Phillip Tutor: Alabama's old white guys and the R-word
Jul 18, 2013 | 3774 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Republicans in Alabama are entrenched, omnipresent and often unmistakable. They are our Roman Empire: they own the governor’s mansion, the Statehouse, virtually all elected state offices and the state Supreme Court.

State Sen. Vivian Figures adds another description.

Racism.

Her word, not mine.

“It seems to me that once (President) Obama was elected we started hearing the Republicans attack him on almost everything he tried to do, especially in health care,” she told fellow Democrats at a party meeting this week in Homewood. “We started hearing Republicans in office and Republicans running for office attacking the federal government, charging the federal government had suddenly become intrusive in our lives, that it was overreaching into our places of business and into our homes. And with every charge they made they used Obama’s name.

“I think it’s racism. At its core I just do.”

Want to guess the Republicans’ response?

“Sen. Figures owes Alabama Republicans an apology for her offensive remarks accusing us of racism,” GOP Chairman Bill Armistead said in a release. “Alabama opposes the liberal policies being put in place by Obama’s administration, especially the so-called Affordable Care Act. We opposed the same measure when Bill Clinton pushed it in the 1990’s when it was referred to as ‘Hillarycare.’ Sen. Figures would be well served to pay more attention to history.”

Thursday, Figures gave Armistead an answer: No apology.

The state that gave us an evil, racially based governing document, the damnable policies of George Wallace and a litany of civil rights injustices too easily falls back into old habits, regardless whether they’re marinated in truth or fiction. If a Wyoming legislator discusses race, it’s seen one way. If an Alabama legislator discusses race, all hell breaks loose.

Not that Figures doesn’t have a point.

Republicans have been on an all-out anti-Obama assault since he was first elected. Anything carrying his name is anathema to their party. Health-care reform, the Obama White House’s signature legislation, is simply the convenient example.

Republicans failed to make Obama a one-term president, as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell famously predicted, and now they have three more years in which to obstruct the president’s policies. Alabama’s delegation, including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, proudly and predictably waves the anti-Obama banner.

That’s their prerogative, of course.

But racism? Let’s be careful.

There’s a difference between racism and racial demographics. It’s common knowledge that the Republican Party — both nationally and in Alabama — is overwhelmingly white and increasingly old. After the 2012 election, GOP leaders quickly — and rightly — pinpointed their party’s lack of voter diversity as a major problem for 2016. The American populace is changing, becoming less white with each passing year. Latino and black voters will hold undeniable power in future elections.

A party that ignores them — and often demonizes them — will increasingly lose.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said last year, “The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

The days of poll taxes are gone, but racially based voter-ID laws are all the rage in some states (including Alabama). And, considering the weakness of human nature, it’s foolish to think there aren’t voters who cast ballots by color more than by qualifications or party. It happens.

(It’s here that I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages from W.J. Cash’s seminal exploration of the region, The Mind of the South. “It would not be true to say that in politics the South had no choice save between demagogues of the right and demagogues of the left,” he wrote in 1941. “But there would be a good deal of truth in it.”)

Ah, but that was then.

Figures’ comments tapdance around the edges of the larger story. It’s not a story of racism — that’s too easy. It’s the story to which Graham alluded: the changing America is changing politics, and that’s a wonderful occurrence for all Americans.

Telling the party faithful that the other side is consumed by racism or dominated by angry white men is chum in the water, but it has no real value. It stirs people up but offers nothing to the larger discussion. Are Republicans white? Sure. Do some voters harbor racist thoughts? Sure. Facts of life.

Today’s extreme partisanship cranks the Alabama heat on these sometimes-true charges, bringing them to a boil. But what’s gained by it all? Nothing.

Alabama remains Alabama: a picturesque state in desperate need of colorblind, ethical leadership.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor.

Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.

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