flag has certainly been misused by such groups in the past, the paper says, "the same can be said of the U.S. flag and the Christian cross, yet no one will seriously argue that they are hate symbols . . . . Those who strive to re-cast the Confederate flag as solely a 'hate symbol' are inevitably motivated either by historical ignorance or by . . . malice towards the South, its symbols, its heritage and its people."
Party leaders emphasize that there's nothing remotely violent about their political effort, however distressed they remain about the unhappiness at Appomattox. Things have been going downhill for more than a century, Baxley says, because Northerners insist on thinking there was something called a "Civil War."
"A civil war is one in which factions fight over who will control the central government," he says. "The South never wanted to to control anything but its own destiny."
The new War for Southern Independence, its leaders say, aims to achieve with the ballot box what their forebears lost on the battlefield. Minus, of course, that unfortunate business about slavery. The Southern Party has already chartered branches or their political action committee precursors in 13 of the 16 Southern and border states, with only Maryland, Delaware and Missouri still to come. Southern Party candidates will take the field in local and state races throughout the old Confederacy next year with the hope of turning back the political hands of time.
Baxley, an auctioneer in Chesterfield County outside of Richmond, said slavery was the only issue the war really settled: The question of secession is still up for grabs.
"According to the U.S. Constitution, secession is perfectly legal," Baxley said. "No one ever passed a law against it or tested it in the courts. Samuel Chase advised Abraham Lincoln against bringing Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee to trial for treason, saying he would end up losing in the Supreme Court everything he'd won on the battlefield. He knew secession would have been declared constitutionally valid. "
Nobody's saying secession is imminent, only that it's a long-range goal. Furthermore, it's trendy. Southern Party National Committee Chairman George Kalas of Houston sees his group's current effort as part of a global trend toward smaller, more homogenous states. Examples, he says, range from the fragmentation of the former Soviet Union to the recent movements toward self-determination in Scotland and Wales.
The Southern Party is an outgrowth of the League of the South, a 12,000-member Southern heritage organization that veered political earlier this year. The party's adherents, its Web site declares, are those "disillusioned by the precipitous decline of public virtue and morality reflected by the acquittal of President Clinton; dismayed by the regression of our once truly federal republic into an increasingly consolidated, unaccountable and centralized state; disenchanted with a corrupt two-party system that fails to represent Southern interests in Washington; and thoroughly fed up with the campaign of cultural bigotry and oppression being waged against Southerners by the Washington and Hollywood elites . . . ."
The party's de facto constitutional convention took place Aug. 7 in Flat Rock, N.C., where some 150 of the party faithful, many dressed in gray and singing "Dixie," adopted a 16-point declaration charting the "colonization" of the South and a subsequent national decline. The manifesto cites in particular a "Northern-inspired public education system" under which "flawed egalitarian social principles borrowed from the French Revolution . . . have degenerated into an insidious form of authoritarianism broadly described as 'political correctness.' " That, the statement says, amounts to "cultural cleansing" of all the South holds dear.
In its call for action the party declared that the "last, best hope for constitutional liberty lies with the people of the South, predominantly Celtic and British in culture, true to their Christian faith, inspired by the memories and sacrifices of their colonial and Confederate forefathers and jealous of their ancient liberties."
If that sounds exclusionist, it's not, Baxley says. Blacks and whites, for example, have shared a dominant culture in the South from the nation's earliest days, he says. Shorn of prejudice, that shared culture is still the best hope for everyone, he believes.
He declined to say how many members or how much money the Southern Party has today ("that's not my department") or how many candidates it hopes to field in elections next year.
"But I can tell you that after the North Carolina meeting last month we got a spike of interest like you wouldn't believe," he said. "Hundreds of letters . . . 15,000 hits on the Web site. . . . I got an e-mail here from a 77-year-old black man in Detroit who's all for us. He's originally from North Carolina."
The Web site even notes an enthusiastic overseas support group headed by one Wolfgang Krug of Krefeld, Germany.
Baxley said the party has had hundreds of offers to found branches of the Southern Party in Northern states, but says "we don't want to do that. We'll accept their support. We'll accept their contributions. But we are a nationalist organization. And our nation is the South."
Just what form a separate Southern government would take appears a little vague. Baxley suggests it would be much like the Confederate states "without their provisions about servitude."
Kalas, a former CIA employee, says, however, that it will be separate from the United States.
"Lincoln once said that a house divided would not stand," he told the Associated Press earlier this summer. "Lincoln was wrong. A house divided will stand. It's called a duplex."
CAPTION: The scene at the Southern Party's convention. The party line: The Confederate flag is no more a symbol of intolerance than the U.S. flag or the cross.
CAPTION: George Kalas addresses the Southern Party convention in Flat Rock, N.C.