Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas who was the runner-up to U.S. Senator John McCain in the contest for the Republican Presidential nomination, blew his chances at being named Vice President on the 2008 ticket with a shameless and downright disgusting remark he made while giving a speech at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. Hearing a sound from backstage while giving his speech to the N.R.A. faithful, Huckabee, who has been noted for his wit by a generally fawning press, quipped, “That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He’s getting ready to speak.” The audience began laughing at Huckabee’s remark, and continued when he made the extraordinarily insensitive remark, “Somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”
Huckabee later apologized but was soundly condemned by television’s political pundits. Huckabee’s “joke” evoked the specter of the southern governors of the 1950s and 1960s such as Orval Faubus of Huckabee’s own Arkansas and Alabama’s George Wallace, who in his 1963 inauguration speech, declared himself for “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”
Southern Governors & Segregation
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court changed the United States forever when it declared that segregation was unconstitutional in its Brown v. Board of Education decisions. Many in the segregated South vowed to defy federally mandated desegregation. In Arkansas, Governor Faubus entered his name into the black book of historical infamy when, on September 2, 1957, the night before Little Rock’s Central High School was to be integrated, he declared in a televised speech that he had forbidden the integration of Central High by black students and the African American Horace Mann High School by white students. He also declared that he was mobilizing the state militia to prevent violence. Faubus’s actions were a direct challenge to the federal government and President Dwight David Eisenhower, a Republican, who as First Magistrate of the Republic, was sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Ike’s constitutional duty included enforcing the High Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision and other subsequent decisions ordering desegregation.
The ban against integration lasted one day as the African American students did not attempt to enter school on the first day of the new semester. The following day, Wednesday, September 4, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had told the eight out of the nine black students who were supposed to attend Central High to gather at a meeting place near the school so they could walk in together. One of the nine did not receive the message, and when she tried to enter Central High alone through the front entrance she was met by an angry mob that threatened to lynch her. State militiamen stood by, seemingly willing to let a group of angry white adults violently assault a black teenager. The girl was escorted away by two sane white people. When the other eight African Americans arrived, the state militia barred them, under orders from Governor Faubus
The NAACP legal team, led by future Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, successful petitioned federal court to get an injunction forbidding Governor Faubus from using the militia to bar the nine African American students from attending Central High. The students were now known as “The Little Rock Nine.” After the injunction was issued on Friday, September 20th, Governor Faubus declared he would respect the injunction but urged the Nine to not attempt to attend Central High at that time due the threat of violence.
When on Monday, September 23rd, the Little Rock Nine went to Central High School, they were met by a white mob that already had beaten up several African American newsmen covering the historical event. When the white mob learned that the African American students had gained entrance to Central High, it went berserk. One of the searing images of the modern battle for civil rights, which began that day and was repeated countless times thereafter, was the specter of white mothers yelling racial abuse at black children. At Little Rock that Day, white mothers shouted at the school, urging their children to “Come out! Don’t stay in there with those niggers!”
The Little Rock Nine were assaulted by white students Inside Central High. When the police declared that the white mob outside Central High had become too unruly, the African American students were forced to leave via a rear entrance. As American history has shown, the white mob was fully able and willing to lynch those black children under the aegis of white supremacy, something Governor Faubus and the Little Rock police knew. It was now up to President Eisenhower to uphold the rule of the law. He sent in the 101st Airborne Division.
The specter of a white lynch mob threatening black kids sullied America’s image around the world, particularly among the emerging nations of the Third World, and provided the Soviet Union and its allies with invaluable propaganda. At Central High School, in a country that portrayed itself to the world as the epitome of democracy and equal opportunity, nine black teenagers had to each be assigned a personal bodyguard from the 101st Airborne Div., some of the most elite troops in the U.S. military. The 101st had to guard the school, too. Despite the presence of guards, the white students at Central High invoked a reign of terror against the Little Rock Nine, including physical violence and vandalism. One of the nine, Melba Pattillo, was assaulted with dynamite and stabbed, and also had acid thrown in her eyes. She would have been blinded had not the guards from the 101st Airborne immediately washed out her eyes.
The 101st was gradually withdrawn, and by Christmas, the Little Rock Nine were on their own. One female student who retaliated against the harassment was expelled from school, but In May 1958, senior Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from Central High. All the other 601 students in the graduating class were white. To ensure that the graduation ceremony wasn’t marred by violence, 125 members of the state militia were federalized and used as guards.
Rather than give in, the Arkansas legislature passed legislation giving the governor the right to shut down public schools, which Faubus promptly did. The legislation later was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Southern states like Arkansas (which has the reputation that it would be last in everything such as public education but for Mississippi) always had been niggardly about funding public education, and the black schools in the segregated south received pitiful few resources. Until the 1960s, when federal aid and the migration of businesses from the North revitalized the region’s economy, there had been no true middle class in the South. The states were class-stratified societies ruled by “Bourbons.” Whites frequently weren’t much better off than the poor blacks, but the racist politics managed to keep poor whites and black from creating a coalition that would threaten the Bourbon ascendancy.
The genius of the Southern bigot was to move white children into private schools, which later became known as “bussing academies” (as integration was realized by court-mandated school bussing), while further cutting back funds for public education. In many southern states, such as Mississippi, public schools became almost entirely black, with a few of the poorest of the poor white students thrown in. Property taxes were kept low, so the money could be used to pay for tuition in the bussing academies, many of them linked to the Southern Baptist church.
Southern society was kept segregated and stratified, despite the mandates of the Supreme Court. When integration came North in the late 1960s, the process repeated itself in cities such as Boston. After a rebellion among working class whites who had been left behind in the cities (the more prosperous whites having moved to the suburbs in the post-World War II era), they took their kids out of public schools and put them in private schools, such as parochial schools. Then, they cut funding to public schools, which were dominated by blacks and minorities.
Overall, the U.S. schools are as segregated in the year 2008 as they were a half-century ago.
This is the background of Mike Huckabee. He was born in August 1955, two years before the Little Rock Nine crisis made Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus the face of the recalcitrant segregationist. As a symbol of segregation and racial hatred, Faubus was replaced by others, most notably George Wallace, who became the epitome of the racist Southern governor in the 1960s. In 1963, he blocked the door of the University of Alabama to symbolically prevent integration of the campus.
The “Solid South”
George Wallace was a Democrat, as was Orval Faubus. The Democratic Party was the “Party of Rebellion,” according to the post-Civil War Republicans, they of the party of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is a Republican as the former Confederacy, the “Solid South” that was the backbone of the post-Reconstruction Democratic Party, realigned itself with the post-Eisenhower Republican Party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Goldwater and Reagan repudiated Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator who was hated in the South, with a frank embrace of racism.
Ronald Reagan, who had won the 1965 gubernatorial election in California on a platform opposed to fair housing and desegregation, actually launched his national Presidential campaign in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. In his kick-off speech in Philadelphia, Reagan declared his support for “state’s rights,” a code word for segregation.
The state and local political machines in the South began to realign from the Democratic Party to the GOP in earnest under the Reagan regime. The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, was anathema in the South for over a hundred years since the election of Lincoln in November 1960. However, by the 1994 by-elections for Congress, the South had generally thrown in its lot with the GOP, which after the Reagan presidency, had become aligned with resistance to civil rights initiatives. Vice President George H.W. Bush, the 1988 Republican Presidential nominee, had whittled away a huge lead initially enjoyed by Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, with a blatant playing of the race card, the “Willie Horton” controversy.
What is even more hideous about Mike Huckabee’s “joke” about Barack Obama and a gunman is that the United States observed the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a little more than a month ago. The winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of non-violence in the pursuit of civil rights for African Americans, Dr. King was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King’s assassination eventually was linked by a Congressional investigation to reactionaries dedicated to maintaining segregation. The investigation also intimated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a hand in King’s death.
F.B.I. boss J. Edgar Hoover despised King as a cat’s paw of the communists and authorized dirty tricks against him, including the sending of a letter threatening to reveal his marital infidelities and urging King to commit suicide. F.B.I. agents were watching the motel where King was staying when he was shot, and were some of the first people to arrive on the scene after King was felled by a bullet to the jaw.
This is another part of the background with which Mike Huckabee made his tasteless and shameless joke about Barack Obama. There is much anxiety in the African American community, as well as in liberal circles in the United States as well as in Europe, that the racist kooks who have written much of the history of the United States will attempt to eliminate Obama rather than allow a mixed-race man who identifies as African American become the First Magistrate of the Republic.
Fundamentalists & Racism
“Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning…is the most segregated hour in Christian America,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, and it is as true in the 21st Century as it was in the 20th. With Mike Huckabee’s Southern Baptist, fundamentalist background, racism is a given.
The reactionary fundamentalists who are the backbone of Mike Huckabee’s political coalition, according to conservative columnist Robert Novak, believe that a Barack Obama Presidency is Biblically ordained, as part of a “plague” that signifies the coming of the Rapture. An African American presidency is a punishment for the sins of white Americans. Fundamentalists like Huckabee were always fond of using a Biblical justification for racism and segregation, claiming that black folk were the children of Ham, of his enslaved son Canaan, and thus damned to servitude. Martin Luther King denounced this type of Biblical justification, because in the South that he and Huckabee grew up in, the Christian Churches were complicit with segregation.
In his 1967 speech Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, King said, “It was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham…. The greatest blasphemy of the whole ugly process was that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro.”
A look into Mike Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas, or attendance at one of his political rallies, reveals a man that is a little unbalanced himself. Aside from his “God complex” that has seen him go hog-wild pardoning convicted bloodletters & badmen, Huckabee espouses an economic populism that is more in line with the hard left of the Democratic Party and John Edwards than it is John McCain, yet he is a staunch Republican.
Though Mike Huckabee’s politics are populist, he belongs to the party of the Big Businessmen that he rails against. It is a schizophrenia created by the fact that Huckabee is a Republican rather than a Democrat as the majority of white Southerners are still wedded to a knee-jerk, reactionary racism and now see their home in the racist GOP, no longer the party of the emancipator Lincoln but of the bigot Reagan.
The Vice Presidential Nomination
“[W]e are the heirs of a past of rope, fire, and murder. I for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)
John McCain comes from a state, Arizona, with its own formidable history of racism. Arizona gave the United States Barry Goldwater, who ran for the Presidency in 1964 on a platform steadfastly opposed to civil rights for blacks. Arizona was one of the last states to enact legislation making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a state holiday, and when the Grand Canyon State finally did enact legislation making the day a state holiday, it did it primarily so Phoenix could host the Super Bowl, not for any altruistic reasons. The National Football League had forbade the Super Bowl from being played in Phoenix until Martin Luther King Day was passed. McCain urged the state to enact the holiday into law so that it stopped being a national laughing stock.
It is hard to see John McCain putting Mike Huckabee on the ticket after this horrible faux pas. It cuts to the nub of why the GOP gained power and remained in power for a generation: As it was the party of racism that played to white Americans’ fears and resentments of African Americans. John McCain would not want a Cro-Magnon type like Mike Huckabee on the ticket to stir up the ghosts of the past. For John McCain is going to be painted as an agent of the past, not the future in the upcoming Presidential campaign. Barack Obama will base his bid for the Presidency on the hope that his own candidacy offers a chance to transcend the 400 years of racism that have scarred American politics and history. That is a challenge that the 73-year-old John McCain cannot take lightly.
As for the GOP as a whole, Mike Huckabee has done a great service to the Democratic Party by contextualizing, if not explaining Michelle Obama’s remark back in February 2008, while on the hustings in Wisconsin, that she was not proud to be an American until recently, when the country embraced her husband, a so-called black man, for the Presidency. Both Barack Obama (b. 4 Aug 61) and Michelle Obama (b. 17 Jan 64) were born into a country in which the vast majority of black people in the South, Mike Huckabee’s South, were not allowed to vote. A country in which black people trying to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed franchise were murdered, in cold-blood, and their assassins went unpunished. A county in which the highest law-enforcement agency in the country, the F.B.I., may well have had a hand in the assassination of the leading black man in America, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Republican Party of Tennessee currently is harassing Michelle Obama, who is visiting the Volunteer State. The state GOP, through a video on their official Web site, is taking her to task for her remarks that she had not been proud of her country until recently, as if she did not have reasons to be disgusted with the racial politics of America. (The video has been taken down at the request of the Republican Senators of Tennessee. John McCain, a man of honor, is disgusted by such racist appeals.) For the sake of his viability as a Presidential candidate, John McCain should be careful of the company he keeps.
Associated Press, “Tenn. GOP mocks Michelle Obama’s ‘proud’ remark”
CNN Political Ticker, “Huckabee jokes about Obama ducking a gunman”
The Hill Briefing Room, “Huckabee Jokes about Obama Getting Shot at “”
The New York Times, “Republicans Warm Up at the N.R.A.”
RearClearPolitics.com, “McCain, Huckabee and the Evangelicals.” by Robert Novak