In a quaint little corner of Alabama that can only be reached by winding two-lane roads shaded by towering pines wrapped in kudzu, there’s an old, but well-kept, Democratic Party meeting hall that’s a bit less busy than it used to be. But on this day, more people showed up than were expected and they were angry about the flurry of legislation that was passed in Montgomery that would ensure Alabama’s unfortunate place near the bottom of every list that mattered.
Lists like access to healthcare, infant mortality, jobs, housing… all barometers of quality of life and the potential for social and economic mobility. Of course there are some other lists that folks care a lot about, for example, the number one Alabama Crimson Tide just won back-to back national championships and there are more churches in Alabama than Carter has pills.
But on this humid day, something had to be done and the Democrats were determined to do it. Yeah, they had their asses handed to them over the last few years as the Republican extremists took over Alabama like malignant cancer and the state party remains about as fucked up as soup sandwich, but for real Democrats this was a fiery rallying cry to try new strategies and tactics.
Cletus was savoring his fried chicken and potato salad while he listened to an enthusiastic plan to register voters and reinvigorate the progressive agenda of the party.
Someone, with a mouthful of cornbread, muttered, “Every time we elect a ‘moderate’ Democrat, we see everything shift farther and farther to the right. We need a real FDR or JFK type —Democrats to step up to the plate.”
As he drank the last of his sweet tea and eyed a slice of pecan pie, Cletus noticed an old drawing of the legendary Alabama football coach, Bear Bryant, depicting him as Moses on the mountain. He held up high two stone tablets that were inscribed with “x” and “o” football plays to show to the enraptured throngs below him.
The meeting continued, “Well, we’ll try to schedule some of these registration events on Saturday, but it will depend on whether the Tide or the Tigers have home games. We’ll have to be careful on Sundays, too, ‘cause, well there’s church and all, y’all…”
In that moment, Cletus began to gain insight into the Southern political paradox and the immense cultural power of football as endorsed by renowned heavenly coach and Bama fan, Jesus Christ. Of course, Providence and football are inexplicably fickle because folks still remember a time when Jesus blessed the Tigers… Auburn, that is, not LSU, in case you’re some kind of heretic who ain’t from around here, bless your pea-pickin’ heart.
Cletus understood that the problem is that too many people in Alabama care more deeply and passionately about college football than they do about politics. Just like with politics, people pick a popular side and remain religiously loyal spectators depending mostly on prayer that they believe will invoke swift divine intervention as the primary mechanism for influencing the outcome.
Yet, when the Tide wins by three in overtime, obviously due to widespread prayer, it has never once resulted in new laws that disenfranchise poor and minority voters; or widen the loop-holes that allow international companies to avoid paying Alabama taxes. You know, the money we could really use to fix the now-crumbling bridges of Madison County made famous in a novel, which are now quietly and tragically forgotten.
At the heart of this “Bermuda Triangle” trifecta of politics, religion and football is the doctrine of the “Prosperity Gospel” that centers on the Prayer of Jabez. This basically says that if you pray repetitively, and lead a sparkling, righteous life, then God will bless you with a new Silverado or grant your life-long wish that the Tigers win in the Iron Bowl.
This type of thinking has become intertwined with politics, as well. Why go to the polls to vote or attend a city council meeting when the outcome has already been determined by divine intervention? There’s another chunk of scripture about “rendering unto Caesar,” or something like that, which also makes for a good excuse to complain instead of vote.
Further down the rabbit hole, evangelicals argue that “Original Sin” should be the cornerstone of public policy. People just don’t act right, so laws governing moral choice should be passed to ensure that they stay on the straight and narrow, right? In the meantime, continue to encourage folks to “pray the gay away” and find that passage where Jesus says it’s okay to drink Bud Lite while watching Bama on the big screen just so long as folks don’t get too drunk.
Disregard that inconvenient scripture about the rich dude, the needle’s eye, and heaven… the Jabez one took its place. Hate to say it, but if people spent more time in church or praying for an interception, instead of registering voters or researching policy, they might know that.
In the South, folks should realize that football is actually not a religion. Politics should not be played like football; it is not meant to be a spectator sport. It actually requires real participation and education to create sound public policy. Finally, mixing religion with politics works about as well as shoveling sand with a slotted spoon.
Ol’ Cletus picked up his clipboard full of voter registration forms and realized he had a lot of work to do before kick-off.