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“Hillary Clinton And The Burden Of Authenticity”: She Came, She Saw, She Talked, And She Listened

One of the funniest conversations I’ve heard took place among a small group of Arkansas women who’d done their best to clue the newlywed Hillary Rodham in on a basic fact of Southern life she’d been reluctant to accept in the 1970s: Cute counts. It’s not necessary to be a beauty queen, but a woman who doesn’t look as attractive as she can is often suspected of being too “authentic” for her own good.

The lady lumberjack look then fashionable on Ivy League campuses confused Arkansas voters, as did Hillary’s decision to keep her maiden name after marriage. (As the husband of a Southern girl often patronized to her face in a New England college town back then, I can testify that cultural incomprehension can run both ways. But that’s another topic.)

The point is that Hillary Rodham Clinton listened. As she later explained, she hadn’t really understood how strongly people in Arkansas felt about the name thing. So she took the name “Clinton” to stop sending a message she’d never intended. About the same time, it became fairly obvious that she’d started taking clothing, makeup, and hair-styling tips from female friends and quit looking like an outsider too.

So does that make her more or less “authentic” by current journalistic standards? Does it make her a big faker, the “manipulative, clawing robot” of a Maureen Dowd column? Or a relatively normal human being adjusting to the expectations of the people around her?

Not long afterward, Hillary also started doing something very much like what she’s recently been doing in Iowa and New Hampshire: holding small-scale town meetings with local school boards, parents, and teachers in support of the newly re-elected Bill Clinton’s Arkansas education reforms.

Clinton’s 1983 education package — its slogan was “No More Excuses” — brought math, science, and arts classes to many rural school districts for the first time. It raised teacher salaries and increased taxes to fund them. Over time, it’s helped close the historic gap between the state’s country and city schools.

And before the campaign was over, Arkansas’s First Lady was on a first-name basis with thousands of, yes, “everyday people” in all 75 Arkansas counties. She came, she saw, she talked, and she listened. As a secondary matter, Hillary’s image problems among Arkansan voters faded away.

How it works is pretty simple: You accept Arkansas, Arkansas accepts you. I’m pretty sure this is broadly true of Iowa and New Hampshire voters too. So is there an element of calculation in Hillary’s latest listening tour? Sure there is.

Is it merely cheap political theater?

Look, she’s a professional politician running for president. Of course her campaign events are stage-managed. How could they not be? Just as she ran for the U.S. Senate from New York back in 1999, a state where she’d never actually lived.

Although New Yorkers tend to be more flattered than offended when famous carpetbaggers descend upon them, she held small forums all across the state — impressing most observers with her industriousness and knowledge of local issues. America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, backed out of the race.

She’s a very smart cookie, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And she always does her homework. No, she’s not a mesmerizing speaker like Bill, and not the most outwardly charismatic politician in the race (whoever that may be). GOP focus groups say her biggest weakness is their perception of her “entitlement” and seeming remoteness from ordinary people’s lives.

So off she goes on another listening tour. “A sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van,” Dowd sneers. However, contrary to reporters who marvel at Hillary’s “willingness to put on the hair shirt of humility to regain power,” she actually appears to enjoy the fool things.

Partly, it’s a woman thing. See, Hillary and my wife worked together back when the governor’s wife served on the board of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Diane always mentioned two things: how hard she worked on children’s health issues, and how she never pulled rank.

But what really endeared her to my wife was Hillary’s empathy during a prolonged medical crisis involving our son. At times, Diane was under terrible emotional strain. Hillary never failed to show concern. Was the new treatment helping? Had we thought about seeking another opinion? She acted like a friend when my wife needed all the friends she could get.

And no, there was nothing in it for her. I wasn’t a political journalist then. It wasn’t about me. It was about two mothers.

In an article unfortunately headlined “Manufacturing Authenticity,” Slate’s John Dickerson gets it right. For all her privilege and celebrity, Hillary “has something going for her that other politicians do not when it comes to these kinds of events… she has thought about family issues her entire life.”

Dickerson marveled that in Iowa, “Clinton actually appeared to be listening.”

And that could turn out to be her secret weapon.

 

By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 22, 2015

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Arkansas, Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Anarchy Of ‘Religious Liberty'”: We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To Anyone Not Like Us

It’s a good thing Americans have no serious problems, because the time and energy we expend fighting over symbolic issues could become a problem. Sure, symbols can be important. The swastika is a symbol, also the U.S. flag. But this week’s farcical casus belli involves a couple of spectacularly ill-conceived “religious freedom” statutes in Indiana and Arkansas.

As originally written, these laws would give every private business in both states — every butcher, baker, and wedding cake maker — powers and privileges equivalent to the Pope of Rome. But is that what their authors actually intended? Moreover, even if the laws stand, which looks unlikely at this writing, would anything important really change in actual practice?

As a longtime Arkansas resident, I very much doubt it. Political posturing aside, person to person, are people here really so self-righteous and mean-spirited as to treat their LGBT neighbors like lepers? Or, more to the point, like blacks in the bad old days before the civil rights revolution of the 1960s? Would we revert to open discrimination in broad daylight?

No, no, and no. Those days are gone forever. Nobody really wants them back. What’s happened here is that the Chicken Little right has worked itself into yet another existential panic over the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling legalizing gay marriage, badly overplayed its hand, and set itself up for yet another humiliating defeat.

Anyway, here’s what I meant about the Pope of Rome. A while back, I got myself into hot water with old friends by failing to express indignation about a Catholic girls’ school in Little Rock firing a lesbian teacher who announced her marriage to her longtime companion.

My view was simple: as a lifelong Catholic, the teacher knew the Church’s position, and she ought to have known what would happen. It’s an authoritarian institution, the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. By all accounts a terrific teacher — she landed another job immediately — the newlywed had somehow persuaded herself that as her homosexuality had long been an open secret, openly defying Church doctrine wouldn’t be a problem.

Wrong.

Now, you’d think the Catholic Church’s own appalling failures would have rendered it mute on questions of sexual morality for, oh, a century or so. But that’s not how they see it. When and if the doctrine changes, it won’t start in the Mount Saint Mary’s Academy faculty lounge. Damn shame, but there it is.

Was I being smug because I’ve never faced such difficult choices? Could be. But here’s the thing: No American has to be a Roman Catholic; it’s strictly voluntary.

But the United States isn’t supposed to be an authoritarian country. And that’s precisely what’s so potentially insidious about both the Indiana and Arkansas statutes as written, and why they cannot be permitted to stand. Under the guise of “religious liberty” they would give zealous individuals and private businesses near-dictatorial powers with no legal recourse.

Under Arkansas HB1228, aka the “Conscience Protection Act,” it’s every person his own religious dogma — “person” being broadly defined as any “association, partnership, corporation, church, religious institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity.”

Dogma would trump civil rights at every turn. What it could mean in practice is that if your landlord’s God objected to your being gay, he could evict you. Should your employer’s religious scruples cause him to object to your marrying another woman, he could fire you.

And there wouldn’t be a thing you could do about it.

Advertised as preventing “government” from forcing conscience-stricken wedding photographers to document Bob and Bill’s nuptials, the Arkansas law would also make it nearly impossible for private citizens to file lawsuits against “persons” professing religious motives.

“Persons,” remember, including corporations, estates and trusts. You could end up losing your job because some dead person’s will stipulated “no faggots.” Or no Muslims, Catholics, or redheads, I suppose.

But what such laws really threaten isn’t so much tyranny, University of Arkansas-Little Rock law professor John DiPippa points out, as anarchy. “With HB 1228,” he writes “county clerks could seek exemptions from issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, or for interracial couples, or divorced couples. Teachers could refuse to teach the required curriculum.”

All this because certain literal-minded religionists can’t get it through their heads that marriage can be two things: both a legal contract between consenting adults, and a religious ceremony. If your church chooses not to sanction certain kinds of marriages, nobody says it must. But as a legal matter, other people’s intimate arrangements are really none of your business.

Why is that so hard to understand?

So no, these laws are not going to stand as written. Hardly anybody wants to go back to the 1950s. When Apple, the NCAA, Angie’s List, Walmart, and Charles Barkley are all lined up on the same side of a political controversy, that side is going to win.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Arkansas, Indiana, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“America’s Forgotten Mass Lynching”: When 237 People Were Murdered In Arkansas

The visits began in the fall of 1918, just as World War I ended. At his office in Little Rock, Arkansas, attorney Ulysses S. Bratton listened as African American sharecroppers from the Delta told stories of theft, exploitation, and endless debt. A man named Carter had tended 90 acres of cotton, only to have his landlord seize the entire crop and his possessions. From the town of Ratio, in Phillips County, Arkansas, a black farmer reported that a plantation manager refused to give sharecroppers an itemized account for their crop. Another sharecropper told of a landlord trying “to starve the people into selling the cotton at his own price. They ain’t allowing us down there room to move our feet except to go to the field.”

No one could know it at the time, but within a year these inauspicious meetings would lead to one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. Initiated by whites, the violence—by any measure, a massacre—claimed the lives of 237 African Americans, according to a just released report from the Equal Justice Initiative. The death toll was unusually high, but the use of racial violence to subjugate blacks during this time was not uncommon. As the Equal Justice Initiative observes, “Racial terror lynching was a tool used to enforce Jim Crow laws and racial segregation—a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime.” This was certainly true of the massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas.

Bratton agreed to represent the cheated sharecroppers, who also joined a new union, the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. Its founder, a black Delta native named Robert Hill, had no prior organizing experience but plenty of ambition. “The union wants to know why it is that the laborers cannot control their just earnings which they work for,” Hill announced as he urged black sharecroppers to each recruit 25 prospective members to form a lodge. Hill was especially successful in Phillips County, where seven lodges were established in 1919.

It took a lot of courage to defy the Arkansas Delta’s white elite. Men such as E.M. “Mort” Allen controlled the local economy, government, law enforcement, and courts. Allen was a latter-day carpetbagger, a Northerner who had come to Arkansas in 1906 to make his fortune. He married well and formed a partnership with a wealthy businessman. Together they developed the town of Elaine, a hub for the thriving lumber industry. Allen and the county’s white landowners understood that their continued prosperity depended on the exploitation of black sharecroppers and laborers. In a county where more than 75 percent of the population was African American, this wasn’t a task to be taken lightly. In February 1919, the planters agreed to reduce the acreage of cotton in cultivation in anticipation of a postwar drop in demand. If they gave their tenants a fair settlement, their profits would shrink further. Allen spoke for the planters when he declared that “the old Southern methods are much the best,” and that the “Southern men can handle the negroes all right and peaceably.”

There was nothing “peaceable” about the methods used to demolish the sharecroppers’ union. Late on the night of September 30, 1919, the planters dispatched three men to break up a union meeting in a rough hewn black church at Hoop Spur, a crossroads three miles north of Elaine. Prepared for trouble, the sharecroppers had assigned six men to patrol outside the church. A verbal confrontation led to gunfire that fatally wounded one of the attackers. The union men dispersed, but not for long. Bracing for reprisals from their landlords, they rousted fellow sharecroppers from bed and formed self-defense forces.

The planters also mobilized. Sheriff Frank Kitchens deputized a massive white posse, even setting up a headquarters at the courthouse in the county seat of Helena to organize his recruits. Hundreds of white veterans, recently returned from military service in France, flocked to the courthouse. Dividing into small groups, the armed white men set out into the countryside to search for the sharecroppers. The posse believed that a black conspiracy to murder white planters had just been begun and that they must do whatever it took to put down the alleged uprising. The result was the killing of 237 African Americans.

None of the perpetrators—participants in mass murder—answered for their crimes. No one was charged, no trials were held, at least not of those who had killed blacks. In the early 20th century, state-sanctioned collective violence targeting African Americans was a common occurrence in the United States. 1919 was an especially bloody year. By September, the nation had already experienced seven major outbreaks of anti-black violence (commonly called “race riots”). Riots had flared in cities as different as Knoxville, Omaha, and Washington, D.C. In Chicago, a lakefront altercation between whites and blacks escalated into a week-long riot that took the lives of 38 men (23 black, 15 white). To restore order, Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden called in thousands of state militia.

The root cause of 1919’s violence was the reassertion of white supremacy after World War I. Disfranchisement, Jim Crow laws, and biased police forces and courts had stripped African Americans of many of their constitutional rights and created deepset economic, social, and political inequities. Blacks who defied the rules and traditions of white supremacy risked personal ruin (being banished from their hometowns was one punishment), bodily harm (beatings and whippings), and death. In just five months in 1919, from January to May, more than 20 lynch mobs murdered two dozen African Americans. One of these victims was a black veteran killed for refusing to stop wearing his Army uniform. Lynchers took pride in their actions, often posing for photographs at the scenes of their crimes; few were ever charged, let alone convicted. Mob violence helped protect the racial status quo.

What made 1919 unique was the armed resistance that black Americans mounted against white mobs trying to keep them “in their place.” During the United States’ brief but transformative involvement in World War I, almost 370,000 black men served in the military, most of them in the Army. On the homefront, African American men and women bought war bonds, volunteered for the Red Cross, and worked in defense factories. They were fighting to make the world safe for democracy, as President Woodrow Wilson defined the war’s purpose, yet they didn’t have equal rights and opportunities at home. When the war ended, African Americans resolved to make America safe for democracy. In May 1919, civil rights activist and prolific writer W.E.B. Du Bois declared, “We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.”

Whether they had served in the military or not, African Americans answered Du Bois’s clarion call. When a white mob in Longview, Texas, tried to seize a black man named S.L. Jones to lynch him for insulting the honor of a white woman, a self-defense force organized by Jones’s friends opened fire, dispersing the mob and saving Jones’s life. When police in Chicago failed to stop white gangs from attacking blacks, veterans of the 370th Regiment, 93rd  Division (an all-black unit recently returned from France) put on their uniforms, armed themselves, and took to the streets. And when white servicemen and veterans joined with civilians to form mobs in Washington, D.C., hundreds of black Washingtonians lined the streets of Uptown (now called Shaw) to prevent these mobs from marauding in the neighborhood known for its black-owned businesses and theaters.

The Arkansas sharecroppers who stood up against the white planters of Phillips County were a major part of black resistance during 1919. Their courage came with heavy costs. As word of the trouble spread, white vigilantes from Mississippi crossed the river and began attacking blacks. The posse organized by Sheriff Kitchens scoured the canebrakes and fields, firing on blacks. Meanwhile, Arkansas Gov. Charles Brough cabled the War Department to request the deployment of infantry units. Almost 600 white troops and officers soon arrived from Camp Pike. Told that a black uprising was underway, the soldiers rounded up African Americans and, like the Mississippi vigilantes and local posse, killed indiscriminately. A special agent for the Missouri Pacific Railroad who led a force of approximately 50 white men later said the Mississippi mob “shot and killed men, women and children without regard to whether they were guilty or innocent of any connection with the killing of anybody, or whether members of the union or not.” One of the county’s richest white men, Gerard Lambert, observed soldiers shoot a black man who had tried to run from a hiding place. Let that “be a lesson,” the troops told blacks who were also present. Vigilantes killed a black woman, pulled her dress over her head, and left her body on a road, another brutal “lesson” of what happened when African Americans forgot their “place.”

The sharecroppers did the best they could to defend themselves and their families and neighbors. A group of sharecroppers and a black veteran in uniform shot back when part of the posse opened fire. Hearing the shots, union member Frank Moore rallied the men with him. “Let’s go help them people out,” he shouted. But the sharecroppers were outgunned and outmanned. By October 3, most had been captured and jailed. Sheriff’s deputies and special agents for the Missouri Pacific Railroad tortured them to extract false confessions to a conspiracy to murder whites. Rigged trials brought swift convictions and death sentences for 12 men whose only crime was their attempt to obtain fair earnings for their labor. Protracted appeals, supported by the NAACP, resulted in a Supreme Court decision (Moore v. Dempsey, 1923) that helped free the men. The ruling also established the federal government’s obligation to ensure that state trial proceedings preserve the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection of the laws, a standard the Arkansas trials certainly had not met.

This legal victory couldn’t give back the lives of the black residents killed by the posse, vigilantes, and troops in Phillips County. The death toll of 237 reported by the Equal Justice Initiative is a new figure, based on extensive research. In 1919, sources as varied as the NAACP and the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) estimated the number of killed African Americans at 25 to 80. Writer Robert Whitaker, who has identified 22 separate killing sites of African Americans during the massacre, put the death toll at more than 100. NAACP official Walter White, who risked his life in October 1919 to investigate the killings, stated that the “number of Negroes killed during the riot is unknown and probably never will be known.” In contrast, just four whites died, all of them posse members; one or two may have died as a result of friendly fire.

Say the number of African Americans killed in Phillips County in 1919 was 25. Or 80. Or 237. The very fact that, almost one hundred years after the massacre, we are still trying to pinpoint the death toll should lead us to a larger reckoning: coming to terms with one of the most violent years in the nation’s history, bloodshed that resulted from efforts to make America safe for democracy.

 

By: David Krugler, The Daily Beast, February 16, 2015

February 17, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Arkansas, White Supremacy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Inmates Are Now In Charge”: In Arkansas, The House That Bubba Built Crumbles

The House that Bubba Built, namely the Arkansas Democratic Party, crumbled to the ground Tuesday night as freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton knocked off Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who helped lead the charge to impeach President Clinton, won the race to become Arkansas’ next governor.  Hutchinson defeated Mike Ross, a former congressman whose first job in politics was serving as Bill Clinton’s driver, to win the governor’s mansion where Bill and Hillary once lived.

Despite Clinton’s seven trips to the state to campaign for the 2014 Democratic ticket, nothing he did could hold off the Republican wave that swept the state. The Democratic ticket was ultimately drowned out by the tide of anti-Obama sentiment in Arkansas, where the president has a 30 percent approval rating.

The Associated Press declared Cotton the winner two minutes after the polls closed, as Cotton swamped Pryor 56 percent to 40 percent, while Ross lost to Hutchinson 55 percent to 42 percent.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Cotton declared, “The people of Arkansas have made their choice.”

The shift in political power completes the partisan realignment of the state that began in 2010, when Republicans defeated incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln by more than 20 points, took control of the state legislature in 2012 for the first time in more than 100 years, and eventually swept all four House seats.

Cotton, a lanky Harvard-educated lawyer and Army combat veteran, burst onto the political scene in 2012 when he easily won his Arkansas House seat and became the “anti-Rand,” vocally defending the Iraq War as “just and noble” and rejecting his party’s growing libertarian inclinations on global affairs.

That unapologetically hawkish posture won over the likes of former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain, GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, former Rep. Allen West, and the John Bolton PAC, all of whom donated generously to Cotton’s Senate bid

Cotton was also heavily bankrolled by the securities industry, the largest sector to donate to Cotton’s campaign, and Elliott Management Corp., the hedge fund run by Paul Singer, a neocon defense hawk.

Although Sen. Pryor committed a number of unforced errors during the campaign, including stumbling when asked whether he believed President Obama had properly responded to the Ebola outbreak, the president’s unpopularity in Arkansas seemed to doom Pryor from the start.

At one debate, Cotton tied Pryor to Obama by saying the latter’s name more than 70 times.  American Crossroads, another big funder for the pro-Cotton effort, plowed more than $500,000 into ads portraying the Pryor and the president as essentially the same person. In an ad called “Spelling Bee,” a young child spells “Pryor” as “O-B-A-M-A,” to which the judge says, “Close enough.”

On Tuesday night, Arkansas voters agreed that even sharing a party affiliation with President Obama, as Pryor and Ross did, was close enough for them, and officially completed Arkansas’ shift from blue to purple to — for now — solidly red.

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, November 4, 2014

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Arkansas, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Burden’s On Him”: More Signs Tom Cotton’s Not As Smart As He Thinks

In a debate with opponent Mark Pryor last night, Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton, who’s very much the poster boy for the GOP future if the party refuses to moderate or diversify, showed again he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. ThinkProgress’ Alice Ollstein has the story:

Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate for Arkansas’ U.S. Senate seat, has repeatedly denounced the Affordable Care Act as a failure and vowed to help repeal it if elected. But in his second and final debate Tuesday night against Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor, he went further, claiming the high-risk insurance pools that many states ran before Obamacare’s passage were better for people with pre-existing conditions than the current exchanges.

“Many people were happy with their coverage under the high-risk pool, before it was eliminated,” Cotton said. “They should have been allowed to keep that choice.”

Pryor shot back, saying his personal experience proved otherwise. “I am a cancer survivor,” he said. “I have been in the high-risk pool. I have lived there. It is no place for any Arkansan to be. If we go back to the high-risk pool, it’s like throwing sick people to the wolves.”

Many of the high risk pools Cotton praised were known for their sky-high costs, exclusion of many applicants, and strict limits on what care is covered. In Arkansas, out of pocket costs for patients in such pools could be as high as $20,000 and those with pre-existing conditions had an average 6 month waiting period for care.

Now to be fair, it’s not 100% clear whether Cotton was referring (as was Pryor) to the high-risk pools that existed in Arkansas and many other (though not all) states prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, or to the new high-risk polls set up by Obamacare itself. But either way, the costs are much higher and the coverage much less extensive than under policies available via the exchanges. Maybe there’s somebody out there who did better under an unusually generous high-risk poll than under, say, an Obamacare Bronze Plan. But I’d say the burden’s on Cotton to explain what the hell he’s talking about. Certainly as a cancer survivor Pryor is in a superior position to know what it’s like to depend on high-risk pools, and Republicans everywhere have gotten away far too much with blithely talking about such pools as an “answer” without acknowledging the problem of crappy insurance at unaffordable rates.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 15, 2014

October 16, 2014 Posted by | Arkansas, GOP, Tom Cotton | , , , , | 1 Comment

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