Matt Towery

The cover story in this week's Newsweek is entitled "The End of the South." Some of the story's observations ring true enough. Yet the tone of the piece, and its accompanying photos, paint an oversimplified "black and white" portrait of a land that is actually -- like most everywhere else -- a colorful mix of the flattering and the not-so flattering.

The main piece was written by award-winning writer Christopher Dickey, the son of the late, famed poet and novelist James Dickey, he of "Deliverance" fame.

Christopher Dickey is gifted. But the glasses with which he chose to view his native land for this article were tinted with preconceptions. His knowledge of the modern South and its politics is limited.

A quick check of his bio bears out my take on him. Dickey has served as the bureau chief for Newsweek in Paris (the one in France, not Texas). He's served previously at scattered news bureaus across the word.

It's likely that Dickey's view of how to evaluate the politics and people of the South in 2008 is something akin to how I might report on England today after having lived there 24 years ago. My compass for even attempting a directional read on the place would be dysfunctional.

Dickey's thesis, like most stereotypes, is partly true. The South is a region in transition. Sometimes turbulently so.

What's unsettling about the Newsweek piece is its failure to properly recognize that that much of the population along Dickey's sojourn -- the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia -- is concentrated largely in suburban and exurban areas. The demographic makeup of these concentrations of people are made up, sometimes overwhelmingly, by those originally from places north and west of "Dixie"; often young people, who know little about the Civil War, or about the civil rights, and care even less.

Yet many of the article's anecdotes center on the politics or the daily lives of people in rural parts of the South, who are an increasingly insignificant part of the whole population.

Dickey writes that, "People [here] remember what they want and call it history. That much is true almost any place in the world. But in the South, if people aren't careful, history can start to run their lives, even put them at risk." Huh?

Actually that passage is the set-up for a story he relates about his father's late brother, who kept a large collection of Civil War artillery in his basement.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
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