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“Julian Bond R.I.P.”: A Voice Of Unflagging Witness For Peace And Human Dignity

It’s always a shock when someone who is an eternal symbol of precocity dies, especially when it’s at a not entirely inappropriate age. To most Americans Julian Bond, who died on Saturday at 75, was a civil rights leader known for his wit and urbanity, and for long service to the great cause of his generation. To Georgians who remember the 1960s, he was the preeminent figure who united the civil rights and antiwar causes, and black and white progressives, and invariably made his enemies look foolish and small.

A quick personal anecdote: my best friend in high school had her purse stolen when we were in downtown Atlanta participating in an antiwar protest. What upset her most was not the loss of money or ID, but the Julian Bond autograph she carried around with her.

His national celebrity was attributable to two events: first, the refusal of the Georgia House of Representatives to seat him upon his election to the body in 1965, allegedly on grounds of his sympathetic comments about draft resisters. The Georgia House was forced to accept Bond by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966, shortly before that chamber helped elect the ax-handle-wielding segregationist restauranteur Lester Maddox governor of the state.

But Bond’s second big national moment was even bigger: in the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, after he was seated as a delegate via a compromise with a slate chosen by Maddox, his name was placed into nomination for vice president by the McCarthy-supporting Wisconsin delegation.

During the vice presidential balloting won, of course, by the nominee Hubert Humprey’s choice Ed Muskie, Bond sheepishly withdrew his name on grounds that he was well short of the constitutional age for the office of 35.

Bond went on to serve for two decades in the Georgia legislature, which he left to pursue a seat in Congress in 1986. That led to the low point of his career, a bitter and unsuccessful campaign against his old SNCC colleague John Lewis. It’s likely that Lewis–who remains in the House nearly three decades after that campaign–was the only person who could have defeated Bond that year.

The two old friends soon reconciled, and Bond went on to become president of the NAACP for ten years. Throughout his later years, Bond became a familiar face on television talk shows, the college lecture circuit, and controversial topics. He was a very important figure in securing civil rights movement support for LGBT equality and marriage equality, and his final arrest at a protest occurred just over two years ago, when he joined a protest at the White House against the XL Keystone Pipeline.

We will miss his voice and his unflagging witness for peace and human dignity.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 17, 2015

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Human Rights, Julian Bond | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ballad Of Lester Maddox”: Supporters Of Discrimination Have Always Cloaked Their Views In Appeals To Personal Liberty

Once upon a time, a restaurant owner refused to serve people who were different. He said he did so in the name of freedom, not discrimination.

The time was 1964, the place was Georgia, and the man was Lester Maddox. He was the owner of The Pickrick restaurant and one July day he chased out three black patrons, waving a pistol. This made him something of a local celebrity and a national symbol of resistance to the big government imposition of civil rights. But he always insisted that he was not motivated by racism but simply defending the rights of private property and his personal beliefs.

“This property belongs to me—and I’ll throw out a white one, a black one, a red-headed one or a bald headed one. It doesn’t make any difference to me.”

Maddox became a hero to conservative populists—most of whom were Democrats at that time in the South, because of a hangover from the Civil War a century before—and he rode the wave of resistance to desegregation all the way to the Governor’s mansion two years later.

“History doesn’t repeat, but sometimes it rhymes,” Mark Twain allegedly said. And there are no perfect parallels between Lester Maddox and the florists, bakers and other small business owners who have been invoked as a reason to protect the religious liberties of those who could legally refuse to serve gay and lesbian weddings. But amid a national debate about gay civil rights a half-century later, as we fitfully evolve toward the promise of a more perfect union, it is useful to listen for echoes of old arguments because they can clarify our current conversations.

We’ve had an age-old argument in our nation between the powers of the federal government and states’ rights. It goes back to the ratification of the Constitution (ironic, because many of the states’ rights advocates since have presented themselves as the purest defenders of the constitution) and found expression in the heated debates between John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster, and Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln that ultimately exploded into civil war. The arguments resurfaced again in the 1960s over civil rights and desegregation. And so it goes.

But the de facto defenders of slavery and segregation rarely framed their arguments as endorsements of inequality. Instead, their argument was often uplifted, framed as a defense of lofty ideals. Sometimes these were rooted in theological objections—defense of slavery and defense of segregation was at one point imbued with the hue of religious belief. But more often it was framed as a fight between individual liberty and government tyranny, with no irony intended.

George Wallace, the conservative populist Democratic Governor of Alabama who heatedly defended segregation was a case in point. He famously thundered in his inaugural address that “It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history… In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

But he also made more subtle arguments against civil rights, rooted in private property: “This civil rights bill will wind up putting a homeowner in jail because he doesn’t sell his home to someone that some bureaucrat thinks he ought to sell it to.”

And yet he insisted, “I never made a statement in my political life that reflects on a man’s race… my only interest is in the restoration of local government.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook grew up in George Wallace’s Alabama and as he wrote this week in The Washington Post, “I remember what it was like to grow up in the South in the 1960s and 1970s. Discrimination isn’t something that’s easy to oppose. It doesn’t always stare you in the face. It moves in the shadows. And sometimes it shrouds itself within the very laws meant to protect us.”

It’s this “shroud” line that’s most relevant here. Even old Lester Maddox, looking back on his life in a 1975 memoir, reflected that “I knew then, as I know now, that I was trying to protect not only the rights of Lester Maddox, but every citizen, including the three men I chased off the property.”

This seductive self-justification doubles as self-deception. It’s a trope that tied libertarians up in knots for decades, trying to mediate their own twin imperatives of property rights and individual liberty. But time has made those choices clearer, as conservatives celebrate the now self-evident moral clarity of Martin Luther King, who declared that he was “embarrassed” when Maddox was elected Governor. This was understandable, given that Maddox called desegregation “ungodly, un-Christian and un-American.”

Maddox, if he is remembered today, is perhaps best known as a refrain in the ‘70s-era satirical Randy Newman song “Rednecks,” which proclaims, “well, he may be a fool, but he’s our fool, and if you think that you’re better than him you’re wrong.” The song goes on to jab at the hypocrisy of self-righteous northern critics who denounce the South while ignoring the segregation that hides under their own noses in cities like New York, Chicago and Boston. But as with all satire, the song contains a serious point that echoes on today: when conservative populism rears its head, liberals often make divisions worse by denying the respective humanity and individuality of the people with whom they disagree, compounding resentments that can turn into political backlash that endures for decades.

What’s sinister is the Orwellian mislabeling of the impulses behind resistance to civil rights progress that aims to ensure equal protection as a defense of liberty. And while it’s become fashionable for conservatives to honor Martin Luther King and venerate past civil rights fights, it’s nothing more than an attempt to benefit from historical amnesia unless they are willing to apply those lessons to present day debates. That means respecting the core conservative value of individual freedom in reality rather than just rhetoric.

In the Ballad of Lester Maddox, the lyrics change but the melody remains the same. It echoes across the decades, age-old arguments where freedom to discriminate becomes the emotional litmus-test of liberty. Direct parallels may miss the point, but ignoring these echoes blinds us from the ability to see current events in light of history and to anticipate what arguments will look like generations from now.

 

By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2015

April 1, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“… And Justice For All”: The Rule Of Law Defines Civilization And Underpins America’s Precious Democratic Experiment

I’m a little emotional about same-sex couples accepting Alabama Probate Judges’ time-honored offer to newlyweds “You may kiss”. These marriages are all the sweeter because when we were married by an Alabama Probate Judge three decades ago, it was a very different world. Sorta.

Those were the days of “I now pronounced you man and wife.” Unmistakably, a man was a man whatever his marital status. Once married, a woman was reduced to her role. We’d already warned the Judge off the the “obey” thing, but he informed us that another trip to the courthouse and a formal petition — fifty bucks, please — was required for me to reclaim my own surname. It had legally vanished with “I do”. It is a privilege to see justice finally promised to another oppressed group. And what additional satisfaction it is to have a front row seat, watching seemingly immovable traditions — reserving marriage for some, refusing it to others, arbitrarily elevating some over others — dissolving before the irresistible force of a Federal Judge’s orders overturning Alabama’s law banning same-sex marriage — celebration time.

A victory of this proportion is for everyone, a lesson on a grand scale. People died for these rights. Credit especially the martyred San Francisco Board of Supervisors Harvey Milk and his profound insight: “‘Coming out’ is the most political thing you can do.” When individuals risked everything to be true to themselves, debilitating stereotypes dissolved into the faces of our family members, neighbors, friends and coworkers. Millions shared the honor when Mr. Milk was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2009. Our world is improving because people were brave.

Would that the heroic reporter Dudley Clendinen had lived to see this turn of events. His Out for Good, which we explored with him in 1999, remains an important report on harsh realities still endured by too many homosexuals in the world and in America. The particulars of people’s private lives continue to elicit sensational and hate-filled reactions. Still.

Not surprising is the recalcitrance of the “Ten Commandments” Alabama Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore. Nor is this appalling defiance of the Federal Judge’s direct order out of character. In 2003, his own colleagues removed him from office for defying the law. What does it say for the voting majority in Alabama, that In 2012 they returned him to the same position?

I am amazed that half the judges in the State defied their Chief Justice. Perhaps they realized his argument is “so 1832”, dating back as it does to South Carolinian John C. Calhoun’s (and later the Confederacy’s) notion of “nullification“. Maybe those law-abiding Probate Judges didn’t want to be counted among the more recent neo-nullification gang: Orval Faubus, George Wallace, Lester Maddox and now, notably, the list includes the former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee (who’s also voiced suspicions about dancing).

Whatever their motivation, it’s a breath of fresh air that so many Alabama Probate Judges obeyed the Federal court order and married whomever chose that august and demanding path. This is all the more noteworthy given their Chief Justice’s recalcitrance, which carries the distinctive stench of oppression still lingering across America from white supremacists imposing equally noxious restrictions based on race as well as gender.

The rule of law defines civilization and underpins America’s precious (and precarious) democratic experiment. A less privileged individual would go to jail for the kind of defiance we are witnessing. A senior judge flagrantly breaking the law with apparent impunity is a sad spectacle, even in long-benighted Alabama.

Ultimately, justice will win out in a just polity. Still, it should not be necessary to overcome the willful injustice of atavistic elements of our judicial system.

 

By: Paula Gordon, The Blog, The HUffington Post, February 22, 2015

 

 

February 24, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Marriage Equality, Roy Moore, Rule of Law | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Everybody Is A RINO But Me”: The Wind Is Blowing In Just One Direction In The Republican Party

One of the odder phenomena of contemporary political discourse is the regular denial by Republicans that their party has significantly moved to the right in the last few years. No! they insist, it’s Democrats who’ve moved left! (you know, by embracing what used to be Republican policy positions like a a private-sector based system for expanding health insurance via an individual mandate, and a market-based cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions). You’d think self-conscious conservatives would be a little louder and prouder of their victory over the moderate Republicans of yore (a victory confirmed by the fact that virtually no Republican pol would dare self-identify as “moderate”).

This act of deception finds its most definitive refutation in Republican primaries, where candidates call themselves “conservatives” or “true conservatives” or “constitutional conservatives” with almost every breath, while describing opponents as though they were Jacob Javits reincarnated. Check out this snippet from Dave Weigel about the reaction to the Supreme Court decision on ACA from the two GOP candidates running for the Senate in Texas, which began with the observation that Ted Cruz used to talk about John Roberts as his favorite jurist:

When Roberts helped save “Obamacare,” Cruz immediately blasted the Court for having “abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the Constitution.” He didn’t mention Roberts by name, but he insisted that the decision was more proof that Republicans needed to reject Cruz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “My opponent is, by nature and by over a decade of political office, a conciliator. Now is not a time for conciliation.” Take that, Larry Tribe. Stuff it, Walter Dellinger.

Over to Dewhurst. Cruz has campaigned against him as a liberal sellout — on blogs, he’s become known as “Dewcrist.” Was he going to blow the chance to point out that Cruz’s ally had saved Obamacare? No. “Supreme Court Justice John Roberts,” said Dewhurst, “sold constitutional conservatives down the river.”

Maybe the point is that conservatives can’t admit they’ve taken over the GOP and driven it straight to Goldwater Country (the 1964 Goldwater, not the one who took to criticizing the Christian Right in his older years) because then it would be hard to describe it as a rat’s nest of RINOs that needs to be cleaned out by fill-in-the-blank.

Still, it’s odd. I recall from way, way back a runoff for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia between the famous ax-handle seggie Lester Maddox and a better-educated but still flamboyant right-wing demagogue named Peter Zack Geer. Each of the two race-baiters tried to label each other an “extremist” (Geer won, though Maddox went on to become Governor later after edging out some guy named Jimmy Carter for a runoff spot). Were they around today and running in a Republican primary, I imagine Maddox and Geer would be calling each other “sellouts” and “conciliators.” The wind is blowing in just one direction in the contemporary Republican Party, and it’s not towards the Left Coast.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 10, 2012

July 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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