Posts Tagged With: Jim Crow

SYMBOLISM

Suppose the modern day German government came out with a proclamation that they would be erecting a flag poll on the grounds of their capitol building in Berlin. Atop of this flag pole they would be hoisting the Nazi Swastika pennant that was the official flag of Germany from 1933-1945. They might explain with words such as: “We certainly don’t mean to offend or denigrate any race, religion or ethnic group. But we strongly feel that it’s important for us to honor the brave men who fought so valiantly and gave their lives for the fatherland during World War II; as well as the men who had the thankless duty of running the concentration camps and operating the gas chambers.” You think the rest of the world might be shocked and dismayed by such an unthinkable act. You think that everyone outside of Germany might vocally condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. As well as most Germans. Even the Obama administration might put its lethargic foreign policy proclivities aside and express total outrage. Fortunately, today’s German government is far more intelligent and rational to ever pull a stunt like that. The same can’t be said, however, for that part of the United States known as Dixie, or the  Southland.

The murder, a short while ago, of mostly elderly black parishioners peacefully going about their church services, by a deranged white racist cannot be blamed solely on the power of the Confederate flag. After all, a flag is merely a piece of cloth with certain markings. But people, not just Americans, but all over the world, are heavily invested in symbolism- which those markings on that piece of cloth represent. As we all know, the scumbag young killer responsible for this tragic event wore a shirt that had the Confederate flag on its face and presumably represented a symbol of his racial hatred. This flag also flies on capitol state grounds in South Carolina where this horror took place. The next day the governor of S.C. appealed to the state legislature to enact legislation removing the flag from the vicinity of their capitol. We’re still waiting for that to happen. To his credit, the governor of Alabama acted unilaterally through executive order had the Confederate flag removed from Alabama state capitol grounds. Throughout most of the rest of Dixie, however, it flies strongly and proudly. As well os other Civil War monuments such as statues or plaques dedicated to Confederate generals and other Southern soldiers and politicians of that era. And there isn’t the slightest hint that any of this is going away.

Just to be clear, the Civil War, which ended 150 years ago, was not just a fracas between the North and South, that kinda, sorta got out-of-hand. It was a 4-year-long bloody massacre that slaughtered 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million American deaths in today’s population. Blood-drenched atrocities and savagery were committed by both sides that would constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity had their been a world tribunal in those times. The Nazi-military machine and Japanese Imperial Army of WWII would have been proud of all the depravity and blood-spilling. When the war finally ended in 1865, renegade southern diehards tried to re-ignite the Confederacy by ambushing innocent civilians and causing their deaths. One such Confederate diehard was the famed outlaw Jesse James who murdered with impunity. Today he is virtually considered a Western legend and hero. It took almost to the end of the 19th century before this Southern diehardism finally began to peter out.

In the meantime, shortly after defeat, the Southern states began to quickly institute a policy of strict segregation against its black population that became known as Jim Crow. The symbol of this state of semi-slavery against blacks was, of course, the Confederate flag, born at the outset of the Civil War. Any “uppity” blacks that tried to rebel against this state of semi-slavery were often subject to lynchings, torture or dismemberment. A good indication of the mood of times in Dixie at the turn of the 20th century occurred when President Teddy Roosevelt invited a mild mannered educationalist named Booker T. Washington to the WhiteHouse in 1901, the first black man so invited. Southern politicians went into a rage at this sacrilege. James Vardaman, Governor of Mississippi, proclaimed that: “If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” Not to be outdone, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina stated: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n****r will necessitate killing a thousand n****rs in the South, before they will learn their place again.” Although TR loudly rejected these race-haters, he never invited another black to the White House again.

The Confederate flag also became a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan, which performed most of the lynchings and other crimes committed against blacks in the South for the next hundred years. In 1917 a young producer named D.F. Griffith filmed a movie called “Birth of a Nation” which had a profound propaganda effect on most of America. The movie, although crude by today’s technology, had a message and sold it well. Griffith, a strong Confederate sympathizer, portrayed blacks going a crazed rampage against Southern whites after they were freed from slavery. Blacks were seen as murdering defenseless white men, ravaging white women, stealing and burning plantations to the ground. But who rode in to save the day for the helpless white population? Why those brave, fearless men in the KKK, of course. It may sound crazy delusional in today’s world, but people back in the day swallowed this propaganda, hook, line and sinker, as the cliche goes. Klan popularity and membership soared during the 1920s, and not just in the South, but in the North too, mostly due to D.F. Griffith’s film.

So has the Confederate flag caused all this misery and tragedy? Obviously not, since, as I’ve said before, one could rationally certify that a flag is merely just a piece of cloth with certain markings. But are people so heavily invested in symbols that they would undertake the most heinous of crimes and hellish behavior based on the symbolism evoked by this piece of cloth. Absolutely. That’s why, for everyone’s sake, the Confederate flag should be removed throughout all of Dixie, (as well as other artifacts from the Civil War), so that from now on, no other deranged individual can use it as a motivation to commit pure evil. After all, modern Germany seems to function quite well by having the Nazi Swastika banished from public viewing

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

DONATING TO THE PIZZA JOINT

In about 500 to 1000 years from now, when historians begin to chronicle the demise of the American Empire, similar to the way author Edward Gibbon chronicled “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire,” I hope they take into consideration 2 recent minor events that, nevertheless, speak volumes about the American psyche. The very mindset that will ultimately lead to American self-destruction in a manner similar to the way ancient Romans brought about their own downfall. In the American case, it’s about individuals clinging to power through the deployment of religious fanaticism, and a gullible public that buys into the trappings of such fanaticism.

The first event took place on August 1, 2013, which was proclaimed Chick-fil-A day by former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. Chick-fil-A is a chain of fried chicken joints, mainly in the South and Mid-West, whose CEO, Dan Cathy, felt compelled to come out publicly against the “sin” of gay marriage. He uttered statements to the effect that if the U.S. goes against God’s will by allowing such “atrocities” as gay marriage to become legal, then God will stomp on us in retribution. He will simply crush us like a bug. Huckabee, a bible thumper going back to his days in Arkansas, was so impressed by Dan Cathy”s proclamation, that he stated on his TV show that God-fearing Americans should turn out on Aug.1 at Chick-fil-A outlets to show their appreciation. And turn out, they did. Most Chick-fil-A diners were so swamped with demand that they ran out of food before closing time. At the franchise outlet in Augusta, GA, the lunch line was several hours long. People were willing to stand on line for 2 hours or more, in the broiling summer heat, only to end up with a greasy fried chicken sandwich, if that’s what it took to stick it to those “queers.”  Huckabee said on his TV show after, that he was “giddy” about the outcome. In areas where there were no outlets, evangelicals had arranged for caravans of people to schlep for hours to the closest Chick-fil-A and then wait in hot sun, just to show their solidarity with Dan Cathy’s statements about gay marriage. What this episode tells us is that the delusional fanaticism surrounding the bible thumpers ideology has no boundaries.

The second event is on-going even as we speak. As we all know, the Indiana legislature felt compelled to show its appreciation to the evangelicals of that state that elected them to office in the first place, by enacting what is called the freedom of religion act, or some such phony nomenclature. Remember that Indiana is in the heart of the Mid-Western bible belt, so due homage must be given to these Christian ideologues, that always vote Republican by the way. In any event, despite all denials to the contrary, what this legislation does is simply promote bigotry.  It states that any business open to the public can deny service to anyone, if providing such service somehow conflicts with their religious beliefs. So, any shopkeeper that’s opposed to gay marriage, can deny providing food or a wedding cake to, or refuse to provide photography for, a gay wedding ceremony. This time, however, instead of rolling over and playing dead, the gay community and their supporters have attempted to fight back. Business conventions scheduled to take place in Indiana have been canceled, as well as a slew of other commercial activities. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, who replaced Steve Jobs, has also threatened Indiana with business losses. The uproar has caused the Indiana state government to somewhat modify the legislation in question, but, in essence, it’s still on the books in its basic form. Sort of reminds me of the 1960s when blacks attempted to de-segregate Southern lunch counters by sitting down and ordering off the menu. The white establishment owners would refuse service to any Afro-American by stating that since they owned the business, it was their constitutional right to deny service to whoever they wanted. Eventually those Jim Crow protections were struck down by the courts who ruled that any public establishment must provide service to the entire public without discrimination.

As an added wrinkle to all this fiasco, a pizza joint somewhere in Sticksville, Indiana, population 2000, has come out and publicly proclaimed that it would not provide any catering services for any gay marriages. Like gay couples from all over the country are just dying to have their wedding celebrations catered with pizza from Sticksville, Indiana. But the most fascinating aspect of this story is that, because of their stand on gay marriage, people from all over the country have been sending in cash donations to the pizza joint. So far, it’s claimed that over $850,000 has been collected with more coming in. Most of that money, I’m certain, is from people who are likely living hardscrabble existences. Nevertheless, their evangelical fundamentalism is so deranged, that they will gladly part with what fews dollars may have, if it feeds into their anti-gay bigotry.

Who knew that it would be that easy to have people part with their money once you can tap into their ingrained hatreds. I periodically get e-mails from places such as Nigeria, offering to deposit millions of dollars into my bank account if I would just give them my account number. Does anyone fall for these scams? It’s so much easier and even legal to scam people out of their money, the way they’re doing it at the Indiana pizza place. The deep-seated hatred of people making these voluntary donations is only superseded by their gullibility. As P.T. Barnum of circus fame once said, there’s a sucker born every minute. But the fact that such hatred and bigotry still seem to thrive in our so-called enlightened age, does not bode well for the long-term prospects of this country. The thing about hatred is that it corrodes from the inside out, until nothing but a shell or facade is left.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

FAKING SINCERITY

To appreciate the full ramifications of the Republican sweep of last Tuesday’s election, one has to explore various and complicated aspects of the human condition.  For example, as I wrote previously, the election results in most cases were decided by the people who didn’t vote, versus those that did. About 45% of eligible voters did cast their ballots, which is actually slightly higher than most off-year elections. But a solid majority of eligibles couldn’t be bothered to show up at the ballot station, or couldn’t care less about who won. Supposedly, most of those that did vote were turned off by Obama Administration and Democratic ineptitude and failures, and that prompted a fairly strong turn-out for the Republican cause. This was best illustrated in the state of Virginia, where Democratic Senator Mark Warner was supposed to have coasted to an easy re-election win over a Republican hack named Ed Gillespie. Instead the election was a nail-biter through the entire evening with Gillespie leading most of the time. Warner finally edged out a win by the skin of his teeth in the early morning hours. The reason for Warner’s near loss- people in southern Virginia were motivated to turn out in heavy numbers to vote Republican as a protest against Obama; while Democratic strongholds in northern Virginia saw meager numbers of voters at the polling booths. Ironically, people that benefit most from Government assistance, such as the poor, the sick, and the unemployed, tend to vote in light numbers, while those opposed to Government redistribution vote much more heavily. Also, young voters who generally are more liberal tend not to show up at the polls, while oldsters, like myself, who are usually more conservative, will vote in heavier numbers, even in off-year elections. What else do they have to do with their time.

Then, there’s the way candidates appeal to the voting public, as a crucial factor. In 1946, both Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon had returned home from fighting in WWII, and both were elected to Congress that year. In Kennedy’s case, it was part of family tradition to run for high public office. But in Nixon’s case, no political aspirations were initially in evidence. Not until a group of wealthy businessmen from southern California approached him, and said they liked his style and that he should consider entering the political arena. They, the businessmen, would provide the necessary financial support for such an effort. Nixon was grilled on variety of issues to ensure that his views were sufficiently conservative to suit the businessmen’s interests. But most of all, Nixon was told, to become a viable candidate, he had to appear thoroughly sincere in belief of the issues he would be promoting. “Well, hell,” replied Nixon. “I can fake that; at least as well as the next guy, if not better.” Since I wasn’t at that meeting, perhaps the exchange of verbiage didn’t go down in exactly those words. But I’m pretty sure that it was very close to that. Nixon was so good at faking his sincerity, that he would go on to be elected Congressman and then Senator from California. Next he was chosen to be Eisenhower’s running mate in the 1950s. From there, after some political setbacks, Nixon was elected to the Presidency in 1968. He made huge accomplishments as President; but was eventually done in and disgraced by his own paranoia during the Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign the Presidency. Faking the sincerity factor no longer worked for him.

Another good example of the fickleness of the average American’s political thought-proceesses also occurred during the tumultuous 1960s. In 1968, America had already been devastated by the assassinations of two leaders of monumental consequence, namely, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. In 1968, Robert Kennedy, affectionately known to his supporters as Bobby, decided to enter the fray for the Democratic nomination for President. He had been Attorney-General in his brother’s administration, and then was elected Senator from New York. Possessing much of his brother’s charisma, he generated huge popularity and seemed well on his way to securing the the Democratic nomination, when he too was assassinated in June of that year. It was a shattering loss for most Americans. I remember writing at the time that no nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., could sustain such devastating losses in leadership without going into a tailspin. Hubert Humphrey, a decent enough Senator from Minnesota would go on to obtain the Democrat nomination while Richard Nixon was the GOP nominee. But there was a third player in that year’s election.

His name was George Wallace, and he was the racist Governor of Alabama. In 1968, segregation and Jim Crow laws were still alive and well throughout the South. Wallace decided to run as an independent in the Presidential race that year, figuring that he had as good a shot as the main-stream party candidates. So, who was George Wallace? Five years previously, he had declared, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” That racist statement occurred when Wallace stood in the school house door to block black students from entering the University of Alabama, as had been decreed by the courts.  He eventually was forced to back down by an edict from then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had to federalize National Guard troops to provide protection for those black students. But that wasn’t the most interesting part of that 1968 scenario.

The most interesting part was that the very  people that had actively supported and voted for Bobby Kennedy in the Democratic primaries, were now turning out in huge numbers to listen to, and support George Wallace on the campaign trail after Kennedy’s assassination. Even though you couldn’t have two politicians who were more diametrically opposed to each other. Kennedy was a liberal who was for civil rights, and strongly opposed segregation and Jim Crowism. He was opposed to the war in Viet-Nam and promised disengagement if elected. He vigorously favored Government intervention to help the plight of the poor and sick. Wallace was just the opposite. He was not only a strict segregationist, but he was also one of the few public supporters of the Viet-Nam war. He couldn’t care less about reducing poverty, as noted by the fact that Alabama was the second poorest state in the union, with Mississippi being dead last. And yet many of the same people who were enthusiastic about Bobby, became similarly enthusiastic about Wallace.

How does one account for that? It’s the sincerity factor. When questioned about this supposed anomaly, voters were unapologetic. Bobby was a good man because he wasn’t talking out of both sides of his mouth, said one man. Now, Wallace is the only guy who means what he says and isn’t trying to please everyone at the same time. One woman added that “they say what they mean and they don’t try to beat around the bush.” So, in the end, it’s not about ideology. It’s about which candidate can sell the public on the fact that they are the authentic, real-deal. After all, politics is a game of salesmanship. The one that can best fake sincerity will usually rise to the top.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOOD OLE DIXIE

How many of you know that today is Jefferson Davis’s birthday. How many of you even know or care who Jeff Davis was. Well, for those of you that are historically challenged, Jefferson Davis was the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. In other words, he was Dixie’s equivalent to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. For those of you who may still view the Civil War as a long-time-ago kind of a spat among the states that sort of got out-of-hand, let me assure you it was the absolute opposite. The Civil War was every bit as brutal, nasty, and inhumane as the war this country fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the 1940s. Today’s equivalent of over 6 million American lives were lost in that conflict 150 years ago, either on the battlefield or in abominable prisoner of war camps. And while atrocities were committed on both sides, Southern prisoner camps were especially despicable since Northerners held in captivity lived under conditions of unbelievable filth and disease, and were usually starved, beaten, tortured or just cold-bloodly murdered. Nevertheless many Southern states still continue to display the Confederate flag, and one state still celebrates Jefferson Davis’s birthday.

In Alabama today, state offices as well as many businesses will be closed in honor of the Confederacy’s first and only president. Jeff Davis was captured in 1865 and accused of treason, but was never tried in a court of law; and he was eventually released two years later. Just before his death in 1889, he advised Southerners that: “The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations.” But many, to this day, refuse to heed that advise. He is still memorialized throughout the South with statues, parks and highways, in places such as Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia, and even Washington, D.C. But Alabama is the last state to to legislate that the first Monday in June will be set aside to celebrate Davis’s birthday. It should be noted that other Alabamians who actually made huge and beneficial contributions to civilized society such as Hellen Keller, writer Harper Lee, and blues musician W.C. Handy are not similarly commemorated. Such are the foibles of the human condition. I think the head of a local Alabama chapter of the NAACP put it best when he said that: “We’re supposed to be one nation under God. When people keep honoring the Confederacy, we are no longer one nation under God.”

So what has the U.S. accomplished in the 150 years since the end of that tussle among the states. First we had to endure another 100 years of semi-slavery for blacks better known as Jim Crowe. Strict segregation laws were established in the South that made it a crime for blacks to drink out of the same water fountain as whites, or use the same bathrooms, or sit at the same lunch counters. Blacks certainly couldn’t send their children to the same schools that white kids went to. When some protested how despicable segregation laws were, and that the federal Government should step in to rectify this abomination, the cry went out from Dixie for states rights. Southern states hammered home the point that the Constitution gave the states the right to enact segregation laws if they so desired. And by and large, the Feds did stay out of the South’s preoccupation with segregation. It wasn’t until the 1960s, with increased pressure from Northern freedom riders and greater militancy  from black communities that Jim Crowism and resultant segregation in the South finally started breaking down. They were finally washed away in a tidal wave of righteous indignation.

One of the greatest friends, ironically, that civil rights workers had in the early 1960s was an Alabama sheriff named Bull Conners. Conners, as one can infer from his name, was a fierce segregationist who looked every bit the part. When civil rights leaders tried to de-segregate his town, Conners had the police turn gushing water cannons on the marchers. People were hurt by the velocity of the water coming out these canons; and those that weren’t injured were thrown into the local prison. Those scenes were shown on TV nightly news, which then enraged most of the nation, thereby speeding up the de-segregation process. John Kennedy, who was President at the time, often stated that what Bull Connors did for the civil rights movement was well beyond anything he could achieve as President.

One would think that by crushing Jim Crowe and segregation, the cry of “states rights” in legislative affairs would have been long discredited. But if one did think that, one would be dead wrong. Today, try to enact federal gun control laws and the NRA immediately begins to scream that such laws would be a constitutional infringement of states rights. States throughout the South and Midwest have already enacted severe restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion, under the banner of states rights. Despite the Supreme Court’s verdict in Roe V. Wade. And new ballot restrictions intended to intimidate minorities and the poor from voting have also become law, supposedly protected by “states rights.” The Republican Party, of course, has become the chief advocate for states rights, since it perceives itself to be the main beneficiary in upcoming elections. So one must presume that when the GOP takes control of Congress this year, and the Presidency in 2016, the states will have the power to enact whatever they damn well please, no matter how obnoxious the legislation may be.

In the the meantime, let’s raise a glass of champagne in celebration of Jeff Davis’s birthday. At least at the end, when he was on his death bed, he finally got it right.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

OF PATRIOTS AND SCOUNDRELS

Most or all of you probably never hear of Major General Edwin Walker. He fought in WWII and then in the Korean war, and as I indicated, rose to the rank of major-general. But he was heavily invested into deep right wing politics, which at the time, (late 1950s to mid-1960s) meant being virulently anti-communist, and preserving Jim Crow racist segregation laws that existed throughout the South, and to a lesser extent in the North. In September, 1957, the courts decreed that segregation in the Little Rock Ark. public school system was unconstitutional, and ordered the schools to be immediately integrated. The man that was Governor of Arkansas at the time, a delightful chap named Orval Faubus, was thoroughly racist and a firm believer in segregation. So when 9 black school children tried to enter what was then an all-white high school, Faubus ordered out the Arkansas national guard to block their entry into that school. After trying for 18 days, unsuccessfully, to persuade Faubus to reverse course, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops into Little Rock to escort the 9 black children into an all-white school. Leading those federal troops was General Walker. Although, as I’ve said, he was a staunch believer in segregation, he was, nevertheless, forced to obey his commander-in-chief’s orders. With that, a major hole in the wall of segregation that the South had erected, was blown open. Of course, the white population of Little Rock were beside themselves in fury at the forced school integration; and Faubus described the federal troops as an army of occupation.

Although being forced to command the troops that led the way to successfully integrating Little Rock Central High, Walker never changed his segregationist views. He became prominent in the John Birch Society, which was not only a virulently anti-communist organization;  but also a strong advocate of racial segregation. They believed that segregation was God’s will, so that anyone opposing segregation was obviously a godless communist or communist-sympathizer. In the early 1960s, after being accused of trying to indoctrinate his troops with John Birch Society propaganda,  Walker left the Army and began making political speeches around the country. He called Eleanor Roosevelt and former President Harry Truman communist sympathizers. He flew the American flag upside at his Texas home to demonstrate that the U.S. had been taken over by commies and pinkos with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Then in 1961, the courts ordered that a black man named James Meredith be allowed to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi, (Ole Miss.) The Governor of Mississippi at the time was Ross Barnett, who made Orval Faubus seem like a mild-mannered pussy cat.

Barnett went on a fiery, speechmaking tour throughout the state, with Edwin Walker at his side, denouncing the evils of integration, and the big, bad federal government that imposed such evils. After all, the Feds actions were clearly unconstitutional; a violation of states rights enumerated in the tenth amendment. States rights became the rallying cry for allowing the South to maintain its segregationist laws. Sound familiar? Aren’t states rights kind of what the tea party looney-tunes, and far right politicians like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum are speechifying these days. In any event, there was a drumbeat of how states rights and the constitution were being violated because the walls of Jim Crowism seemed to be crumbling. Edwin Walker went throughout the country giving speeches about how godless communism was taking over the country with advent of integration. The sad thing was that he drew crowds numbering in the tens of thousands or more, all wildly cheering virtually everything he said. He ran for Governor of Texas, but even that deep Southern state rejected his craziness. He died in 1993, declaring to the end that godless communism was destroying America. Oh, and James Meredith was eventually admitted to Ole Miss, which further led to the destruction of Jim Crowism in the South.

This is sort of a long-way around of coming to the point, which is the National Rifle Association convention held in Houston, TX last week. The same sort of right-wing whackoism that was on display around 50 years ago regarding violation of the 10th Amendment’s states rights, was similarly on display at the NRA convention regarding the Feds violation of the 2nd Amendment regarding the right to bear arms. The parallels are remarkably eerie. Over 70 thousand people purportedly attended this convention to hear speaker-after-speaker denounce the Federal government for trying to pass some mild legislation that would prevent people with serious mental problems from obtaining firearms. Why this legislation was just a ruse to confiscate guns from honest, god-fearing gun-owners. Everyone there knew that Barack Obama would personally give the order for the military to roll their tanks down every street in the nation; and go door-to-door confiscating everyone’s firearms. That would leave all the honest folk defenseless against all the bad guys out there who apparently had no trouble at all obtaining guns. But the NRA, which is now supposedly 5 million strong, vowed that they would never allow this type of unconstitutional heresy to occur. Any politician supporting any type of gun control would be made to pay dearly, come election time. And, of course, chief among the speakers denouncing these supposed 2nd Amendment rights violations, were Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin. What’s that old saying-the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 1775, British poet, philosopher, and essayist Samuel Johnson, issued the famous statement that-“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Watching the antics going on at the NRA convention, one couldn’t help but think that did he ever hit the nail on the head.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

VOTING RIGHTS

The essence, and entire premise of democracy in this country is, majority rules. Yes, we have a constitution that spells forth certain basic rights that cannot be denied by a majority of the people. Such as freedom of speech and press, or the right to due process if criminally accused. Of course, these basic human rights have often been infringed on from time to time. It’s all in the way the constitution is interpreted. But outside the enumerated basic rights that are constitutionally mandated, the machinery of government functions on the basis of majority rule. And that rule is determined through the process of voting. We go to the polls and our vote establishes who goes to Congress or sits in the Oval Office. Majority voters determine who will be handed the responsibilities to make the government function or dysfunction, as the case may be. (These days, it’s primarily dysfunction.) But what if that vote can be illegally manipulated or otherwise distorted so, in essence, it doesn’t represent the will of the people. Then the basic political foundations of democracy in this country are made a mockery of. Unfortunately, such has been the case for too many times throughout our history.

All this came to mind because of a current case being presented before the Supreme Court, relating to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Certain southern states are suing to have parts of this Act overturned. First a little background. After slavery ended through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th Amendment, virtually all southern states established a series of racist Jim Crow laws. These laws established strict segregation laws between whites and blacks in all public venues, including public schools for children. In addition, since most southern states had large black populations, the white establishment wanted to assure that blacks were denied any influence at the polls when voting for political candidates. So most southern states established the poll tax, whereby it would cost an individual money if he wanted to vote. (Women, at that time in history, had no voting rights.) The poll tax could be as small as $10-$25, or perhaps as much as $50-$100, but it didn’t matter. Most blacks, especially in the south, were dirt poor at the time. So given the choice for a poor black laborer of paying for the right to vote or using that money to put food on the table for his family, the decision was easy. Besides, the white establishment would always find a way to rig the election, with or without black voting. Such was the thinking and reality in those days.

Thus, 150 years of slavery in this country was followed by another 100 years of semi-slavery, known as Jim Crowism. Which, by the way, also existed in many parts of the north. Things finally came to a head in the early 1960s with the great civil rights marches and demonstrations, often led by Martin Luther King. In 1965, under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson, Congress, with strong bi-partisan support, passed the Voting Rights Act which banned the existence of poll taxes, or any other form of discrimination, concerning the right to vote. (In those days, there were many in the Republican Party that actually worked for the good of the people, instead of catering to looney-tunes, crackpot, fringe elements.) In any event, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 turned out to be one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our history. Almost immediately after passage, large numbers of black voters were added to the enrollment columns. Today, black voter enrollment is on a par, or even exceeds white registration throughout the south.

Part of the 1965 Act requires southern and even a few northern states to obtain prior approval of the Dept. of Justice for any changes they seek to make in voting procedures. Hence, southern states are suing the federal government to have these provisions declared unconstitutional. They argue that the days of the poll tax, or any other form of racial bias in voting, has long been swept away. They point to black state legislators, and Congressional representatives that have been elected throughout the south. Which is all very true. So the early indication is that the Supreme Court will buy their arguments and rule in their favor. But that doesn’t mean that unscrupulous individuals throughout the entire country are not plotting and scheming to manipulate the voting process for their partisan purposes. And unfortunately, most of this scheming is taking place under Republican auspices.

Florida is a good example in the election we just held this past November. Republican Governor Rick Scott and his Republican State Secretary, went on a frenzied binge in the weeks before the election, to remove registered voters from the eligibility rolls, on the basis that these people were really not citizens of Florida. Tens of thousands of eligible voters were thus denied access to the voting booth. The trouble is, that virtually all those removed were poor, or low -income individuals that normally vote Democratic. Despite this blatant manipulation, Obama carried Florida by a narrow margin, which is a minor miracle in itself. Another attempt to put a damper on Democratic turnout in upcoming elections, are laws requiring picture ID that have been passed in many states that the GOP controls. Millions of people don’t drive and, thus, have no driver’s license. Thus no voter ID. (My driver’s license is the only picture ID that I own.) And, of course, those without driver’s licenses tend to be on the low-end of the economic totem pole, and, again, more likely to vote Democratic. A good example is Indiana which Obama carried in 2008. Then a Republican Governor working with a Republican legislature passed a picture ID requirement for voter eligibility. And Obama then lost this state in 2012.

Of course, the biggest fiasco to the election process, and which makes a mockery of the entire concept of democracy in this country is the Electoral College. This body of unknown individuals determine who will be declared the presidential winner in each race. As Al Gore found out in the election of 2000 when he won the popular vote but was still denied the presidency. It came down to several hundred votes in, again, the state of Florida. A Republican Secretary of State refused to allow the recount of thousands of disputed votes which could have swung the election to the Democrat. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court agreed with her and Al Gore was left to whistle dixie.

Now, GOP strategists are plotting to enact new laws, especially in the so-called swing states, that will award electoral votes on the basis of county election results. Since most counties in this country consist of thinly populated small towns, and always vote Republican, it would give the GOP a lock on the White House. Democrats win by carrying the much fewer heavily populated counties that usually contain major cities. If Republicans can pull this one off, it will truly destroy any semblance of a democratic process in this country. Even without a poll tax.

As I’ve said previously, a monarchy form of government is beginning to look better all the time.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.