In the middle of another humid night, as the sickly sweet scent of honeysuckle and pine pollen smothers my sleep, I have that same crazy dream.
I’m standing on an old pine stump. The blinding sun is wringing out every drop of sweat and my tie has become a sponge. The crowd is listening intently and fanning themselves in somber syncopation to the rhythm of my voice; echoing with pulpit conviction against the pickups.
Deep in the sea of perspiring faces, I see the corpulent head of a Dixiecrat quivering with disdain and becoming more distressed as the speech departs from the issues of economy and education to focus on equality.
At this point, the speech is at a fever pitch.
“We believe in equality for everyone and we will fight to ensure that civil rights are protected and expanded. When we say equality, we mean equality for all people.” The Dixiecrat is coughing and sputtering.
“Whether it’s equal pay, access to affordable healthcare, a woman’s right to choose, or the legal right to marry who you love… we believe in equality.” His eyes are solid white and rolling backward in their sockets.
“Equality also means that we will fight those who want to limit any citizen’s access to the ballot box because she can’t afford a photo ID. We didn’t stand for Jim Crow and we won’t stand for Juan Crow. People deserve equal rights and equal opportunities. We will stand up for the rights of people who are oppressed… those who are disabled, our veterans, and people who can’t afford a K Street lobbyist.” Suddenly, he gurgles a last rasping breath and he falls limp and lifeless on the ground.
The thought of true equality was just too much to bear… the audacity of including a women’s right to choose, gays, and “illegals”… the malignancy of latent bigotry was the swift catalyst that crushed his hardened heart and blew his closed mind apart.
As I look over the pudgy corpse in a crumpled seersucker suit, I notice he’s holding a picture of Ralph Reed in one hand and holding a plastic blue dog in the other. His grip is so damned tight, that the figurine’s head is almost twisted off.
A bystander steps over the body and says, “Shit! Looks like ol’ Cletus killed a Dixiecrat.” No one seems too sad to see another closeted bigot take a dirt nap and the crowd just keeps getting bigger. They are young, old, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay… in infinite combinations and variations that all defy a ready-made label. They are all humans and all Americans who firmly believe in a level playing field and equal access to opportunity. My voice is drowned by a crescendo of cheers.
I wake up grinning and know that, indeed, another Dixiecrat died and the rest are counting down their numbered days.
The terrible and inexplicable truth of being a true blue Democrat in the Southland is that the Dixiecrats perverted the central message of the party for more than fifty years by constantly using the politics of race, class, and Southern Exceptionalism to convince voters that they could reject most of the Democratic Party platform and still call themselves Democrats. They called themselves conservative Democrats or Blue Dogs to take advantage of an institutionalized political machine that traded its soul for evangelical votes.
With the Dixiecrats, and now the tea-infused Republicans, my home state Alabama’s motto should be changed to “The Make Me State” wherein the doctrine of defiance and nullification trumps the virtues of common sense and integrity.
Of course, there is still hope and good news on the horizon. You see, the election of Barack Obama served to unmask all those who had disguised themselves as Democrats and sent them running to a party that embraced their xenophobic prejudices and lent a sympathetic ear to their peculiar brand of paranoia.
Real Democrats remain, their numbers somewhat smaller, but their voices are getting exponentially louder. Every day, more real Democrats are joining the movement. They are diligently building a stronger party that actually embraces its platform with pride and refuses to apologize for its proven progressive values and policies.
There’s a real revolution going on as the people in Alabama are beginning to understand how the Republicans are working overtime to dismantle public education and deny healthcare to the poor. People are waking up to the notion that Alabama’s racist and regressive constitution is the guarantor of income inequality in a state that remains indefinitely impoverished in spite of its tremendous human capital and abundant natural resources.
The Alabama Democratic Party is shedding its shameful legacy of hypocrisy and discovering its existential political purpose to move Alabama into the modern age. The state party is still struggling right now, but sometimes things just have to fall apart for a moment to allow much greater things to fall together. Growth is often painful.
Every day, another real Democrat joins the revolution. Every day, more liberals and progressives find their voices in unlikely places like Cleburne County, Cullman, and Hampton Cove. Most importantly, every single day, Cletus kills a Dixiecrat.