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A Political Conversation

NY Times article provokes thoughts
on politics, particularly in the South,
race, Faulkner, V.O. Key, Wallace & a door,
unlikely to open, toward a better way

RJ: The NYTimes magazine has an interesting story today about how party identification functions in Alabama.

You can see it here: Race in the South in the age of

I've felt for sometime that the best thing that could happen in Alabama would be for all blacks -- repeat, ALL -- to register as Republicans. In other words, revert to a total one-party structure as it existed in the first half of the 20th Century, except this time, blacks would be included. This way, they would have a greatly moderating effect and make it more difficult for real wackos to get elected, at any level. Likewise, it would create a moderating effect in Washington, where Southern black representatives would exert a moderating influence on Congressional Republicans. You'd have to have some ad hoc arrangements for black Republicans to influence patronage in Democratic administrations.

Interesting that the author of the piece cites a brief passage from V.O. Key's classic, Southern Politics. I've always felt the quote below packs the entire political history of the South into a single potent paragraph:

DB: "Excellent!

I am out of state, with no library at hand, and naught but an iPhone, but it seems to me there is some wonderful Faulkner quote to the effect that everything in The South boils down to "The Negro."

Without William Faulkner, V.O. Key and The King James Bible to quote, life in the South would be dull indeed! There would be only bourbon whiskey and good double-barreled shotguns.

I keep a copy of V. O. Key on the shelf at my office next to the King James Bible and Nimitz and Potter's Naval History. Key's book says "with Alexander Heard," so I give Heard equal credit, especially when I am here in Nashville.

Now back to grandchildren, shrimp, grits and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin!

Damn shame P is not here
to comment. Peace be upon

RJ: I'm a little hazy on this, but I think I have the basics right even if the numbers aren't exactly right.

In the 1960s, in the chaos of federal-court reapportionment of the state legislature, Jefferson County wound up with something like 20 representatives and senators. They were unable to come up with a redistricting plan, so for the first couple of elections you had the spectacle of every candidate running county-wide for 20 at-large seats. And the voters were required to vote for 20 out of perhaps a couple of hundred candidates. No single-shooting.

Blacks carefully chose their slate of 20 candidates and did a pretty good job of educating their voters. Other interest groups did so as well, but with less effect. The upshot was, the delegation was all-white -- and all-moderate.

When they finally got their act together and redistricted, they wound up with around eight blacks and 12 whites. The blacks were all Democrats and all liberal. The whites were all Republican and all conservative.

If blacks were running as Republicans and exerting full-force, coalitions could be formed and you'd probably get the same number of blacks in the delegation, but you wouldn't have any crazies and the whites would be more moderate.

D, I too have a dim recollection of Faulkner saying pretty much the same thing that Key said -- and undoubtedly earlier -- but I can't quite lay my hands on the quote.

JB: I am late weighing in on this discussion because, as an antiquarian, I wanted to read that NYT article on paper. Also, I tried to track down that Faulkner quote R mentioned and couldn’t, not in that 2,000-page Blotner biography or from Google. Most seem to think it’s from Intruder in the Dust, but WF said so much about Negroes in public remarks and essays and got in a crossfire as a “gradualist,” that he just about shut up before he died. He did sort of predict the killings in the South, and he understood the many levels of the conflict.

Yes, it would be fine if blacks could moderate the GOP but then the GOP appears on the ropes right now, what with John McCain being attacked by Glenn Beck and Tea Partiers having their moment. George Wallace, thou shouldst be living at this hour. Truly, this would be your cup of tea.

Yes, D, this discussion would animate P.  He got mad with me about siding with Jimmy Carter when he said some of the opposition to Obama was race-based. But I believe it was, and is. Being of my place and generation, I consider “post-racial” the oxymoron du jour. But I do think race relations are better, though the whiteness of Tea Partiers suggests that a color divide still exits.  

Wonder if Alexander Heard is still alive? I greatly admired him when I was a student at Vandy, though even then, during the late 60s/early70s, there were few black students and some faculty insisted that the principle of meritocracy was what kept so many others out.

If I ever find that Faulkner quote, I’ll send it, if somebody else hasn’t found it first.  In any event, thanks for sending me back to WF, that troubled genius."

DB: No, Alexander Heard died about two or three months ago. He was the coolest guy I ever met.

EP: Thank you so much for copying me on this exchange. I can see P bending over his computer pecking away furiously on a reply. He would really have enjoyed taking part in this.

My Sunday NYT did not have the magazine section, I'll wait for it to be delivered before I read the article. I do much prefer the hard copy of a paper!"

RJ: The last time I saw George Wallace -- and I think it may have been his last public appearance -- he was wearing a Dole for President button -- in 1996 at a Dole appearance at the State Capitol.

Let me share my favorite Wallace story ...

In 1966, when I was editorial page editor of the Alabama Journal, I was asked by The New York Times magazine to write a comprehensive article about Lurleen Wallace’s race for governor as a stand-in for her husband, who was prohibited by state law from succeeding himself.

I followed the Wallace campaign as it meandered through “the branchheads” of Alabama. One morning at a rally in Wetumpka, Wallace spotted me in the crowd and launched one of his favorite gimmicks -- using reporters who covered him as foils in his campaign speech.

The governor was at the top of his form. “I see we got the editor of the Alabama Journal here today,” he roared. “You know, he’s one of them Harrrrrvarrd-educated intellectuals that sticks his little finger up in the air when he sips tea and looks down his long nose at us ordinary Alabamians.”

Then he lapsed into a mock mournful tone as he continued: “You know, I had a goat one time, and I fed him a copy of the Alabama Journal, and the poor goat died.”

The crowd roared with laughter, and I took an appreciative little bow.

The following day I concocted an editorial which went something like this, in mock solemnity:

“We hear that Gov. Wallace has accused us of putting out a newspaper that was so unfit for consumption that it killed his goat.

“Now, this is very distressing news, because over the years we had become fond of the state’s First Goat. We were so distressed, in fact, that we made a special effort to find the goat’s remains, which we took to the veterinary medicine school at Auburn so that an autopsy could be performed to determine the exact cause of death.

“The learned doctors at Auburn have reported to us that they found that the goat did indeed eat a copy of the Alabama Journal and died soon thereafter. But they also found that the goat was enjoying the paper very much until he got to a page which happened to contain an advertisement of Gov. Wallace’s campaign platform.

“They concluded that neither man nor beast could swallow that document, so the goat choked to death.”

That evening, after the paper had come out with the editorial, the phone rang at my house.

I instantly recognized my caller's voice.

“Yes, governor,” I replied.

“Well, you got my goat.”

I told him that as many times as he had gotten my goat, he surely shouldn’t begrudge me getting his just once.

JB: You orter won the Pullet Surprise for that response.  We need more of that kind of wit. Hell, it might help save print journalism, for readers and goats. Wonderful.
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