Posts Tagged With: Segregation

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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