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Bill Straub: Ah, the memories of George Wallace’s yesteryear revisit KY in Bevin, Cameron campaign


Return with us now, for a moment, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Alabama Gov. George Corley Wallace, whose face, a witness once observed, resembled a clenched fist, stood before the state capital in Montgomery to declare “in this very heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland’’ — “segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.”

It was Jan. 14, 1963, when the five-foot-seven banty rooster stepped behind the podium and warned that what he euphemistically referred to as “the false doctrine of communistic amalgamation’’ — meaning the integration of the races – would result in “a mongrel unit.”

“…we will not surrender our system of government, our freedom of race and religion, that freedom was won at a hard price and if it requires a hard price to retain it we are able and quite willing to pay it,’’ Wallace stormed.

George Wallace

George Wallace was not the first man to, as historian Dan. T. Carter put it, rise “to power and national prominence on the wings of racial hatred.” Dividing the populace along racial, ethnic and/or religious lines in order to gain political favor is almost as old as the republic itself. “Cotton’’ Tom Heflin, a Democratic congressman from Alabama in the early part of the 20th Century, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who railed against Roman Catholics and African-Americans, saying of the latter, “God Almighty intended the negro to be the servant of the white man.”

Tom-Tom, as he was also called, once shot an African-American man in Washington DC for drinking in his presence. The charge eventually was dropped.

Theodore Bilbo, perhaps the stupidest individual to ever serve in public office, twice the Democratic governor of Mississippi and later a member of the U.S. Senate, once argued against anti-lynching legislation by asserting the measure would “open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie.”

So, yes, attacking groups outside of the old WASP culture, particularly as it pertains to whipping up white fear and hatred, even raising the specter of black men attacking white women, has been employed with a certain degree of success in many quarters over the years.

But we’ve reached the 21st Century now, thank god, and even elected an African-American, Barack Obama, to serve two terms as president. So we are finally beyond that ugliness.

Aren’t we?

Let’s take a look at a 30-second ad run by Daniel Cameron, the Republican candidate for attorney general in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, aimed at Latin Americans crossing the southern border without proper papers, generally in hopes of picking up work in America’s underground economy to feed their families back home.

Looking at the Cameron ad, one can’t help but fear the border crossers are all drug dealers trying to turn our children into addicts. And his Democratic opponent, former Attorney General Greg Stumbo, wants to help them.

President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, has been leading the offensive against these undocumented folks, characterizing them as rapists and drug dealers, just like Bilbo and his ilk used to refer to African-Americans.

Now Cameron has jumped on board, hoping to gain political favor from a Kentucky populace that is almost 90 percent white and on edge about sharing the future with anyone displaying black or brown skin. The ad, titled “Mexican Meth,” which should provide a pretty good idea about where it’s headed, opens with a black-and-white photo of what appears to be three drug addicts behind the headline, “Mexican Drug Cartels Saturate U.S. With Deadliest Meth Ever.’’ Against some intense music, an announcer intones, “Criminals and drugs pouring over the border winding up in Kentucky. Congressional Democrats scream ‘Let them in.’”

It goes on to claim that Stumbo is among those desiring to “let them in,’’ noting that, as a member of the state House from Prestonsburg in 2013, he sponsored legislation to permit unauthorized immigrants in the state obtain a driver’s licenses.

“We can’t let Stumbo turn Kentucky into a sanctuary state,’’ the voice states before Cameron himself, in shirtsleeves against a white backdrop, declares, “This madness has to stop. I’m Daniel Cameron and I’ll work with President Trump and Kentucky cops to get the Mexican meth off our streets. I’ll never allow Kentucky to become a sanctuary state.”

Cameron’s right. This madness has to stop. But not in the way he means.

The fact that there is barely a scintilla of truth in the ad is almost beside the point. Democrats don’t favor open borders. As noted by Sen. Corey Booker, D-NJ, a presidential candidate, “we are not going to just let people cross the border. An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing, if you do it in the civil courts, or if you do in the criminal courts.”

Criminals are not crossing the border and thus pouring into Kentucky, which has a relatively low immigration population, particularly since the demise of the burley economy. And the biggest problem in Kentucky isn’t meth but junk like OxyContin, which is produced by companies from right here in the good, ol’ USA. Stumbo doesn’t favor the sanctuary city designation. In fact, there are no sanctuary cities in the commonwealth. The driver’s license was an effort to convince undocumented immigrants – who drive with or without a permit – to familiarize themselves with state traffic laws and purchase insurance.

No, all that constitutes the usual pack of campaign lies voters have sadly come inured to over the decades. The really foul and fetid part of this assault is basically calling undocumented brown people a bunch of drug dealers trying to hook the nation’s youth. A study from the Marshall Project, relying on data from 2007 to 2016 compiled by the FBI and the Pew Research Center, found that there is no correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime.

According to the New York Times, the study found that, “A large majority of the areas recorded decreases in both violent and property crime between 2007 and 2016, consistent with a quarter-century decline in crime across the United States. The analysis found that crime went down at similar rates regardless of whether the undocumented population rose or fell. Areas with more unauthorized migration appeared to have larger drops in crime, although the difference was small and uncertain.”

In case any if this sounds familiar, you might recall that the governor, St. Matt the Divine of New Hampshire, ran an add in his re-election campaign also scaring voters about undocumented workers who are “hurting America, the crime, the cost,” and warning about sanctuary cities that don’t exist.

So now the question: How does George Wallace warning the good people of Alabama that “communist amalgamation” would result in “a mongrel unit’’ differ markedly from declaring that brown people crossing the border are here to sell drugs and create a nation of addicts? How is it different from Bilbo sending up a red flag that anti-lynching laws will lead to African-American men attacking white women?

You can argue degree but the aim is the same – terrifying the white population, basically the Republican base – into fearing the non-white hordes and getting those good, white folks out on Election Day.

And, yes, I’m intentionally trying to avoid noting that Cameron is African-American and Bevin has adopted four Ethiopian children and should, therefore, know better. The fact is everybody, regardless of race or creed or relationship, should know better, in 2019, than to tie various racial, religious or whatever groups of people to nefarious activities in order to gain political support, regardless of associations.

We’re supposed to be beyond all this. Somebody tell Cameron and Bevin.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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