Just Above Sunset
November 14, 2004 - So what happened this month with Alabama Amendment Two?

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Shall we reestablish segregated schools and bring back the poll tax?  Actually something like that was on the ballot this month in Alabama –


Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to repeal portions of Section 256 and Amendment 111 relating to separation of schools by race and repeal portions of Amendment 111 concerning constitutional construction against the right to education, and to repeal Section 259, Amendment 90, and Amendment 109 relating to the poll tax. (Proposed by Act 2003-203)


Now really, to be fair, this was a minor item on the ballot.  The idea was that such language in the state constitution was an embarrassment in this day and age.  Voters were asked to approve removing that stuff, as such things were ruled unconstitutional back in the fifties (Brown v Board of Education on schools in 1954), and outlawed in the sixties (The Voting Rights Act of 1965 on poll taxes that kept poor black folk from voting – and see US Code Section 1973h.).  Just take out the wording.  That was the idea.  We really should not keep such stuff in the state constitution.


But…  It’s recount time!


See the local news from Montgomery, Alabama -


With an amendment to delete segregation-era language from Alabama's Constitution headed toward defeat by a narrow margin, state officials say an automatic recount would likely be set for November 29th.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Nancy Worley said the attorney general's office issued an advisory opinion stating such a recount should be held after the completion of the statewide election canvass on November 24th. Unofficial returns showed Amendment Two trailed by two-thousand-494 votes out of the one-point-38 million cast last week. A new state law mandates a recount when an amendment is defeated by fewer than one-half of a percent, and Amendment Two was within that margin.


It seems around half the voters in Alabama long for the good old days.  Do they still talk about uppity negras down there?




One suspects this is just one more manifestation of what seems to have been a dynamic in the recent national election – a seething resentment of the eastern and coastal liberal elite insulting the not-well-informed red-state salt-of-the-earth folks, claiming to be so smart and telling people what the should do and how they should act and what they should believe.  Call it spite, perhaps.  Of course it means nothing.  Such things are illegal.  But it is a gesture.  A gesture of those feeling they are victims, and are tired of being called immoral and dumb, who are feeling aggrieved.  In your face, you tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show types.  (See Just Above Sunset, March 14, 2004 - Should elitist snobs like me feel guilty? – as those words came from a Republican television ad aired during the Iowa primaries.)


The saddest bit of truth on the web this week?  This from a perceptive Democrat.


Core Excerpt: Most liberals don't hear what is said about them to millions upon millions of "middle Americans," in which every grievance, every problem is laid at the foot of the "liberal elite." The message here is of tribal warfare.


Digby is onto something –


… After the cultural upheavals of the 1960's and 1970's and our subsequent losses in presidential politics, we had to retool. We were saddled with the image of tax and spend, weak on defense and immorality and there had been a backlash. The Party set about trying to reclaim the center by taking down some of the cultural shibboleths that we thought were holding us back and trying some innovative economic ideas to persuade Americans that we could be trusted with their tax dollars. The end of the cold war gave us some breathing room on national security.

With the help of Ross Perot, we managed to elect what would have been a moderate Republican not 15 years earlier. And the Republicans went mad. They immediately started moving the goalposts. It did not matter how far to the right Bill Clinton moved they moved farther. There was no meeting in the middle on common ground. They would not allow there to be any common ground.

Still, Clinton successfully managed the economy and had the good luck to preside over a once in a lifetime technological revolution and he succeeded in ending the decades long assumptions about Democrats and the economy. It's his highest achievement. (It was my hope that Kerry could do the same on national security.)

But, I have come to realize that the main problem isn't our competence in those areas and indeed, it never was. They were just another "issue" with which to beat us over the head. The problem is the same as it ever was. It's the culture war and it didn't begin in the 1960's.

It grew out of America's original sin (or perhaps it's original hypocrisy) about slavery. And it's colored our vision of ourselves ever since. Its roots are in the north south divide, but it also cuts across rural and urban, modern and traditional. It's a problem of identity, grievance and intractability. It's centered in religion and race.

Today, I think the rhetoric coming from the right wing media is the toxic poison that is spreading this culture war into our body politic so quickly. Most liberals don't hear what is said about them to millions upon millions of "middle Americans," in which every grievance, every problem is laid at the foot of the "liberal elite." The message here is of tribal warfare. Rush and Sean and Bill are not shining examples of moral rectitude and everyone knows it. They are warriors. Down the dial and in the pulpits this battle is explained as fight for moral values, in which the liberal elite is forcing it's decadence into their workplaces and their homes. Again, the fight is one of life and death. Even for those who don't listen to the talkers on the radio and in the pews, the message seeps out. Us and them.

Until recently I believed that this culture war was on its way out. But the sophisticated use of modern media to exploit this long-standing undercurrent of grievance has changed all that. It may be hundreds of years old but it has new life and it's not going to go away by eking out a win in the Electoral College.

I don't have the answer. But, I do think it's important that we recognize when things aren't working. Making a show of compromising on social issues isn't working. And I say that as someone who always, until now, thought it would.


This is indeed a problem of identity, grievance and intractability - and centered in religion and race.  And more than a hundred and fifty years old now.


This election just reminded us of what was always there.  As a Republican campaign tactic, making all this explicit again was brilliant.


Why not get down to basics?  Us and them.


The South will not rise again.  But you can keep folks angry.  And they vote.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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