mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Elephant In The Room”: Southern States Do Not Distort The Primary

At the end of last night’s Democratic debate, Dana Bash asked Sanders whether he will take the contest to the convention in Philadelphia if neither candidate clinches the nomination via pledged delegates. Sanders responded by saying that he plans to win the nomination outright. But then he injected something that both he and his campaign staff have said frequently.

Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true. Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact.

For the last several weeks, this is a contention the Sanders campaign has made in various forms. Most recently, the candidate told Larry Wilmore that having the Southern states vote early in the primary “distorts reality.” If we combine that statement with what he said last night, the argument becomes: having Southern states vote early in the primary distorts reality because it is the most conservative part of the country. Of course, if that were true, it would hurt Sanders as the candidate who consistently lays claim to being the more progressive of the two.

I would propose that the Mountain West (where Sanders has notched up big wins lately) could challenge the claim that the Deep South is the most conservative part of the country. An analysis by The Hill on the five most conservative states turns up a mix of these two regions, giving us: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas and Mississippi. Were the primaries in Alaska, and Idaho distorted by their conservatism? The other question this assertion raises is: do more conservative Republicans in a state mean that Democratic primaries there are “distorted?”

Ultimately, the elephant in the room about this claim is that the difference between conservative Mountain and Southern states is that the Democratic electorate in the latter is made up largely of people of color – with whom Sanders performs poorly. Do people of color distort reality because they are more conservative?

It is very possible that the answer to that question is “yes.” The truth is…we don’t have a lot of data on that. But I would suggest that anyone who asserts that argument is assuming that a political continuum from conservative to liberal is, by default, based on how white people would construct it. For example, I would imagine that liberals in the Mountain West states would prioritize things like repealing Citizens United and challenging Wall Street, whereas African Americans in the South would prioritize voting rights, ending systemic racism and programs to lift people out of poverty. How progressive one is would be measured by their record and platform on those issues.

The whole dismissal of the South by some Democrats is also very short-sighted. Not only are Hispanics becoming a key voting bloc in many of those states, it ignores the fact that the great migration of African Americans out of that area during the Jim Crow days is now being reversed.

The quiet return of African-American retirees and young professionals has the potential to reshape the South again over the next few decades, much as the exodus to northern cities reshaped it in the 20th century.

Years ago I was taught a lesson in the different ways that white and black liberals view the South. After having been raised primarily in Texas, I decided to settle in Minnesota. That decision was influenced by a desire to escape the racism that was so blatant in the South. I was shocked and confused when my African American friends up here talked about longing to return to the South. They patiently explained two things to me. First of all, the South is “home.” It’s where their people are. And they long to return to that sense of community. Secondly, many of them actually prefer to deal with the outright racism of the South rather than the subtle form they experience from so-called friends and allies in the North.

The fact that Bernie Sanders insinuates that Democratic voters in the South are more conservative and distort the primary process indicates that he hasn’t spent much time hearing from or thinking about the perspective of African Americans in that part of the country. That is probably true for a lot of Northern liberals. But if he’s looking for an answer to the question about why he is not winning their support, this is part of the reason.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 15, 2016

April 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Deep South, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Radical Racist Socialism Of The Deep South”: Denials That The Civil War Was About Slavery Are Revisionist And False

With the American South so radically conservative and politically divergent from most of the rest of the country, it’s easy to forget that it was not always so. The American South used to be much more politically nuanced and politically complicated.

Obviously, the legacy of racism and slavery dominates everything. Southern denials that the Civil War was about slavery are revisionist and false, as Ta-Nehisi Coates conclusively demonstrated at The Atlantic.

But if we compartmentalize and set aside the grotesque and horrific injustice of race-based slavery, we can see that the 19th century South was also a hotbed of anti-capitalist economic egalitarian sentiment–with the caveat that only whites were allowed to receive its benefits. Consider these snippets excerpted by Coates: first, the Muscogee Herald in 1856:

Free Society! we sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the Northern men and especially the New England States are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentlemen. The prevailing class one meet with is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are hardly fit for association with a Southern gentleman’s body servant. This is your free society which Northern hordes are trying to extend into Kansas.

Talk about a hatred of freedom and small business. Or consider this bit of socialism-for-whites-only from traitor-in-chief Jefferson Davis himself:

You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting from a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race. The mechanic who comes among us, employing the less intellectual labor of the African, takes the position which only a master-workman occupies where all the mechanics are white, and therefore it is that our mechanics hold their position of absolute equality among us.

And finally, this remarkable indictment of Yankee capitalism from Hammond’s legendary “Cotton Is King” speech:

The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in any street of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day, in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South…Your [slaves] are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation.

There are many more examples of this sort of thing in Coates’ piece as well.

It’s easy to focus on the abhorrent racism here. But it’s also instructive to see the anti-capitalist critique of the North, whose laissez-faire robber baronism was admittedly Dickensian in its brutality–not remotely comparable to the evils of slavery, obviously, but it’s easy to see how a twisted racist mind that didn’t see black people as human would see itself as comparatively morally superior to the North by virtue of its white egalitarianism.

This is why the Confederate South was ultimately such a strong base of support for FDR. As long as FDR didn’t prevent lynching and the other modes of de facto enslavement of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South–and he shamefully and deliberately avoided doing so–most Southern whites were more than happy to take the benefits of Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the New Deal in general. The benefits of these programs were generally not shared with blacks, so Southern whites found an easy continuation of their economic ideology in sticking it to the Northern capitalists with economic redistribution.

The transformation that occurred in the 1960s was much greater than a simple political realignment in which the vast majority of Southern whites switched from Democrats to Republicans after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. They also experienced a far more profound shift in their economic politics.

Forced to choose between their virulent racism and their embrace of progressive economic politics, most former Confederate whites chose to keep their racism. Redistributed benefits were all well and good when that egalitarianism extended only to themselves–but extend those same benefits to the hated underclass, and taxation becomes theft and tyranny. FDR socialists became Ayn Rand libertarians essentially overnight.

It’s important to remember that fact when we talk about the legacy of institutional racism in the United States. We’re talking about a hatred so profound that an entire demographic didn’t just switch political parties on a dime: it switched generations of populist economic ideology as well.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 27, 2015

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Conservatives, Deep South, Slavery | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The South Shall Not Rise Again”: But, Beware When Right-Wing Manipulators Of Historical Memory Offer Reconciliation

Let’s not get carried away here, friends told me yesterday. A flag is just a symbol. When they stop passing voter-ID laws or start passing gun laws, then I’ll be impressed.

This is a sound view, no doubt about that. But if you don’t think symbols matter, think about how tenaciously people fight to hold on to them. And more than that: In terms of our political culture, the pending removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds, and now Mississippi’s state flag—and, don’t forget, from WalMart’s shelves—represents a rare win for North over South since Reconstruction.

This is a history and set of facts that far too few Americans know, and it’s vitally important to understand it in order to grasp the full magnitude of this moment. The South, more than the North, has dominated and defined the limits of America’s political culture for most of the last 140-ish years. The North has the money, the North has Wall Street, and the North runs (most of) our high and popular culture. But the South has run our politics. And this moment that we’re witness to now could be the blessed beginning of the end of all that.

It all started during Reconstruction, when a debate ensued about how the Civil War would be remembered. Our guide through these waters is Yale historian David Blight, whose groundbreaking book Race and Reunion tells this story. He shows masterfully how collectively historical memory is constructed.

According to Blight, there were three competing interpretations of the war. The “emancipationist” one emphasized slavery as the cause of the war and the slaves’ freedom as its great moral accomplishment. The “reconciliationist” view emphasized the common hardships endured by soldiers and citizens who were after all countrymen. There was also a white supremacist version that marginalized the role of slavery as a cause of the conflict (sound familiar?), but the main interpretive battle was between the first two.

It’s a long a complex and quite revolting story about this country we love, and you should read the book. But the gist of it is that in the interest of national reconciliation, the North—where, let’s face it, there was also no shortage of racists in the late 1800s—capitulated to a view of the war with which the South could be comfortable, as a battle that fully and finally unified a country that never really had been.

Gettysburg became organized basically around Pickett’s Charge, the last thrust of the Lost Cause. By the time of Woodrow Wilson—the first Southern-born president since Andrew Johnson had taken over from the slain Lincoln, and a militant segregationist—there was a 50-year commemoration of that battle attended by 50,000 veterans, not one of them black.

Meanwhile, historical memory was morphing into political reality. In Congress, the United States entered the era of the Southern committee barons whose influence on the making of national policy was obscenely out of proportion to either their numbers or the extent to which their views, particularly on race, reflected broader American sentiment. Accruing seniority and working the rules, Southerners (and yes, conservatives, they were all Democrats then; so what?) gained power. By Franklin Roosevelt’s time, of the House’s 10 most important committees, Southerners chaired nine. As for the Senate, all you need to know is this sentence, penned by the journalist William S. White in 1957: “The Senate might be described without too much violence to fact as the South’s unending revenge upon the North for Gettysburg.”

The Southerners used that power to one end far above all others: keep black people down. But then, starting in 1958, the Senate began to elect some liberals; and outside the halls of power, which is where change actually happens, a certain young charismatic minister was changing white minds and opening white hearts across the country, even a few in the South.

Next came the only years, roughly 1964 to sometime in the mid-1970s, depending on how you measure it, that the North vanquished the South politically since the Civil War. Many chairmanships changed hands; the racists were defeated and changed political parties; accommodation of the South was no longer something most Northerners and Westerners were interested in.

So that was all good, but that of course doesn’t end our story. The South, through the person of Californian Ronald Reagan, who gave a high-profile speech invoking “states’ rights” in the very town where erstwhile states’ righters had murdered Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney in 1964, came roaring back. The Christian Coalition became a force. From 1980 until 2008, the Democrats did manage to win two presidential elections, but only because they put forward an all-Southern ticket that talked more about “family values” than most Democrats would have really preferred, even if they did understand the political reality.

Just as Blight observed a post-Civil War era that saw two world views, one fundamentally progressive and the other fundamentally reactionary, competing to interpret the past and thereby define the future, I argue that we’ve been living through something very similar since 1980. And just like the emancipationists and reconciliationists, we’re stuck in the ’60s: They were quarreling about the 1860s, we about the 1960s. And in our political culture for most of the past 35 years, the modern-day version of the reconciliationists has won.

But now that’s changing. Fortunately, the emancipationists control the culture from New York and Hollywood, and they’ve pushed back on the Southerners hard—this too is a huge change from the old days, when for example television networks were extremely careful not to offend Southern tastes. And so even the Southern Baptist Convention has quieted down about same-sex marriage, even if the Republican candidates haven’t.

But this—this flag business is the first instance I can recall of conservative Republican Southern politicians defying their right-wing base on an issue of first-order emotional importance. It’s important that this isn’t some liberal federal judge ordering the flag removed. It’s Republican politicians doing it. I’m not saying that to pat them on the back—they’re at least a decade late to be getting anything resembling credit as far as I’m concerned. I’m just observing it as telling: When future David Blights write about how the South started losing its hold on America’s political culture in 2015, they’ll write about this moment, the first time their leaders said to them, “Your position is just too morally undignified for me to defend anymore.”

For his part, the actual living David Blight isn’t as hopeful about this as I am. In response to my question, he emailed me yesterday: “This may indeed be a rare moment. But if my work shows anything it might be simply to say beware when right-wing manipulators of historical memory offer reconciliation. They are looking for cover for other and perhaps larger matters.”

He’s correct, of course. This massacre is still about guns and terrorism, and it’s about South Carolina’s voter-ID laws too, on which Clementa Pinckney was one of just two favorable votes in the state Senate. All those fights will continue, with the usual achingly slow progress (if progress at all on guns).

But this is still a big deal. It could usher in a second era of conquest over Southern political hegemony. If that happens, those other fights will be easier to win, eventually, too.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 24, 2015

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Deep South, South Carolina | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“You May Forgive Us, But We Won’t Be Forgiven”: After 150 Years, Dixie Still A Place Apart

On the day after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Abraham Lincoln appeared at a second-floor window of the White House. He was acceding to the wishes of citizens who had gathered to serenade their president in this moment of victory. They called for a speech but Lincoln demurred. Instead he asked the band to play “Dixie.”

The song — a homesick Southerner’s lament — had been the de facto anthem of the Confederacy during 48 bloody months of civil war, but Lincoln declared now that the South held no monopoly on it. “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard,” he said. It was probably his way of encouraging a nation that had ripped itself apart along sectional lines to begin knitting itself together again.

Lincoln received an answer of sorts two days later as beaten rebels surrendered their weapons to the Union Army. Union General Joshua Chamberlain remarked to Southern counterpart Henry Wise that perhaps now “brave men may become good friends.”

Wise’s reply was bitter as smoke. “You’re mistaken, sir,” he said. “You may forgive us, but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, sir.”Two days after that, April 14, Lincoln received a more direct response. John Wilkes Booth, famed actor and Southern sympathizer, shot him in the head.

Thus ended arguably the most consequential week in American history. This week, the events of that week move fully 150 years into the past. They are further away than they have ever been. And yet, they feel quite close. If the “hate” Henry Wise spoke of has dissipated in the 15 decades gone by, what has not faded is Dixie’s sense of itself as a place apart and a people done wrong. Small wonder.

Twice now — at gunpoint in the 1860s, by force of law a century later — the rest of the country has imposed change on the South, made it do what it did not want to do, i.e., extend basic human rights to those it had systematically brutalized and oppressed. No other part of the country has ever experienced that, has ever seen itself so harshly chastised by the rest.

Both times, the act was moral and necessary. But who can deny, or be surprised, that in forcing the South to do the right thing, the rest of the country fostered an abiding resentment, an enduring “apartness,” made the South a region defined by resistance. Name the issue — immigration, race, abortion, education, criminal justice — and law and custom in Dixie have long stood stubbornly apart from the rest of the country. But the headline 150 years later is that that apartness no longer confines itself to the boundaries of the Confederacy.

In 2015, for example, we see the old pattern repeating in the fight over marriage equality — most of the country having decided as a moral matter that this has to happen, yet a few people resisting as the change is imposed over their wishes. But if resistance is fierce in Arkansas, it also is fierce in Indiana. The sense of apartness is less geographically constrained. Who knows if that’s progress?

There is nothing predestined about America’s ultimate ability to overcome its contradictions. This was true in 1865 and it’s true now. It will always be true of a people bound, not by common ancestry but only common cause — a presumed fealty to self-evident truths.

America shattered in 1861. Lincoln forced the bloody pieces back together at the cost of over 600,000 lives, one of them his own. It never did knit itself back together in the way he had hoped — in the way he might have helped it to, had he survived.

Instead, it became this once broken thing where the seams of repair still show. And the question of that consequential week is the question of every day since then. Can you make a country out of that?

So far, so good.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 5, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Deep South | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Rare Victory For Black Voting Rights In The South”: SCOTUS, Individual Majority-Minority Districts Were Racially Gerrymandered

In 2010, Republicans gained control of the Alabama legislature for the first time in 136 years. The redistricting maps drawn by Republicans following the 2010 election preserved the thirty-five majority-minority districts in the Alabama legislature—represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats—and in some cases actually increased the number of minority voters in those districts.

For example, State Senator Quinton Ross, a black Democrat elected in 2002, represented a district in Montgomery that was 72 percent African-American before the redistricting process. His district was under-populated by 16,000 people, so the Alabama legislature moved 14,806 African-Americans and thirty-six whites into his seat. The new district was now over 75 percent black and excluded white neighborhoods that were previously in Ross’s district.

Republicans claimed they were merely complying with the Voting Rights Act. Black Democrats challenged the redistricting maps as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and took the case to the Supreme Court. Today the Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Breyer, sided with the black plaintiffs and ordered a district court in Alabama to reexamine whether specific districts, like Ross’s, were improperly drawn with race as the predominant factor. The decision was released, interestingly enough, on the same day as the fiftieth anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

“The record indicates that plaintiffs’ evidence and arguments embody the claim that individual majority-minority districts were racially gerrymandered, and those are the districts that the District Court must reconsider,” Breyer wrote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, in another case from Alabama) did not compel the legislature to preserve the exact number of minority voters in a given district or inflate those numbers. “Section 5 does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority percentage. It requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice,” Breyer said. The court’s majority—joined by Justice Kennedy—sympathized with the plaintiffs’ claim that Alabama’s interpretation of the VRA may “harm the very minority voters that Acts such as the Voting Rights Act sought to help.”

Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented. “We have somehow arrived at a place where the parties agree that Alabama’s legislative districts should be fine-tuned to achieve some ‘optimal’ result with respect to black voting power; the only disagreement is about what percentage of blacks should be placed in those optimized districts. This is nothing more than a fight over the ‘best’ racial quota,” wrote Thomas.

The ruling could have important ramifications, since the strategy followed by Alabama Republicans—packing minority voters into heavily Democratic seats in order to weaken white Democrats—was replicated throughout the South after the 2010 elections. I wrote about this trend in a 2012 feature for The Nation, “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South”:

In virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional and state level, Republicans—to protect and expand their gains in 2010—have increased the number of minority voters in majority-minority districts represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by white Democrats. “What’s uniform across the South is that Republicans are using race as a central basis in drawing districts for partisan advantage,” says Anita Earls, a prominent civil rights lawyer and executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “The bigger picture is to ultimately make the Democratic Party in the South be represented only by people of color.”

White Democrats have become the biggest casualty of the GOP’s new Southern strategy. As Jason Zengerle wrote in The New Republic, “Prior to the 2010 election, the Alabama House had sixty Democratic members, 34 of them white and 26 black. Afterward, there were 36 Democrats—ten white, 26 black. Meanwhile, in the Alabama Senate, the number of black Democrats remained seven, while the number of white Democrats fell from 13 to four.” After the 2014 election, there are now only seven white Democrats in the Alabama legislature—one in the Senate and six in the House.

There are no longer any white Democrats from the Deep South in Congress, following the defeat of Georgia Congressman John Barrow in 2014. Georgia Republicans moved 41,000 black Democrats out of his Savannah-based district to make him more vulnerable to a Republican challenge.

The elimination of white Democrats has also crippled the political aspirations of black Democrats. For years, black Democrats served in the majority with white Democrats in state legislatures across the South. Today Republicans control every legislative body in the South except for the Kentucky House. Before the 1994 elections, 99.5 percent of black Democrats served in the majority in Southern state legislatures. After the 2010 election, that number dropped to 4.8 percent, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “Black voters and elected officials have less influence now than at any time since the civil rights era,” the report found.

In the 1990s, some black Democrats formed an “unholy alliance” with white Republicans to create new majority-minority districts in the South. Republicans supported these districts for black Democrats in select urban and rural areas in exchange for an increased GOP presence elsewhere, especially in fast-growing metropolitan suburbs. With Democrats grouped in fewer areas, Republicans found it easier to target white Democrats for extinction.

But that unholy alliance ended after 2010, when black Democrats across the South, like Georgia Senate minority leader Stacey Abrams, denounced the GOP’s redistricting strategy. They found it especially ironic that Republicans were using the VRA as a rationale for marginalizing black voters while at the same time pushing the Supreme Court to gut the most important part of the VRA—the requirement that states with the worst history of voting discrimination, like Alabama, clear their voting changes with the federal government.

Even though Southern states like Alabama no longer have to have their redistricting maps approved by the federal government, the Court’s decision today could open the door for additional challenges to GOP-drawn racial gerrymanders in states like Virginia and North Carolina. “Today’s Alabama decision gives these challengers a new tool, making it harder for states to use compliance with the Voting Rights Act as a pretext to secure partisan advantage,” writes Rick Hasen.

It’s a modest victory, but perhaps the best that can be expected from the current Supreme Court.

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, March 26, 2015

March 29, 2015 Posted by | Deep South, Democracy, Gerrymandering, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: