Grand juries, Ferguson, lots of questions and incredible sadness

What do I feel this morning after the grand jury failed to indict Officer Wilson on any charge?  Just incredible sadness and weariness.

I served on a grand jury in Boston.  It was supposed to be a six month gig, but turned out to be over a year because we were following evidence in a case.  We heard maybe 75 or 80 different cases and I can only recall two in which we didn’t indict.  One was a drug deal complete with very bad video and audio.  We decided we just couldn’t see or hear well enough to know what was going on.  There was another case, don’t remember exactly what it involved, where there was also not enough evidence.  If I remember correctly, the prosecutors can find more evidence and present again to a different grand jury.  In both cases where we declined to indict, they came to talk to us about why we didn’t do so.  In my year and a half, we heard many cases of unemployment insurance fraud, one child porn case, several Big Dig contractor fraud cases, and the biggie, a public corruption case.  We were constantly reminded that we were not a jury deciding guilt or innocence, but were just to decide if there was enough that a jury should hear the case.  We were often given the option, as was the Ferguson grand jury, of indicting on one of several charges.  We heard the prosecutor’s case only as the process was designed to determine if the prosecutor had enough evidence to go to trial.  It is an interesting process.

We have no idea what went on inside that grand jury room.  We don’t know if there were jurors who voted to indict and on which charges.  (Grand juries usually need a minimum, but not unanimous, vote.)  This was a special grand jury which heard no other cases.  We do know that in this instance, the grand jury did hear from Darren Wilson the defendant.  According to the New York Times summary of the case

The prosecutor usually chooses the evidence that a grand jury will hear, but in this case, the grand jury was given more latitude in calling witnesses and issuing subpoenas, according to Susan McGraugh, a law professor at the St. Louis University who has followed the case extensively. Grand jurors viewed photographs, forensic evidence and medical reports. Witnesses who testified include people who saw the events and police officers who worked on the investigation. While it is unusual in grand jury proceedings for the defendant to appear, Officer Wilson also gave testimony.

I watched Prosecutor McCulloch give his lengthy and sometimes repetitious statement on why the grand jury decided not to indict and I was left with several nagging questions.  There had been an altercation at Officer Wilson’s car and Officer Wilson was the only one who fired a weapon.  Michael Brown was clearly not armed.  Why was he shot, from the front, twelve times?   Why the press conference at night?  John Cassidy, writing in the New Yorker this morning, has many of the same questions.

A protester stands with his hands on his head as a cloud of tear gas approaches after a grand jury returned no indictment in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

A preliminary question to ask is why the St. Louis authorities scheduled such an incendiary announcement for after dark, even though the news that the grand jury had reached a decision had become public hours earlier. Surely, it would have been wiser for Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, to have met with reporters earlier in the day.

A more important question, also unanswered in anything but the most general terms, is this: Why did the grand jury decide not to indict the police officer, Darren Wilson? McCulloch’s press conference, when it eventually took place, was notably lacking in detail about the shots that killed Brown.

But we didn’t learn precisely how far away Brown was when Wilson shot him fatally, or what persuaded the police officer that his life was in danger, which is one legal justification in Missouri for shooting someone who is unarmed. According to some accounts, Brown had his arms raised when he was shot for the final time. Other accounts say that he was charging at Wilson. McCulloch, beyond saying that some eyewitnesses provided contradictory statements, didn’t say what evidence the grand jury had relied on in reaching its decision. He did say, though, that the grand jury had met for twenty-five days and heard from more than sixty witnesses.

I’m sure that there will be extensive analysis from legal scholars in the coming days and I look forward to reading them.  I hope someone answers one of my questions which is:  Did hearing from Darren Wilson make the grand jury feel this was a trial where they were to determine guilt or innocence?

Meanwhile, if the grand jury decision makes me sad, the reaction of the fools on the streets makes me even sadder.  I’ve seen this too many times before – when Dr. King was killed, after Rodney King, right after Michael Brown’s death, etc. etc.   John Cassidy writes

Perhaps the grand-jury transcripts, some of which were released late on Monday, will help clear up what actually happened. More likely, the exact sequence of events will remain in dispute, and so will the grand jury’s decision. Americans who believe that the legal system generally works well, and fairly, will be inclined to believe that the members of the grand jury reached the right decision. Those who believe the criminal-justice system is stacked against minorities, particularly against young African-American men, will be inclined to believe that this was another whitewash.

I am among those who can’t understand the grand jury’s decision, but burning police cars and Walgreen’s will not change the racism in the criminal justice system.  There is more than enough blame to go around.  The announcement made after dark and the declaration of martial law and calling out the National Guard before the decision created a confrontational atmosphere and, in the end, didn’t prevent anything.  Prosecutor McCulloch’s long non-explanation explanation.  The rioters who through their actions fulfilled every stereotype.  There are no good guys here.

It just leaves me sad and frustrated.

Photograph:  ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

The more things change…

the more they stay the same.  I’m reading “The Mansion of Happiness” by Jill Lepore, a collection of essays arranged so they comprise a history of life and death which is the book’s subtitle.  Lepore is an historian and essayist.  (We heard her lecture on her newest book about Jane Franklin and my husband came home and ordered all of his books.)  One chapter is titled Mr. Marriage.  In it, Lepore recounts a number of things including the history of marriage counseling and the history of eugenics.  I bet you didn’t know they were connected; I certainly didn’t.

Cover of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

Cover of Can This Marriage Be Saved?

When I was a kid, my mother used to subscribe to the Ladies Home Journal and I would read “Can this Marriage Be Saved?”.  I wonder how many of my generation got some of their ideas about marriage from reading this feature.  In any case, Paul Popenoe who wrote the column was the father of marriage counseling.  He was also a leader in the movement to sterilize the “unfit” to prevent them from having children.  Lepore writes, ” He considered marriage counseling the flip side of compulsory vasectomy and tubal ligation:  sterilize the unfit; urge the fit to marry.”  The early eugenicists  were influenced by Darwin and the theory of evolution.  If one could breed better plants and livestock, why not better people?

Lepore writes

…In the United States, what come to be called social Darwinism provided conservatives with an arsenal of arguments in favor of laissez-faire economic policies, against social welfare programs, and in support of Jim Crow. “The Negro”, it was argued, was “nearer to the anthropoid or pre-human ancestry of men” than any other race, a living missing link; only slavery had prevented the extinction of the black American; if not for the peculiar institution, natural selection would have led to the death of the entire race.

I guess they ignored the fact that many, likely most, African-Americans had a white ancestor in the family tree.  No matter, Paul Popenoe thought about 10% of the population should be sterilized.  This would have been determined in part by the IQ test that was relatively new at the time and, of course, by race. In 1918, Popenoe wrote a book with Rosewell Hill Johnson titled “Applied Eugenics”.

Popenoe and Johnson deemed miscegenation “biologically wrong” because “the Negro lacks in his germ-plasm excellence of some qualities which the white races possess. For poverty, Popenoe and Johnson blamed the poor, citing a study reporting that 55 percent of  retarded children belonged to the laboring class.  The solution to want was to sterilize the needy.  Following Terman [Lewis M.], Popenoe and Johnson opposed old-age pensions, minimum-wage legislation, and child-labor laws: by helping the biologically and mentally unfit, these programs perpetuated a poor gene pool, just as slavery had protected blacks from extinction.

Echoes of the eugenicists can be heard in the current efforts of certain members of the Republican party who only wanted to fund programs they liked during the recent government shutdown.  And the intense dislike, maybe hatred isn’t too strong a word, of President Obama perhaps isn’t just because he is black, but because he is the product of a an African father and white mother.  You hear it in the effort to defund the Affordable Heath Care Act.  As my husband pointed out when I was reading Lepore and ranting, Ron Paul stated during a Republican Presidential debate the if someone couldn’t afford care or didn’t have a policy that would be their own responsibility.  (Going back to the transcript, Paul didn’t actually say that person should be left to die, but that nonprofits like churches would help after the hospital provided medical care, that having health insurance should be a private decision, and provision of health care should not be a governmental responsibility.  Actually, given the current state of the economy and the finances of nonprofits these day, it is the equivalent of letting someone die.)

I will listen to the arguments in the upcoming budget fight with great interest and I bet I will hear more echoes of Paul Popenoe.  The more things change…

Joe Speaks

Yesterday Vice President Joe Biden got carried away and maybe used an unfortunate turn of phrase, but, as usual Joe spoke honestly and told the truth.  And how do I know he told the truth?  Just look at Mitt Romney’s reaction.

So what did Joe actually say?  According to the Washington Post

Campaigning in southern Virginia on Tuesday, Vice President Biden told an audience that Mitt Romney’s approach to regulating the financial industry will “put y’all back in chains,” a remark that triggered a flurry of Republican criticism, including a sharp rebuke from the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

“Look at their budget and what they’re proposing,” Biden said. “Romney wants to let the – he said in the first hundred days, he is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They are going to put y’all back in chains.”

This set off a firestorm.  Joe walked back the remark a little, but basically stood by what he said.   Mitt Romney went a little nuts.  (and, according to the Daily Kos, a scripted nuts since Mitt used a teleprompter).  The New York Times put it this way

Standing in front of a stately town hall here in central Ohio, under a giant banner that read “Victory in Ohio,” Mr. Romney called Mr. Biden’s claim “another outrageous charge.”

“This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like,” he said.

In a personal dig that he wrote at the last minute Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Romney told the president to “take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.”

The Times also reported that the White House stood by the Biden remarks.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney is seen in a tele prompter reflection waiting to speak to supporters at the Chillicothe Victory rally in Chillicothe, Ohio August 14, 2012.    REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES)

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney is seen in a tele prompter reflection waiting to speak to supporters at the Chillicothe
Victory rally in Chillicothe, Ohio August 14, 2012.  Photograph by Shannon Stapleton.
 
So what are we to make of all this?  The campaign is going to get very ugly.  I think the Democrats are right to let Joe Biden be the attack dog and hopefully let President Obama be above the fray. But on a fundamental level, Joe Biden is right.  The impact of the Republican proposals is on the poor even more that on the middle class.  And the poor are still to a great extent people of color who understood what Joe was saying. 
 
 

So much for the selection of Paul Ryan as the veep nominee as the end of the petty bickering and the start of the campaign of “big ideas.” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul claims that “President Obama’s campaign keeps sinking lower.” What was the offense? Vice President Biden said the word “chains.”

In tone and bite, Biden is to the Obama campaign what John Sununu is to the Romney campaign. Only the vice president is polished and likeable. Biden was speaking at a Virginia rally that the Associated Press reports “included hundreds of black people,” and he warned the assembled that Romney wanted to do away with the post-2008 regulations on Wall Street. “Unchain Wall Street,” Biden said. “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” Yeah, that was wince-worthy. It shall join all the others on the Biden blooper reel. But the high dudgeon of the Romney campaign is rather precious.

This is the campaign that seemed perfectly fine with Sununu saying he wished the president “would learn to be an American.”

This is the campaign that has been mute in the face of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) hyperbolic assertion that Obama would “rather you be his slave.”

This is the campaign that is allowing Newt Gingrich to host “Newt University” at the Tampa convention this month. The former House speaker is fond of calling Obama a “food stamp president.”A wicked phrase that has more racial baggage than a klansman’s El Camino.

This is the campaign of the candidate who uttered the equally racially fraught “if they want more stuff from government … more free stuff” when talking to supporters in Montana about what he told the NAACP about his desire to repeal Obamacare.

Let’s all be honest.  This is a campaign about race.  There is a black man in the White House.  The Republican’s are fighting a last ditch battle to maintain a white majority in the United States electorate.  We see this in the allegations of voter fraud and the purging of voter rolls.  We see this in the audiences that surround Mitt and Paul Ryan.  Yes, this is an election about economic policy and jobs, but the subtext is always race.

 
 

We are not a post racial society yet

Anyone who thought that the election of President Obama signaled we were entering a post racial world only had to look at the news stories this past week featuring Judge Richard Cebull and Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Judge Cebull, who has apologized to the President, thought he was circulating a joke privately to some friends.  I guess one of them was grossed out (as everyone should be) and outed the Judge.  Politico.com reported

The chief federal judge of Montana has apologized to President Barack Obama in a letter after admitting to sending an email containing a racist joke about the president that made a reference to a dog.

“I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded. I accept full responsibility; I have no one to blame but myself,” Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull wrote in a letter dated March 1. “I can assure you that such action on my part will never happen again.”

He added, “Honestly, I don’t know what else I can do. Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology.”

Cebull landed in hot water this week when it was revealed that he had forwarded a racially charged joke about Obama to six others from his court email account.

“A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’” the joke in the email said. “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”

I don’t think an apology is sufficient.  What else can you do, Judge Cebull?  You can resign immediately.  The Ninth Circuit is taking steps to investigate, but even if they discipline him, how could a person who is not white feel confident they will get a fair trail if they come before him.  This man is not very smart what with using his court email account and thinking anything is private.

And then the crazy Sheriff from Arizona made a little news.  The conservative blog Fellowship of the Minds complained that it wasn’t covered enough, even by the conservative media. The story was picked up by the Telegraph in London this morning.

A tough-talking Arizona sheriff, already embroiled in a Justice Department bias investigation and other woes, waded deeper into controversy on Thursday with an attention-grabbing assertion that a probe by his office found President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery.

Most Republican critics of Obama have given up pursuing such widely discredited “birther” allegations. But the investigation by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, carried out by what he described as five-member volunteer “posse,” was prompted by a request last August from a group of conservative Tea Party activists in the Phoenix valley.

The White House has had to deny repeated claims that Obama was not born in the United States. In April, 2011, Obama released a longer version of his birth certificate to try to put to rest the speculation within some Republican circles that he was not born in the United States.

“A 6-month long investigation conducted by my cold case posse has led me to believe there is probably cause to believe that President Barack Obama’s long form birth certificate … is a computer-generated fraud,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told a news conference.

I think the Sheriff is forgetting about the birth announcement that appeared in the Honolulu papers when the President was born.  I would think that would be hard to forge.  What the Sheriff and the other birthers allege would require a wide-ranging conspiracy with a lot of people keeping quiet.  As with the Judge Cebull email, someone would have talked by now.

A federal judge circulating a racist joke and the birther theory that won’t die are two examples that show we are still living an a racist society.

Race is complicated

3 days ago no one had heard of Shirley Sherrod who turns out to be the wife of Charles Sherrod, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The Nation reports on Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Up until a few days ago, most of the nation didn’t know who Shirley Sherrod was, but for people who have made a life and a career out of studying civil rights, like Nation columnist Melissa Harris-Lacewell, that name was no news to them. Shirley Sherrod is the wife of Charles Sherrod, a foundational member of the Civil Rights Movement and one of the founders of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lacewell explains that Sherrod “was not just a bureaucrat working away in Georgia; this is a woman who is part of a family that has made real contributions to advancing the conversation on race in America.”

And even though right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart only showed a short excerpt of Shirley Sherrod’s NAACP banquet speech and the administration rushed to judgment, Harris-Lacewell told Morning Joe that some good could come out of this scenario. She says that a national conversation on race is a bad idea, but a national classroom on race should be considered. Embedded under all of this mess is a beautiful story of Sherrod, the Spooner Family and interracial cooperation around issues of justice, Harris-Lacewell says. “The real narrative that Ms. Sherrod was telling is the narrative of someone who’s father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, who developed prejudices and yet found a way through her advocacy and work to be a true advocate for this white farm family.”

And lest we forget, the NAACP also rushed to judgement by first applauding her dismissal.  I guess we can forgive Ben Jealous who is too young to have lived though the SNCC days or the segregated schools attended by Shirley Sherrod.  Did he recognize the last name, I wonder.  The white family she helped, the Spooners, jumped to her defense.

Image: Former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod

For wisdom on this issue, I turn to Eugene Robinson’s column in today’s Washington Post.

After the Shirley Sherrod episode, there’s no longer any need to mince words: A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites.

A few of the purveyors of this bigoted nonsense might actually believe it. Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation’s first African American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down.

It looked like a clear case of black racism in action. Within hours, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had forced her to resign. The NAACP, under attack from the right for having denounced racism in the Tea Party movement, issued a statement blasting Sherrod and condemning her attitude as unacceptable.

But Breitbart had overstepped. The full video of Sherrod’s speech showed that she wasn’t bragging about being a racist, she was telling what amounted to a parable about prejudice and reconciliation. For one thing, the incident happened in 1986, when she was working for a nonprofit, long before she joined the federal government. For another, she helped that white man and his family save their farm, and they became friends. Through him, she said, she learned to look past race toward our common humanity.

In effect, she was telling the story of America’s struggle with race, but with the roles reversed. For hundreds of years, black people were enslaved, oppressed and discriminated against by whites — until the civil rights movement gave us all a path toward redemption.

So why was she forced to pull over and text a resignation?  Robinson explains

The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama’s presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration. The way to deal with bullies is to confront them, not run away. Yet Sherrod was fired before even being allowed to tell her side of the story. She said the official who carried out the execution explained that she had to resign immediately because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck’s show that evening. Ironically, Beck was the only Fox host who, upon hearing the rest of Sherrod’s speech, promptly called for her to be reinstated. On Wednesday, Vilsack offered to rehire her.

Shirley Sherrod stuck to her principles and stood her ground. I hope the White House learns a lesson.

Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture has apologized and offered her a job.  President Obama called to apologize.  It seems unlikely at this writing that she will go back to work for the USDA, but one can never tell.

The New York Times story points out

That, however, is unlikely to be the end of it for Mr. Obama, who has struggled since the beginning of his presidency with whether, when and how to deal with volatile matters of race. No matter how hard his White House tries to keep the issue from defining his presidency, it keeps popping back up, fueled in part by high expectations from the left for the first black president, and in part by tactical opposition politics on the right.

The Sherrod flap spotlighted how Mr. Obama is caught between these competing political forces, and renewed criticism from some of his supporters, especially prominent African-Americans, that he has been too defensive in dealing with matters of race — and too quick to react to criticism from the right

“I think what you see in this White House is a hypersensitivity about issues of race, that has them often leaning too far to avoid confronting these issues, and in so doing lays the foundation for the very problem they would like to avoid,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an advocacy group here.

I don’t pretend to know what the President should do.  On one hand you have the right including leaders like Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party quick to find reverse racism, i.e. favoritism, is anything that the President tries to do.  It is unlikely that given what is happened Congress will vote to fund the settlement for black farmers denied loans and other benefits for which he requested an appropriation.   The lawsuit was settled in 1999, but farmers have never seen a penny.  According the NPR story, some of them are hopeful that the Shirley Sherrod incident will help move things along, but I am afraid just the opposite will happen.  I hope they are right.

A small group of black farmers rally at the Agriculture Department

The White House may have, as Eugene Robinson hopes, learned the lesson not to react without all the facts.  But I fear that race is still an issue that divides us to the point we can’t talk about it.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates. the part of Andrew Breitbart/Glenn Beck was played by Stephen Douglas.  Douglas said “I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is any kin to me whatsoever.”  The problem for all the modern day Stephen Douglas’s is that a black man has been elected President.  The problem for Barack Obama is being the first.  And the ultimate irony is that it is almost exactly one year since Henry Lewis Gates was arrested.

Still fighting the Civil War

I’ve heard people chuckle in amazement at factions in other countries who still feud over “ancient” injuries, but we have our own on-going civil war.  It appears that for many, the Confederacy was never defeated and the South can rise again.  Two smart women, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Gail Collins have written about this phenomenon each using the Virginia Confederate History Month as a starting point.

Harris-Lacewell writes of the “Two Virginias” in the Nation

Governor Robert McDonnell declared April Confederate History Month in Virginia. In his declaration Governor McDonnell called for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”

In his original declaration, McDonnell made no mention of slavery as a root cause for the Civil War. His insistence on remembering only “leaders, soldiers, and citizens” refuses to acknowledge the existence of black people in the South. There were some black soldiers who fought in the Confederate army, but the vast majority of African Americans contributed to the Confederate effort through the violently coerced, unpaid labor that was part and parcel of the their dehumanizing, totalizing, intergenerational, chattel bondage. McDonnell seems to believe that this reality is unworthy of remembrance.

It’s taken me nearly two days to respond to the Governor’s declaration of Confederate History Month and his flip erasure of black life, suffering, and struggle because this particular news story is profoundly personal.

On my father’s side we traced our family tree as far as we could follow it and discovered we are descended from an African woman sold into slavery on a corner in Richmond, Virginia.

Harris-Lacewell continues

My father and his siblings grew up in the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond. They attended racially segregated schools. Despite being nearly starved for school resources by the state, my father and his twin brother became the first in the family to attend college. Both became college professors. My uncle had a distinguished career as a student at the University of Virginia. My father went on to become the first Dean of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia in 1976.I grew up in Virginia. I had social studies teachers who referred to the Civil War as “the war between the states” or “the war of Northern aggression.” My interracial family experienced harassment and abuse during the two decades we made our home in the Commonwealth. But Virginia is also the place where I made lifelong friends, found spiritual communities and was educated by many tough and loving teachers. I came to political consciousness in Virginia and distinctly remember listening to every word of Douglass Wilder’s inauguration address as the first black governor. I cheered on election night 2008 when Virginia turned blue just moments before Barack Obama’s presidential win was announced.

I share this personal history because it is not exceptional. Black Americans are, by and large, Southerners. Our roots, our stories, our lives, our struggles, our joys have a distinctly Southern flavor. Slavery and Jim Crow are part of our experience, but so are church picnics, HBCU football games and jazz music. There is no Black American history that is not deeply intertwined with Southern history. It is extraordinarily painful to watch an elected official in the 21st century engage in an act of willful and racist historical erasure of our very selves.

I also lived in Virginia for many years.  My first job with the Commonwealth of Virginia was enforcing Executive Order Number One issued by a former segregationist governor, Mills E. Godwin.  E.O. 1 which was issued by every governor until Bob McDonnell forbids discrimination in state employment.  I had the day off for Lee-Jackson Day every January.  (That’s Robert E. and Stonewall.)  When Martin Luther King’s birthday was made a national holiday, the day became Lee-Jackson-King Day.  Virginia has always been different, but McDonnell seems determined to really turn back time.

Harris-Lacewell concludes

Without a hint of irony McDonnell suggested that he hopes to profit from Confederate inspired tourism. Clearly he hopes that the racial anxieties brewing in America will serve as a tourist boon for the former Confederate capital. Having profited for centuries from the forced labor of enslaved black Americans, Virginia seeks to further commodify black suffering in the 21st century. McDonnell is welcoming Rebel flag waving whites from rural Pennsylvania, downstate Illinois, and Southern California to come spend their money and steep themselves in Virginia past when white citizens, determined to keep black people as non-humans, fought back against the federal government.

Virginia has other histories that we can use to resist this false and frightening narrative. We must insist on remembering Jefferson’s Virginia that called us to be better than ourselves, to defend freedom, and to hold together our union. We must remember the histories of all the black families like my own whose struggle and strength cannot be erased from Southern history.

I have visited all the Civil War battle sites in Virginia.  I spent my honeymoon visiting the Shenandoah sites, Harper’s Ferry and Gettysburg and most of the national parks try to recognize the role of blacks, free and slave, mostly on the side of the Union.  If the Governor really wants to promote tourism there are a lot better ways to do so.

Gail Collins writes in her New York Times column

April is the cruelest month. Or, if you live in Virginia, Confederate History Month.

The state is buzzing over Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proclamation urging citizens to spend the month recalling Virginia’s days as a member of the Confederate States of America. Although since McDonnell had previously turned April over to child abuse prevention, organ donation and financial literacy, perhaps it was O.K. to just pick your favorite.

The original Confederate History proclamation was a miracle of obfuscation. It did not even mention slavery. On Wednesday, the governor apologized for that and said that slavery “has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”

People, what’s our bottom line here. The governor of Virginia has decided to bring slavery into his overview of the history of the Confederacy. Good news, or is this setting the bar a wee bit too low?

The love affair with all things Confederate is way more worrisome. Once again, it’s in to talk secession. The Republican attorneys general are lining up to try to nullify the health care bill.

“Many issues of the Civil War are still being debated today,” said Brag Bowling of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which led the push to get that proclamation in Virginia. That seems extremely depressing, as if we were Serbs stewing about what the Turks did at the Plain of Blackbirds in 1389.

Actually, a national discussion of Civil War history sounds fine — as long as we could start by agreeing that the whole leaving-the-union thing was a terrible idea. In the proclamations, it generally sounds as if everything went swimmingly until the part where the South lost and grudgingly rejoined the country.

I have been accused by at least one commentator on this blog of seeing everything in racial terms.  I think just the opposite is true.  People like Governor McDonnell and Representative Joe Wilson and, in fact, the entire “just say no” to anything proposed by President Obama is based on the President’s race.  We need to have a serious discussion about race.  I don’t know how that can happen as President Clinton tried to initiate one and failed and President Obama can’t initiate it.  Maybe Clinton tries again.  Maybe Clinton and President Carter together.  But no matter how much the McDonnell and Republicans want to go backward, the fact remains:  We have elected a black man as President and the population of the United States will soon have a majority population of people of color and there isn’t much they can do about those two things.

Harry Reid, Race, and the GOP

The new book “Game Change” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2008 Presidential is already upsetting a lot of people.  I’m certain that Sarah Palin will not be happy with Steve Schmidt’s comments about her for one.  But right now that is being overshadowed by a remark that Harry Reid made to them during an interview.

Harry Reid stands in the Capitol.

Reid told them that Barack Obama could be elected president because he is “light skinned” and lacks “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”   According to Politico

Embarrassed by the remarks and already facing a tough climb to reelection in the fall, Reid has reached out to the African American community, apologizing for his comments and highlighting his legislative record of backing civil rights issues important to the black community. He immediately won a showing of support from prominent Democratic black leaders, including the president, who accepted his apology and said he’s seen the “passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I’m concerned, the book is closed.”

Harry Reid might be ignorant and inarticulate but the Republicans are hypocrites. 

I think Ruth Marcus writing in the Washington Post today has it about right.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acted like an idiot.

Also, he was right.

It’s a measure of the suffocating culture of political correctness that it feels risky to say that. It’s a measure of the insulting how-dumb-do-they-think-we-are culture of incessant partisanship that Republicans leapt on Reid’s remarks as racist.

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.)

The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

But there’s a big difference between Reid 2008 and Jackson 1984 — or, more to the point, Lott 2002. When the then-soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Trent Lott said that the United States could have avoided “all these problems” if Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist campaign for president had succeeded, there was an unmistakable — if unintended — whiff of racism. As much as Republican critics would like to use the incident for partisan purposes, Reid’s blundering comments were made in the context of supporting an African American candidate, not praising a segregationist one.

Walter Russell Mead posted this on Politico’s Arena

Majority Leader Reid’s cretinous private remarks are creepy and disturbing. The GOP outrage is as phony as a three dollar bill and the ‘double standard’ charges don’t hold up. The difference is that Lott was praising the political wisdom and importance of Thurmond’s Dixiecrat campaign and that Lott gave a strong appearance of wishing that the segregationists had somehow won. Reid’s remarks reveal a man who is embarassingly and pathetically awkward and out of touch, but there’s nothing there that would give aid and comfort to organized racism in American life. The remarks give credence to the view that the time has come when Senator Reid should think about spending more time with his family; the voters of Nevada look like they are planning to help him achieve this next fall. Until then, the rest of us might do well by thinking about Senator Reid as little as humanly possible.

And Michael Steele of the Republican National Committee who called on Reid to resign said this is if he didn’t it showed a double standard from what happened to Trent Lott.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called Sunday for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to resign because of racial remarks, but Steele took the opposite view when a Republican Senate leader was facing similar calls.

 The Washington Post reported on Dec. 14, 2002: “Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele said last night that he was personally upset by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s praise for Sen. Strom Thurmond and his segregationist past, but said Lott should not be forced to relinquish his leadership position in the Senate. ‘Trent Lott apologized, but he needs to keep apologizing because this is a very sensitive issue to the black community,’ Steele (R) said at an event celebrating his election as Maryland’s first black lieutenant governor. ‘I know Trent Lott personally, and I know that this is not his intent. But it’s still unfortunate. And I think he needs to apologize a little bit more.’”

Steele was joined in his call for Reid to resign and in saying there was a “double standard” because Lott lost his leadership post by Senators Kyl and McConnell.  But isn’t an apology enough, Mr. Steele?

On the Democratic side, Doug Wilder (former Governor of Virginia) thinks Reid ought to apologize to the country while Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jim Clyburn and Al Sharpton are defending Reid.  I have no idea if Nevada has another Democrat who could run for Reid’s Senate seat this fall and win, but I think maybe they should look for someone quickly.