Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mary Landrieu's Inconvenient Truth

Let's be honest for a moment. Barring a miraculous turn around in Louisiana between now and that state's December 6th runoff election, Mary Landrieu will lose her Senate seat to Bill Cassidy. She won't be the only Democrat to fall. Based on current polling, the GOP is poised to pick up anywhere between 5 to 8 seats. Anything more than a net gain of 5 will give them control of the upper chamber of Congress in 2015.

But while her demise might seem to be axiomatic, her comments in an interview concerning the racism that clearly exists in the South qualify as the D'oh! moment of the 2014 campaign. Asked about President Obama's low approval numbers in Louisiana, Landrieu started off by pointing out that Obama's energy policies have negatively impacted many people in her state. Fair enough. Putting a moratorium on off-shore drilling after the BP spill, while environmentally the right thing to do, definitely hurt the Gulf-state economies. But then Landrieu added the following,

"I'll be very very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans. It's been a difficult time for the President to present himself in a very positive light as a leader."

Of course, it didn't take long for the Right to freak out. They accused Landrieu of the typical race-baiting drivel that we've come to expect from them.

But, rhetoric aside, Landrieu simply said what every pollster who has been following these midterms closely has already discovered. That while Obama's numbers are low, they are considerably lower in red states, by a average of 5 to 10 points, and that is the principle reason Landrieu and Mark Pryor of Arkansas are trailing by 5 or more points, instead of being slightly ahead, as Kay Hagen is in North Carolina; or within the margin of error as Mark Udall and Bruce Braley are in Colorado and Iowa respectively.

And lest you fall for the nonsense that this is just about the fact that, well, red states have more Republicans than Democrats - that's why they're referred to as "RED" states - answer me these three questions: 1. How is it that Landrieu and Pryor got elected in the first place?  2. Why is it that Bill Clinton, the most successful Democrat since FDR - and white, I may add - is polling almost 10 points higher in both those states? In fact, Clinton is more popular than either of the two Republican candidates who are now days away from winning their respective races. 3. How come so many incumbent Republican governors are facing defeat this year, one of them in one of the most conservative states in the country?

Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, red vs. blue, are all just window dressing for a far Right that has stoked every racial tension imaginable and a lame excuse for a main-stream media too lazy to do its job. Yes, policy issues are important factors, as are the numerous unforced errors that this administration has committed, which I've addressed on many occasions.

But there's no denying the fact that race is playing the far greater role here in these states and to ignore it by sweeping it under the rug or by going after Landrieu for having a temporary moment of candor - something politicians are not wont to do in the first place - would be to do the nation a huge disservice and would only further the ridiculous charade that our two-plus century old struggle for racial equality is now over. The truth is, in many places in the South, the Civil War is still raging. The rising number of secessionist movements throughout the whole region are evidence of this. When you factor in the plethora of voter-suppression laws that are now threatening to disenfranchise potentially millions of African American and Hispanic voters, the intent could not be clearer.

Racism is America's original sin and we are still dealing with the consequences of it. While it may be comforting to some to point out that lynch mobs and church burnings are a thing of the past, I would also point out that not all forms of racism need be that overt to be harmful. And when whites insist that they are now the victims of reverse racism, I would counter that a few by-passed promotions do not compare to the systemic racism that still exists. 50 years after Jim Crow, blacks represent a far greater percentage of the prison population in this country than do whites. And even as the economy continues to improve, the sad fact is that for many minorities, unemployment remains considerably higher than the national average. 

Far from being ostracized, Mary Landrieu should be congratulated for stating the obvious. In the end, it may not change her political fortunes, but perhaps her words will touch some and allow for the possibility of a real conversation on race; one which the country has desperately needed since its birth and without which we will never truly heal. Like the old saying goes, the truth may set you free, but first it will piss the hell out of you.


Prof. Walter Jameson said...


I would say that Mary Landrieu's comments qualify more as the 'no duh' moment of the '14 campaign. The one question I have about it, though, is why did it take so long for her to say it? After all, she's been in the Senate since January of '97. I just find it a bit curious why she'd bring up the issue now, on the eve of an election she's, in all likelihood, going to lose.

Assuming that you're not the bridge-keeper from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," I'll fearlessly answer the three questions you've asked.

1. How is it that Landrieu and Pryor got elected in the first place?

I realize that 'Blue Dog' is a label that is commonly attached to conservative Democrats in the House, but if it did apply to the Senate, these two would definitely be labeled as such. Go back and look over their respective voting records. They repeatedly vote with the Republican block. And it's no surprise; this is precisely how they presented themselves to their constituents from the outset.

2. Why is it that Bill Clinton, the most successful Democrat since FDR - and white, I may add - is polling almost 10 points higher in both those states?

I'm sorry, did I miss something? Is Bill Clinton running for anything in either of those two states in this election cycle? I assume you meant to ask why, as a Democratic presidential candidate, he polled higher than President Obama in those two states, correct? Well, for one, he is, and was, a conservative Democrat. And, two, Arkansas happens to be his home state. I'm not completely sure that I interpreted your question correctly. If not, please clarify.

Regarding your statement about Bill Clinton being the most successful Democrat since FDR, I'd like to know on what basis? Do you remember a president by the name of Lyndon Johnson? Yeah, I know, not a man of very good character, for sure. But, let's take a brief look at some of the things he accomplished while in office: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 .... The Voting Rights Act of 1965.... The 1965 Medicare (and Medicaid) Amendment to the Social Security Act. I'd say that getting measures like those through Congress was, and is, the hallmark of a successful Democrat.

Now, let's take a brief look at some of Bill Clinton's successes: The Welfare Reform Act of 1996, euphemistically called "The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" ...... Signing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which gutted The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.

That may be your idea of a successful "Democrat", sir; it is not mine.

3. How come so many incumbent Republican governors are facing defeat this year, one of them in one of the most conservative states in the country?

The short answer is that, in these states where the governors have implemented supply-side economics as a response to tough economic times, the electorate is not buying what these pols are selling. In other words, it's not working; it doesn't work ... and the people know it. They want real solutions to the problems they're currently facing, not ideology.

Prof. Walter Jameson said...


I don't know why I even bother at this point, but let me address some of the issues you've brought up regarding race vis-à-vis this election cycle. Yes, race does play some role in how the states of the deep South vote. Is it a determining role? In some instances, where elections are close, it could be. How do you propose changing the hearts, minds and attitudes of those in the deep South who feel this way? You mentioned "voter suppression" laws that threaten to disenfranchise perhaps millions of minority voters. Which "voter suppression" laws are those, and how, exactly, would they disenfranchise millions of minority voters?

Racism is indeed *one* of America's original sins, and we've come a very long way toward achieving equality of opportunities in response to that sin. To deny that is to deny reality.

You wrote, "While it may be comforting to some to point out that lynch mobs and church burnings are a thing of the past, I would also point out that not all forms of racism need be that overt to be harmful." Well, if an act is not overtly racist, how do you know for sure that it is indeed racist? Do *you* decide what it is? Do you exhaust all other possibilities before you make that judgement or do you always see it only in that way?

In closing, it's important for me to express precisely how I feel about this issue. Having always been in integrated environments, I don't see things in terms of race. I view racial antipathy OF ANY KIND to be morally reprehensible and downright contemptible. It is also just plain unintelligent. That goes for the segregationists in deep South and racial agitators and provocateurs, as well as those who think nothing of throwing around racial epithets or diluting the significance of the charge of racism by seeing it everywhere they look.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond.

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