H. Brandt Ayers: Room for one
Nov 18, 2012 | 3356 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mitt Romney is telling top donors that President Barack Obama won re-election because of the "gifts" he had already provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. Romney also cites as a reason for his loss the president's effort to paint Romney as anti-immigrant. Photo: David Goldman/Associated Press/file
Mitt Romney is telling top donors that President Barack Obama won re-election because of the "gifts" he had already provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. Romney also cites as a reason for his loss the president's effort to paint Romney as anti-immigrant. Photo: David Goldman/Associated Press/file
My hometown, my state and my region, with the exception of Virginia and Florida, elected Mitt Romney president of the United States.

This result was much to the liking of Alabama’s political leadership, which is red from top to bottom, from the capitol to the courthouse. The party even gave us a disgraced religious zealot as chief justice of our Supreme Court.

In the dead of night, the 2003 Chief Justice Roy Moore hauled a two-ton replica of the Ten Commandments into the state’s judicial building out of a personal conviction that the commandments are the basis of state and federal law.

Ordered by a federal judge to remove the scrolls, he refused on the grounds that removal would violate his personal religious convictions. He was then unanimously removed from office by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.

There are solid reasons to believe Judge Moore’s election did not please the state’s Republican leadership. But there was for them more distressing news: President Obama had been re-elected with a popular margin of roughly 4 million and an electoral margin of 332 to 206.

So a declining percentage of whites chose a white president while a growing percentage of Asians, blacks, Hispanics, white women and the young re-elected a brown president.

The nation’s will has been done. But what of the South, my hometown, my state and my beloved, often-cussed region?

It is my conviction bolstered by history and all the sages of the past that in the American house, it is wrong to say there is room for only one. In fact, one-party rule inevitably leads to civil mischief or legally disguised evil.

The solid — or nearly solid — white Republican South has marched to the GOP beat ever since 1964 when President Johnson passed the first real civil rights act and remarked that he had lost the South for Democrats for a generation.

Does that mean all white Southerners are untouchables, a population to be avoided, infected as it is by the disease of racism? Meet one of them, Beth Cox of Hendersonville, Tenn., about whom Eli Saslow wrote in The Washington Post.

She had managed the local Romney headquarters all by herself.

“Everything in her vision of America had confirmed her prediction: the confident anchors on Fox News; the Republican pollsters so sure of their data … Romney’s thorough defeat had come more as a shock than as a disappointment,” Saslow wrote, “and now Cox stared at the actual result on her computer and tried to imagine what the majority of her country believed.”

She worried that signing up 400,000 Tennesseans for food stamps in the last five years was leading to a culture of dependence. She did not see the managers and mid-managers severed from lifelong jobs by the (Bush) recession, spending down their savings and finally in desperation and embarrassment applying for food stamps.

That reality had been airbrushed from her consciousness by Fox News, but she is no racist. The party had gotten “way too white,” she said, and hoped the ticket next time would include a minority or woman. She believed the Tea Party was an extremist movement that should be “neutralized” and bemoaned candidates’ “crazy” talk about immigration and rape.

There are others who vote Republican, good and decent people I know in my hometown who might be branded racists by supposedly open-minded liberals who tend to interpret a world strange to them through stereotypes.

For instance, strangers might be startled or feel threatened by the sight of a Confederate flag in a rural part of the county. It does not mark a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan; it is a pleasant park, Janney Furnace, the site of a skirmish during the Civil War. There local families picnic, view Confederate and Indian artifacts, and school children play around a “real” Confederate cannon.

It is understandable that even many Southerners cringe at any display of that flag; it is a much-abused ensign, one waved in hatred by Ku Klux Klansmen and seen as a special automobile tag on the front of police cars, put there as an affront and implied threat to black citizens.

But that was more than 50 years ago in another civilization, which since has vanished. That was a civilization governed by one party, the Democratic Party, whose main purpose was the preservation of white supremacy.

This new, white, Republican South has rejected the faith of its formerly Democratic founders, segregation, and, as one-party regimes are ordained to do, has adopted a new form of prejudice — anti-immigrant, especially anti-Hispanic.

It is the nature of one-party regimes to get into trouble because there isn’t a force strong enough to say, “hold on, think this through,” and make it stick.

Mitt Romney and other GOP leaders would remind their state parties that it isn’t very smart to demonize a segment of the voting population that is increasing while whites as a percent of the voting public are declining.

Though no great issues, foreign or domestic, were resolved by the election, it did pound home to the GOP that prejudice, no matter how camouflaged, is not a winning issue in the long term.

Unfortunately, Democrats won without paying so much as a courtesy call on the vast electorate between South Carolina and Texas. A two-party South would elevate politics in the region, and enhance the national dialogue.

But that won’t happen until the party adds white Southerners to its multi-faceted coalition and ceases treating Southern Caucasians as if they are the last untouchable caste in America.
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