Favorite

It's all about race 

Arkansas Democrats from Sen. Blanche Lincoln to a county coroner in the Delta are swimming against the tide this year and lots of them are preparing quietly for the new reality. Arkansas will join the rest of the South as a Republican state, not altogether this year but soon.

The next big scholarly pursuit of political scientists will be to assay why the most solidly and consistently Democratic state in the country since 1836 suddenly started to flip in 2010. Arkansas Republicans had made a few gains the past 15 years, but they entered this election year with the sparsest contingent of officeholders in the country. They are apt to win half or more of the state's seats in Congress in November and nearly 40 percent of the state legislature.

The academics won't have to dig deeply. Everyone knows the answer though many will dispute its meaning. Barack Obama is president and he has come to represent the Democratic Party. Republican candidates from the courthouse to the Senate see to that. Every Republican is running against the president and every Democrat is somehow a stooge of Obama. It works.

Wait, you say, don't tell us it is because Obama is black, the first African-American nominee of a major party and the first African-American president.

That is exactly the reason.

But isn't Arkansas famously the moderate Southern state with a long history of electing men of tolerant to liberal persuasion to federal office, including Bill Clinton? When the rest of the solid South turned Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, Arkansas stayed in the bosom of Franklin Roosevelt's and Harry Truman's party.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act he is supposed to have told Bill Moyers, an aide, "I've just handed the South to the Republican Party for 50 years, certainly for the rest of our lives."

Arkansas was inoculated because Orval Faubus was the governor, the Democratic Party was represented in Washington by a couple of segregationists, John L. McClellan and J. William Fulbright, and the face of Arkansas Republicanism was Winthrop Rockefeller, the most ardent champion of civil rights among Southern politicians and later the nation's and maybe history's most liberal governor. They were followed by a generation of moderate but unusually charismatic Democratic leaders, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker.

They are gone, replaced by the cautious and workmanlike Mike Beebe at the Capitol and a congressional delegation that is bland and maybe the most fainthearted in Washington.

So the party is Barack Obama, and nowhere in the South is he more unpopular than in Arkansas. It has nothing to do with his policies either.

When he was running in 2008 he was the most conservative of the leading Democratic contenders. The others savaged him for his health-care reform ideas, which were the weakest of the candidates'. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd had embraced the old Republican plan, first proposed by Richard Nixon in 1973 and implemented in Massachusetts by the Republican Mitt Romney. The Senate and the House of Representatives wrote that bill in 2009 and Obama accepted it.

One of Obama's weakest showings in the primaries was in Arkansas, where Clinton beat him 70 percent to 26 percent. I was fishing with a retired politician on the Little Red River a few days later and noted that Clinton was surprisingly popular in his little town, winning nearly every vote.

"Oh, nobody much wants Hillary to be president," he said. "They just don't want that black fellow."

Only Arkansas and Louisiana gave Obama fewer votes than they gave John Kerry, the 2008 nominee, and in Louisiana it was close.

Why should he be so unpopular now in Arkansas?

Can they blame Obama for the rotten economy? Arkansas is doing better than nearly every other state and polls show that people still blame George W. Bush for the recession.

The unemployment rate in Arkansas has hovered around 7.5 percent. But it has been much higher in modern times, 10.1 percent under Ronald Reagan and more than 8 percent under George H. W. Bush.

But he has been borrowing billions for a radical stimulus program! Yes, but economists agree that the stimulus stopped the recession a year ago but wasn't enough to kick the economy into high gear. And why did people not hate George W. Bush when he passed a $170 billion stimulus bill in 2008 that decidedly did not work? Bush just sent every American a welfare check, which they used to pay down their credit-card bills without creating a single job. The economy took a real nosedive after that.

Despite the cries that he is a socialist and a radical, Obama is the most centrist Democratic president or nominee since Al Smith. Well, Bill Clinton may tie.

Few Arkansans would accept the implication that they are racists because they dislike the president so intensely. But they will believe anything about Obama, things they would not believe about anyone else: that he is a Muslim, that the Hawaiian birth certificate and the birth announcements in the Hawaiian newspapers in 1961 were part of an elaborate plot to foist the Obama baby upon the country some day, that he is engaged in all sorts of secret activities to undermine the country that are exposed in revelations spread across the Internet every day.

Why do so many people buy such smears? A study during the 2008 campaign by a group of psychologists, reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, suggests the reason. Both blacks and whites, people of different ethnic backgrounds and even people of different age groups have subconscious notions about people who are distinctly different and they are subtly triggered during a political campaign. So a person need not hate or fear the other race to believe any anonymous smear. They are subconsciously conditioned to believe it.

That is the kindest explanation for the way things are.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Conley's plea

    Even with his facial stubble, Garrard Conley looks and acts like a diffident teenager, not a 33-year-old man who is a leading exponent of the "gay agenda," as right-wingers refer to the movement to gain equal treatment for sexual minorities.
    • Feb 15, 2018
  • Inspired by LBJ

    Ordinarily, you turned to Lyndon B. Johnson to dislocate a congressman's elbow and to get things done, not for oratory and inspiration. For that, you had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.
    • Feb 1, 2018
  • Love that deficit

    Is 2018 the year that Americans finally learn to love the deficit? It has all the makings for such a phenomenon, at least for one year.
    • Jan 25, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Most Shared

  • In the margins

    A rediscovered violin concerto brings an oft-forgotten composer into the limelight.
  • Donald Trump is historically unpopular — and not necessarily where you think

    My colleagues John Ray and Jesse Bacon and I estimate, in the first analysis of its kind for the 2018 election season, that the president's waning popularity isn't limited to coastal cities and states. The erosion of his electoral coalition has spread to The Natural State, extending far beyond the college towns and urban centers that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. From El Dorado to Sherwood, Fayetteville to Hot Springs, the president's approval rating is waning.
  • Arkansans join House vote to gut Americans with Disabilities Act

    Despite fierce protests from disabled people, the U.S. House voted today, mostly on party lines, to make it harder to sue businesses for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of course Arkansas congressmen were on the wrong side.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Conley's plea

    Even with his facial stubble, Garrard Conley looks and acts like a diffident teenager, not a 33-year-old man who is a leading exponent of the "gay agenda," as right-wingers refer to the movement to gain equal treatment for sexual minorities.
    • Feb 15, 2018
  • Inspired by LBJ

    Ordinarily, you turned to Lyndon B. Johnson to dislocate a congressman's elbow and to get things done, not for oratory and inspiration. For that, you had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.
    • Feb 1, 2018
  • Love that deficit

    Is 2018 the year that Americans finally learn to love the deficit? It has all the makings for such a phenomenon, at least for one year.
    • Jan 25, 2018
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

February

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28  

Most Viewed

  • Donald Trump is historically unpopular — and not necessarily where you think

    My colleagues John Ray and Jesse Bacon and I estimate, in the first analysis of its kind for the 2018 election season, that the president's waning popularity isn't limited to coastal cities and states. The erosion of his electoral coalition has spread to The Natural State, extending far beyond the college towns and urban centers that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. From El Dorado to Sherwood, Fayetteville to Hot Springs, the president's approval rating is waning.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Out of control

    • Gene, the all wise one, needs to help us set some new rules. What if…

    • on February 18, 2018
  • Re: Out of control

    • And Olphart - hey, That is a witty reply - good for you!

    • on February 17, 2018
  • Re: Out of control

    • Oh for god's sake - read the play - just read the play before going…

    • on February 16, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation