The following is cynical, I admit. But it’s not unfair.
This past weekend I attended an impressive campaign school by Democracy for America, a band of “progressive” shock troops for the Democratic Party. I like these people and am even giving them money.
Among the DFA’s many pragmatic teachings is the 27-9-3: a message that is (ideally) no more than 27 words long, delivered in nine seconds, and makes no more than three points. The idea is to impose discipline on one’s political speech, respecting the limited attention that most people feel they can afford to give to politics.
We were encouraged to write a 27-9-3 for our state party. And here is where my troubles began. After some thought I wrote:
The Alabama Democratic Party reconciles America’s dangerous democratic creed with the paternalistic southern tradition of hereditary governance by leading white families. This party keeps reform in check and democracy under control in Alabama, patiently waiting and hoping for the return of single-party rule in the Heart of Dixie.
I do not support, trust, or in any way identify with the Alabama Democratic Party. Of the four new acquaintances I made this weekend, two said the same thing without any prompting from me. In fact, one of them said she didn’t believe she would have signed up if she’d realized this was a Democratic Party organization rather than a nonpartisan one.
This is not to say I hate Democrats. I’ve volunteered for about an equal number of Democratic and independent or third-party candidates, and I admire some of the Democratic members of our (generally ill-starred) Jefferson County delegation to the state legislature.
But the party as a whole, from what I’ve been able to learn, remains committed to its authoritarian past, when the whites-only “Democracy” chose the state’s leaders at private suppers, presenting them to the public for Soviet-style ratification at the polls. Dissent was punished with fraud, intimidation, violence, and deadly force whenever deemed necessary. The party has grudgingly accommodated change: The words “white supremacy” were dropped from its motto in 1968. Black Democrats are now allowed their own fiefdom within the party, and one Montgomery maxim claims that Alabama already has three parties: Republicans, white Democrats, and black Democrats.
In any case, frustrated party activists know who still holds the reins of power. And the byzantine chain of command in this party, to say nothing of the legalized money laundering system we call campaign finance, does much to keep things as they are.
Republicans have been using the Democrats’ Jim Crow past as a weapon. Remember Condoleezza Rice’s words at the 2000 convention that nominated George W. Bush? Her father, she said, became a Republican “because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did. My father has never forgotten that day, and neither have I.”
Yet Alabama Democrats have failed to disclaim that legacy. On the contrary, in 2006 they listed outspoken white supremacist Larry Darby as a candidate for attorney general. Party leaders professed to be shocked upon discovering Darby’s views, then said that their hands were tied and they had to keep him on the ballot. Yet the Alabama Libertarian Party, an all-volunteer organization, kicked him out when he tried to run on their ticket four years earlier. So which is it? Are the Democrats less competent than a pack of political amateurs, or does some portion of the party leadership actually sympathize with Darby’s aim to restore “traditional” Democratic values? If party rules prevented officials from kicking Darby off the ticket, why haven’t those rules been changed?
I have other grievances against the party, but that will do for now. Prospects for unseating the old guard don’t look promising. A viable third party is also a long shot. Just another reminder that we have a weak tradition of democracy in Alabama — somewhere behind that of, say, Indonesia.