Monday, October 3, 2005

Below the (Bible) Belt

A big thank you goes out to the guys at Get Religion, who linked to my blog a few days ago:

Thanks to blogger Jon Swerens, who has found this story on Mississippi’s debate about rebuilding casinos on land, on water or at all. The story touches on the religion angle of this debate, but in a regrettable parade of characters from central casting, Bible Belt division...

Then, one of the commenters over on Get Religion said something I would have agreed with a few weeks ago:
Isn’t it possible that in Mississippi, that this is a “Bible Belt” issue and there really isn’t any liberal involvement? Unlike in some places, if you are in Mississippi or Alabama, the term “Bible Belt” is used with pride and not as some implied sneer.

Ah, but it depends on where in Mississippi you happen to live.

As the folks at Get Religion are fond of saying, the whole red state-blue state divide is too simplistic. A better divide is perhaps red ZIP code-blue ZIP code.

And the Mississippi Gulf Coast has perhaps the bluest ZIP codes in the state.

Two factors have made the Gulf Coast more "cosmopolitan," as one person called it, than the rest of the state: Tourism and the military.

Because of the, umm, rowdier elements of the military, and the look-the-other-way elements of tourism, the coast is at least culturally more liberal than the rest of the state. (The capital city of Jackson may also be culturally liberal, but I spent very little time there.)

Tourism -- now including the casinos -- and the military are both big economic engines on the coast. And now, post-Katrina, casino proponents feel they have a moral obligation to do what needs to be done to rebuild the casino economy and its 17,000 jobs.

The danger for the coast media -- including those who publish front-page editorials insisting on a tweak in state law to allow casinos on land -- is to discount the arguments against the casinos as divisive and backward. The media has an obligation to cover the opposing side of the casino issue, even if it works against its economic self-interest.

Associated Press photo of the shell of the former Treasure Bay casino in Biloxi.

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