And So You’re Back, From Outer Space . . .
(photo: Hunter Freeman wordlesstech.com)
Jason Zengerle of New Republic recently published an excellent, timely article entitled The New Racism which focuses on the political career of Hank Sanders, who took his diploma from Harvard Law back to his home in Alabama to make it a better place for African Americans to live and learn and work . . .
Hank Sanders was one of 13 children who grew up during the 1950’s in a 3 room shack, sans electricity and running water, built by their father in rural Alabama. By the early ‘60s Sanders worked his way through Talladega College, a black school in central Alabama, became active in the Civil Rights movement and literally risked his life to register black voters in what was known, locally, as Bloody Lowndes County. In 1967, Sanders left Alabama to attend Harvard Law but as soon as he graduated he returned to Selma, AL. In the meantime, Hank Sanders married another Harvard Law alum and the two of them went to work . . .
. . . filing the lawsuits necessary for blacks in rural Alabama to become sheriffs, school board members, and city councilmen—translating the right to vote into actual political power. In 1983, Sanders ran for office himself in a newly created black-majority Senate district.
And for the next thirty years, Sanders kept at it, rising through the ranks in the Alabama state house and, according to Jason Zengerle:
Sanders tried to exercise his power to represent people who were unaccustomed to having a voice in Montgomery—namely poor, black Alabamans. He helped bring more money to their schools and their hospitals, better infrastructure to their neighborhoods, and greater fairness to their tax bills. Thanks to Sanders and a growing caucus of African American legislators, many of whom also chaired crucial committees, it was a period during which black people in Alabama enjoyed their most substantive political representation since Reconstruction.
But then, in 2010, the TEA Party wave turned Alabama red and all of that changed very quickly . . .
Sanders told me the story of his remarkable rise to power earlier this year, but his tone was more wistful than triumphant. For so long, his life had been an uplifting tale of slow but seemingly inexorable progress—not just for himself, but for African Americans throughout the South. In recent years, however, the trajectory of Sanders’s story has been abruptly—and just as inexorably—reversed. In 2010, Republicans took over the Alabama Senate and Sanders lost his chairmanship; in the four years since, he’s watched as the new GOP majority has systematically dismantled much of his life’s work.
I won’t paraphrase any more of Jason Zengerle’s article which is well-worth the investment of time to read. My point, in bringing it up, is that it is a cautionary tale of great relevance to the majority of Americans who only care to vote for presidents.
It’s far too easy for many of us to read a story like Hank Sanders’ and say “yeah, well . . . Alabama!” But if we allow disappointment, disgust or apathy to keep us away from the polls this November?—the Hank Sanders Story could be playing itself out on a national stage.
An historic number of Democrats and Independents overcame any obstacle, stood in long lines and, in some cases, fought for their right to vote in order to elect and re-elect Barack Obama. But that same passion fizzled when it came to keeping faith and electing a mid-term legislature that would provide on-going support in helping the president we elected to achieve his goals.
Republicans are starting to quietly huddle, making plans for when—not if—they win majority in Congress, in November. They know that Obama will still have his “pen” to fight back with during that Congress and, if they are wise, they will tread lightly for fear of being blown away in 2016.
Color me skeptical, but I doubt that, if Republicans actually are triumphant in the mid-terms, they will be able to resist exacting some amount of retribution and turning the tables, casting Obama as the Great Obstructor, flooding him with hyper-partisan legislation that he will be forced to veto. In fact, during the August recess, one of the GOP’s favorite comebacks, when accused of being a “do-nothing congress,” has been to point out that 300 GOP bills are languishing in Harry Reid’s Democrat-controlled Senate.
That might be a persuasive talking point with some audiences but, as Philip Bump, of The Washington Post, points out:
Those Republicans are right. There are over 300 bills waiting for Senate action. But the other thing is: That’s pretty much how things have always been.
We used data from GovTrack to assess the number of bills passed by the House that never saw action in the Senate.
. . . In 11 of the past 19 Congresses—more than half—more than 300 bills were waiting for Senate action by the time the Congress completed its work.
Meanwhile, GOP Senate leaders are clearly relieved that Senate incumbents withstood TEA Party primary challengers this time around but, as Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) put it recently:
We need to change our mentality. Because we have been in the minority, some people are used to saying no. We need to find something we can say yes to, something that advances our agenda.
According to a recent report in The New York Times, the “somethings that advance [their] agenda” are shaping up to include that perennial conservative chestnut, a balanced budget, Keystone Pipeline XL approval, and possibly repeal of a medical equipment tax “to show they can govern,” as Carl Hulse put it.
And, even before the election that they are counting on so much, Republican leadership will have their hands full keeping their more flamboyant ideologues from shutting the government down, again, when the current budget continuing resolution expires in late September.
But, even winning a slim majority in the Senate—which is the only thing in the cards this time—does not mean that Republican leadership can stop herding cats anytime soon:
Republican leaders acknowledge they will need to persuade their most conservative colleagues — including several potential presidential contenders — to be satisfied with legislative gains that might fall short of their ideals. Insisting on all their demands could end in failure by leaving Republicans short of 51 votes, let alone the 60 that will be required to pass most bills.
We are going to have to convince people that we are not going to be perfect, but let’s at least move the ball down the field and try to do things many of us have wanted to do for a long time,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
But, despite all of the happy talk about “changing mentality” and “showing that they can govern?” guess what tops the list of priorities?
Republicans also say they are likely to take an early symbolic vote on repeal of the health care law, which would face a certain veto by Mr. Obama. After that showdown, Republicans say, they could move on to more realistic proposals and changes in the law.
Nobody reacted to that news better than Steve Benen, who said:
The party wants power, but still can’t quite tell the difference between governing and self-indulgent posturing.