GIVING

Opinion and Commentary

When the Old Becomes New Again

The Party of Lincoln has learned a thing or two about the politics of cynicism.  Their credentials are on full display in southern statehouses where the party’s brand dominates with super majorities; but then, they had good teachers.  Their political predecessors were adept in using legislative tactics to perpetuate a status quo favorable to elite, special interests, too.  Before the modern ascendance of the Republican Party in the states of the old Confederacy, the then “Solid South” was emblematic of single-party rule by Democrats.  For 70 years, they manipulated the levers of government almost at will.  They turned white defiance of the rule of law into the threat of a hangman’s noose, challenging racial equity and perpetuating with White Citizens Councils the enforcement of Jim Crow.  As a governing majority, they had a policy checklist that included segregation; systemic disenfranchisement of legitimate voters; and discriminatory practices that sentenced both blacks and poor whites to decades of peonage and illiteracy. 

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a fatal blow to southern Democrats’ “separate but equal” obsession.  The Brown v. Board of Education ruling put an end to its racial subterfuge, and affirmed educational equity for all children as a national imperative.  The decision blew open the doors of justice in every schoolhouse in Dixie.  Still, metaphorically speaking, the party was not over.  Defy and delay became the rallying cry; and the party was eager to lead the vanguard of white resistance toward a morally bankrupt abyss.  The tide went out for the Democrats when its leadership at the national level threw its support behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Soon after, the Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, came to town.  It was the beginning of game over for the Democrats’ Solid South.  

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There Must Be 50 Ways

If you are disgusted with the dysfunction in our political system, as the majority of Americans are, join the club.  Falling rates of voter participation attest to the disaffection people feel toward exercising the vote, the most fundamental right and responsibility of U.S. citizenship.  It isn’t hard to understand why.  Many would-be voters have little confidence their vote will make a difference.  And why should they?  The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling transformed corporations into people and money into free speech.  Only the comatose believe that money has no purchasing power in politics, transforming candidates for public office into a commodity available for sale to the highest bidder.  When the cash is copious, there is no lack of imagination among those predisposed to dishonesty. If, as the song goes, there are 50 ways to leave your lover, then the number of ways to corrupt an elected official must surely be more than comparable. Just ask the Washington-based, watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.  

The group cranks out an annual Crimes and Misdemeanors Award, naming the top twenty lawmakers it believes are the most corrupt in the nation.  The latest features a dozen Congress members engaged in serious misconduct, while the balance of nominees committed “misdeeds” earning them a “dishonorable mention.”  Of course, a number of Florida’s elected representatives made the list.  

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