“It’s Time To Leave The 19th Century Behind”: Let’s Stop Whistling Dixie; Missouri’s Toxic Political Culture Must Change
Quite properly, journalistic reaction to events in Ferguson, Missouri, has focused on the militarization of the police, on the role of racism in the killing of unarmed African-American men, and on the political disenfranchisement that allows communities like Ferguson to operate in obvious defiance of public sentiment.
But there is another element peculiar to Missouri politics that must have light shed upon it. That is the sharp right-ward turn conservative politics in that State has taken. In its best moments, conservatism stands for caution, for prudence, for a government that is efficient yet serves the needs of all.
There was a time when conservatives in Missouri stood for these things, but that is no longer the case. Rather, what is visible to the outside observer is a dangerous movement towards the outermost fringes. For it is fair to say that a toxic neo-confederatism has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the very heart of Missouri’s government — its state legislature.
Let’s consider Brian Nieves, a State Senator from West St. Louis. Nieves is not some obscure back-bencher. He’s been a member of the State Legislature since 2002, rising to the position of House Majority Whip before moving on to the Senate, where he now chairs the Committee on General Laws.
And what has Senator Nieves been doing in this position of trust? He has injected neo-confederatism into the law-making function. Consider Senate Joint Resolution 45, a state constitutional amendment Nieves proposed in January, 2012, which sought to revive the discredited Confederate principle of state nullification. The amendment would have declared that Missouri enjoyed the “sovereign” right to treat as null and void all federal law on gun control; abortion; climate change; federally-subsidized health care; same-sex marriage; hate crimes; and a range of other topics. In other words, had this amendment been adopted, Missouri would have been free to reject as non-binding a large body of federal statutes and judicial decisions.
Nullification, of which this is a modern manifestation, is an idea that has its origins in the efforts of the Southern planter class of the 1820’s and 1830’s to defend slavery against an encroaching federal government. In 1832, the federal government tried to enforce a tariff in South Carolina that posed a threat to the profitability of the slave-based cotton trade that formed the cornerstone of that State’s economy.
Purporting to defend the Constitution from an allegedly unconstitutional tariff, the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification declared that laws which “violated the true meaning and intent [of the Constitution] are null, void, and no law.” When President Andrew Jackson threatened a military response, South Carolina backed down, although three decades later it chose secession rather than recognize Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.
Nieves’ joint resolution did not carry the day. But that did not deter the nullificationists in the State Legislature from a second, more successful attempt to assert Missouri’s self-proclaimed right to nullify federal law.
“The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” it was called, and it was introduced in January, 2014. It took direct aim at federal gun control legislation. Listing numerous federal laws on the subject, it declared the named provisions “shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.” Just like the South Carolina slave owners of the 1830s, the bill’s sponsor declared that the proposed law was needed to defend the Constitution against an aggressive and out-of-control federal government.
This time, the nullificationists enjoyed greater success. In February, 2014, the Missouri Senate approved the bill by a vote of 23-10, with near-unanimous Republican support. The Missouri Tea Party rejoiced. In April, 2014, the State House of Representatives also passed the bill.
It is past time, way past time, 150 years past time, to be playing around with Confederate ideology. That Republicans in the Missouri legislature gave overwhelming support to a piece of legislation whose origins can be traced to the ugliest moments in America’s slave-owning past stands as a badge of infamy. The Missouri Republican Party would do well to repudiate this legislation and promise to stop playing with the dynamite of nullification.
I’ve got news for Missouri’s political class. They need to stop reviving the odious, discredited ideology of the Southern slaveocracy. They must instead return to reality and address the social crisis Ferguson represents. For in truth, African-Americans face substantial obstacles in Missouri. The four-year high-school graduation rate for African-Americans is 76 percent (as of 2009/2010). (The white graduation rate is 89 percent). The poverty rate for African-Americans is 27.7 percent (as of 2007/2011). The white poverty rate for the same period is 12.1 percent. The unemployment rate of African-Americans (2008/2012) is 18.0 percent. (For white Missourians it is 7.3 percent). The incarceration rate for African-Americans (as of June 30, 2012) is 38.2 percent.
It’s time for Missouri’s right-wingers to leave the nineteenth century behind. It is time for all Missourians — indeed, time for all Americans — to start building a more just and equitable world, one free of institutional racism and yawning racial disparities. Missouri was once the home of far-sighted progressives. Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948. Democratic Senator Stuart Symington voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act at great political risk. Missouri, it is time to get serious. The world is watching.
By: Charles J. Reid, Jr., The Huffington Post Blog, August 20, 2014
“Slavery Nostalgia Is Real, And It’s Dangerous”: Yearning For The Past Of Segregation And Slavery Is Neither Quaint Nor Harmless
Northerners may be a little shocked that anyone could feel a bit nostalgic for slavery, in the manner of the government-hating Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy. But in the South, such sentiments are hardly unheard of, even if they are usually muttered in private over a few bourbons rather than spoken at a news conference.
Occasionally, in fact, they are expressed or embraced by public figures. A particularly relevant case started about 14 years ago, when Maurice Bessinger, owner of a chain of South Carolina barbecue restaurants called Maurice’s Piggy Park, began distributing pro-slavery tracts in his stores. One of the tracts, called the “Biblical View of Slavery,” said the practice wasn’t really so bad, because it was permitted in the Bible. It argued that many black slaves in the South “blessed the Lord” for their condition, because it was better than their life in Africa.
When the tract was discovered, Mr. Bessinger was denounced and his restaurants boycotted. Many retail stores pulled his distinctive (to be kind) yellow mustardy barbecue sauce from their shelves.
But one prominent South Carolinian decided to stand up for Mr. Bessinger. Glenn McConnell, then a state senator from Charleston, stocked the sauce in his Confederate “art gallery,” which was loaded with secessionist flags and uniforms, as well as toilet paper bearing the image of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. When a local power utility banned its trucks from the parking lots of Piggie Park, Mr. McConnell threatened a legislative vendetta against the company.
Mr. Bessinger died in February. Mr. McConnell is now the lieutenant governor of South Carolina.
In that state, it is not considered a stain to have fought passionately to keep the Confederate flag flying on top of the Capitol dome, or to have appeared on a notorious white-nationalist radio program in 2007. (All of this is meticulously chronicled on the website of the invaluable Southern Poverty Law Center.)
No reputational damage was done even when Mr. McConnell, a well-known Civil War re-enactor and then president pro-tem of the Senate, appeared in a 2010 photograph dressed as a Confederate general, standing between a black man and a woman dressed as slaves. The man was wearing a floppy hat and holding a washboard; the woman wore an apron and a bandanna. When black leaders protested, Senator McConnell said the photo actually showed how far the state had come in race relations.
“If somebody is trying to be politically correct and use a tunnel vision on it and hook in the slavery issue, they’re on a slippery slope toward narrow-mindedness,” he told the Charleston Post and Courier, using a justification that Mr. Bundy might want to try. “They should extend the charity of understanding. Receive it in the spirit that it is presented.”
A few weeks ago, Mr. McConnell was named the president of the College of Charleston, under pressure from likeminded state legislators who have decided the school is taking academic freedom a little too literally. Religious conservatives in the legislature were angry that the college assigned students to read “Fun Home,” a memoir with gay themes by Alison Bechdel, and tried to cut its budget. Despite a vote of no confidence by the faculty, and no experience running an educational institution, Mr. McConnell will take over the presidency of the school in July.
The College of Charleston had no black students until 1967, having gone private in the 1950s to avoid integration. Even now, once again a public institution, only 6 percent of its students are black, one of the lowest percentages for a college or university in the state. Nostalgia for a past of segregation and slavery is neither quaint nor harmless; it remains a very present danger.
By: David Firestone, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, April 24, 2014
Of all the names of American heroes you probably don’t know, Julius Waties Waring has to rank near the top of the list. Waring was a judge in South Carolina in the mid-20th century. He’s famous to those who know for many courageous stands, but he’s probably best known for writing in one opinion that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That was in 1951, three years before Brown v. Board of Education. In Charleston, South Carolina. Now that’s a set of stones, no?
Charleston these days is a gorgeous and ever more cosmopolitan city where, if you pick your spots carefully—the art galleries, certain restaurants—you can run into more Democrats than Republicans, maybe. But Chucktown has been molasses-slow to acknowledge the brave legacy of Waring. Finally this month, he got his due. A statue was dedicated outside the same federal courthouse building where he heard his cases.
Everyone of course came. Oh, wait. Everyone didn’t come. Some Democrats showed up, led by Eric Holder. But no local Republican of any note came.
According to the Charleston Post and Courier, Sen. Lindsey Graham had another event he’d planned “months before.” Rep. Mark Sanford, the Appalachian trail-hopping ex-governor who now represents the city in Congress, spent the day in Washington. (It was a Friday.) And the best excuse of all goes to Tim Scott, the junior senator after Graham, who is African-American. Scott had some meetings, and then “some personal things that needed attending.” He at least did send an aide.
If this seems like a small, so-what kind of thing to you, I submit two thoughts. First, you’re maybe not familiar enough with Waring’s career. He made it to the federal bench in 1942. He made, for a few years, no unusual rulings, although being on the bench did bring him face to face with his city and state’s official segregation in a way that simply being a prosperous attorney had not. He began by ending segregation in his courtroom. Somewhere in there he divorced his first wife, a Charleston girl, and took up with and married a Connecticut woman, who may have influenced his views. He issued an opinion holding that the state had to pay black teachers the same as it paid whites, and another ordering that the University of South Carolina law school admit black students, or that the state open a truly equal law school for African-Americans.
In 1948, Waring ended the state Democratic Party’s “white primary” and ruled that Charleston’s “Negroes” were entitled to “full participation in [Democratic] Party affairs.” The party had to let them enroll and vote, which they did, 35,000 strong, in that year’s primary elections. (Yes, as conservatives will gleefully note as if they’re scoring a point by mentioning 80-year-old and no longer relevant history, the Democratic Party was the racist party at the time.)
Then in 1951 came his famous dissent in Briggs v. Elliott, in which he wrote the sentence I quote above. Waring’s famous sentence came from his dissent—that is to say, by 2-1, the three-judge federal panel upheld South Carolina’s segregation. But the Supreme Court agreed to hear Briggs, which it then combined into Brown. When the high court ruled in Brown, the Charleston circuit court, of course, reversed itself. So Waring was boldly ahead of his time, and he provided the jurisprudential basis for Brown by being the first-ever federal judge to say, plainly and straightforwardly, that segregated schools were wrong and that “separate but unequal” was a practical impossibility and a pernicious lie.
So he was a huge figure. Charleston had rejected him in part because he rejected it. He retired shortly after his Briggs ruling and moved with his wife to New York City, of all lamentable places, obviously wanting to have nothing to do with Charleston, the South, or any of it. But now the city has finally decided to honor its own, so let’s not pretend no one down there understands the importance of what he did.
The second thought I submit is that while politicians do indeed have scheduling commitments that arise months in advance, they also cancel them regularly to go do something else. I’ve been on the business end of some of those cancellations myself. So Graham, Scott, and Sanford could have found a way to make it to Charleston if it really mattered to them.
I am not saying that the fact that they didn’t go makes them racists. That would be unfair in Graham’s and Sanford’s case, and kind of preposterous in Scott’s case. I am saying, however, that it seems as if they didn’t go because, well, no one they knew and cared about wanted them to go. For Graham, certainly, locked in a primary fight against Tea Partiers, but really for any South Carolina Republican no good could possibly come of attending a celebration of one of the state’s most important liberals.
The presence of Holder, Mr. Fast and Furious himself, only made things worse. Why, imagine. What with everyone having cameras on them these days, someone might have snapped a picture of one of the Republicans shaking Holder’s hand! So it’s not a reflection on the men—although it is that—so much as it is on the modern GOP, Palmetto State Branch. And it’s shameful.
Meanwhile, across our United States, schools are resegregating at a record clip, thanks to the Republican appointees who constitute a Supreme Court majority that believes trying to desegregate schools by edict is nearly as malevolent as the old practice of segregating them. The resegregation is happening faster, surprise surprise, down South than anywhere else. What they seem to need are more tributes to figures like Waring, and Republicans in particular are the people who need to attend them.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 21, 2014
I once had this idea for a play about God, a comedy, in which the audience would be introduced to a series of casuists and charlatans and braggarts and bloviators, and they’d be carrying on, lecturing away on topics large and small with serene self-confidence. There’d be the sound of thunder and perhaps a puff of smoke, and from the wings, God would appear. He or She would, over the course of the three acts, take on numerous corporeal forms—white man, black woman, Asian man, Arab woman, et cetera—but in each guise would admonish the speaker: “No, asshole. You’re totally wrong. How do I know? Because I’m God, and you’re wrong.”
The idea came to me, of course, because of life’s endless pageant of moments when one wishes life really worked that way. But I don’t know if I’ve ever wished it more than I did two days ago, when Jim DeMint, the ex-senator and Heritage Foundation head who defines the words casuist and charlatan and braggart and bloviator and about 262 others that are worse, said that the federal government of the United States did nothing to end slavery. The salient words:
Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately, there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.
Please, I beg of you, don’t do DeMint the honor of thinking him merely stupid. He’s probably that, in some way. Certainly those sentences add up to a mountain of stupid, a Himalayan range of it. Yet at the same time, a statement this insane can’t be propelled merely by stupidity. A denial of reality this whole, this pure, requires, I think, some thought, some premeditation. Dwell with me on this for the moment.
Today’s radical conservatives like DeMint want to destroy government. This means in the first instance discrediting everything government does in the present. That, we’re all plenty familiar with. It’s a lot of what we fight about all the time.
But the project also includes history—proving that nothing good that ever happened in history was done by the government. Oh, they might grant you a war here or there, these wingers. They’re OK with war (when we win them—when we’ve lost them, that was of course the liberals’ fault). But nothing else.
Often, this is easy enough. Example: The great post-war prosperity boom and middle-class expansion. We on my side say: unionization, massive public investments, a tax rate that kept the coffers full, a few other things. DeMint and his type can’t have that, so they say: American ingenuity, a free-market system that encouraged initiative, no big bloated welfare state yet, etc. That’s a simple one. Left and right offer competing narratives, and to most people, parts of each probably sound plausible.
But then you get to trickier matters. How, as a radical conservative today, and especially a Southern one, and especially one from the state (South Carolina) that started the Civil War (first to advance nullification, first to secede, first shots fired), are you supposed to explain that war? And how are you supposed to explain slavery? Tough ones. If you ever visit any of those crackpot websites I look at sometimes, you’ve seen, for example, the commonly advanced idea that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, it was about states’ rights and economics and so on. I guarantee you that notion will show up pretty quickly in this very comment thread.
But that explains only the war’s beginning, not its end. I had not heard, until DeMint’s comments here, their theory on the war’s end, and more deliciously on slavery’s. So it was “the conscience of the American people” that ended it. And the Constitution, which “kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights.’” And William Wilberforce. But whatever it was, it wasn’t “big government.”
Interesting interpretation, eh? DeMint’s “conscience of the American people” x’s out of history the Emancipation Proclamation, which strikes me as an act of the federal government (a presidential order); also the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery and, as an amendment to the Constitution, was surely an action of the government. It also x’s out the war itself, fought to the end, no matter what today’s Confederate revisionists say, to wipe out slavery once and for all.
As for the Constitution, well, there’s the fact that the words DeMint quotes appear not in the Constitution but the Declaration of Independence, but there are bigger problems here than that. If Jim DeMint had been alive in 1860, it’s reasonable to assume that he’d have gone with the flow in his state, correct? So he’d have supported secession. And, big cheese that he is, he’d have likely played some role in creating the Confederate States of America. And in turn he’d likely have signed the Confederate Constitution, thus pledging his loyalty to a document that explicitly prohibited the Confederate government or its several states from interfering in slave ownership in any way, including a specific provision stating that any territories the CSA gained via war or any other means would become slaveholding states. That would have been Jim DeMint’s Constitution, not the one you and I heed.
Finally, this Wilberforce business. They love Wilberforce, today’s rad-cons. He was a devout Christian, you see, and a conservative; and yet at the same time a stern abolitionist. What a useful combination! Invoking Wilberforce allows conservatives like DeMint to pretend that he, not Calhoun, is their moral lodestar and inspiration. It’s somewhat problematic for them that while Wilberforce did indeed fight slavery, he did so in England, where he actually lived, not in America. And only up until 1833, when he died. Besides which the fiery abolitionists in America, William Lloyd Garrison and so forth, were quite religious too, but on the political left.
There is such a thing as having a legitimate difference of opinion on a question of history. Was Napoleon the embodiment or the corruption of the French Revolution, to take an obvious example—historians will argue that one till the end of time. But DeMint doesn’t have a legitimate difference of opinion. He has a wholly ideological one, designed not to spur historical debate but to justify his miserly posture toward contemporary politics.
And so every sentence that came out of his mouth was just utter nonsense. But not just that–premeditated, pernicious, and malicious nonsense, spun to serve contemporary ends like fighting the delivery of health coverage to millions. Physicians have boards to answer to, lawyers the local bar; but in politics and media, there’s no panel that can police this drivel and declare DeMint unfit for participation in public discourse. And so he gets to say these utterly insane things but still get quoted in the papers as if he were a serious person. And the rest of us just have to endure him. God, if you’re there, now would be a good time to show up.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 11, 2014
“Fetal Personhood Ploy”: Anti-Choice Lawmakers In South Carolina Want Pregnant Women To Arm Themselves To “Protect The Unborn”
A state Senate panel in South Carolina advanced legislation Thursday that states a pregnant person has a right to use deadly force to protect the “unborn … from conception until birth.” The measure is called the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act,” and it is model legislation written and disseminated by Americans United for Life.
As usual, the words “pregnancy” and “protection” are red herrings.
First, South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law already allows for the use of deadly force anywhere a person claims to fear for their lives or the life of someone around them. (It is a terrible and dangerous law.) So opponents of the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act” have rightly pointed out that this measure is entirely redundant.
But the bill does serve a serious purpose for anti-choice policymakers and activists working to endow fertilized eggs with personhood status and legal rights, a move that would suppress the rights of pregnant people and likely ban abortion and most forms of contraception. The measure tries to accomplish this — or at least open the door to these possibilities — by defining life as beginning at conception.
Here’s the language from the bill:
(1) ‘Pregnant’ means the female reproductive condition of having an unborn child in the female’s body.
(2) ‘Unborn child’ means the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.
The measure also pays considerable lip service to the very real threat of violence faced by women and pregnant people, but does nothing to strengthen existing anti-violence laws, create additional funding for domestic violence service providers or increase actual resources to aid people in violent situations.
None of this was lost on the opponents of the measure. “No one disputes that violence against pregnant women is a concern in our state and few would deny the need for swift action to stop any instances of further violence,” Emma Davidson, spokeswoman for South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families, told the Aiken Standard. “But it is hypocritical to introduce legislation claiming to protect victims of domestic abuse, rape and violence while simultaneously outlawing emergency contraception, a key treatment option for those victims.”
And for those looking for further proof that the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act” is just a fetal personhood ploy, the committee also debated a fetal personhood measure during the same session.
The “Personhood Act” would outlaw abortion outright by granting legal rights to fertilized eggs and fetuses.
By defining life as starting at conception, Davidson explained, the measure could also outlaw birth control and emergency contraception. And as University of South Carolina family law professor Marcia Zug told the Aiken Standard, the bill could ban abortions without exception. “A fetal personhood bill which would outlaw abortions in even the most life-threatening of circumstances has never been an option with the Supreme Court. It is clearly unconstitutional,” Zug said.
And if lawmakers are really interested in reducing rates of domestic violence in the state, they may instead want to focus their efforts on funding domestic violence service providers who have had to reduce services in the face of budget cuts. According to a nationwide survey on domestic violence service providers, in a single day in South Carolina, 16 requests from domestic violence victims were turned down because programs did not have the resources to provide them emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare or legal representation
More women are killed by men in South Carolina than any other state in the nation; the rate of women killed by men in South Carolina is more than double the national average.
By: Katie McDonough, Salon, April 11, 2014