Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Talk about a missed opportunity: Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's tax reform plan collapsed yesterday, due to strong opposition from the state's wealthy property owners — and due to opposition from the poor themselves! Jason Zengerle reports in The New Republic Online (sub req'd) that American Idol Ruben Studdard tried to rouse Alabama's black voters to Riley's cause in a concert for 10,000 people on Friday, but didn't bother to stump for the tax reform measure itself:
"I think Ruben Studdard is probably the best ambassador Alabama has had in a long, long time," the governor told a group of reporters shortly before Ruben took the stage. "He brought the state together like no one ever has before," Riley continued. "And he's probably as placid an individual as I've ever met."
So placid, alas, that Ruben never saw fit to mention the cause on behalf of which he was performing. As concertgoers streamed into the arena, campaign volunteers passed out flyers and bumper stickers urging a "Yes" vote on the referendum. And Ruben's mother, an Alabama teacher, delivered a video message—broadcast on two large screens flanking the concert stage—in which she said, "If we could just get people to go out and vote [for the referendum] like they voted for Ruben on 'American Idol,' then we could take care of some of these problems." But the flyers and stickers were quickly discarded, and Ruben's mother's testimonial could barely be heard above the arena's din. Out on the concourse, the lines at the concession stands selling "Get Rubenized" t-shirts were long, while the tables bearing campaign literature were largely ignored.
Ruben, by contrast, commanded the arena's undivided attention, but he performed his set as if it were just another concert. The only nod he gave to the night's supposed purpose was during his encore. After singing a few verses of "Sweet Home Alabama," Ruben interrupted the song and said, "Now this man right here did everything he could to bring me here. ... Y'all give it up for Governor Riley, c'mon." And with that Riley walked onto the stage, to a smattering of applause, to dance alongside Ruben as he finished the song. What it had to do with tax reform was anybody's guess.
Ruben, what were you thinking? But get this:
During Sunday worship at Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church—one of the most important and politically active black churches during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s—Pastor Arthur Price merely encouraged his parishioners to vote in the referendum without bothering to recommend which way. "I'm leaning toward voting for it," he told me after that morning's services, "but as far as our congregation is concerned, I'm leaving it up to them."
And how's this for a bit of "congregational polity"?
Other white ministers who personally supported the plan, especially Baptists, were reluctant to publicly endorse it for fear of risking their jobs. "The Southern Baptist church is very democratic. There's no bishop to protect a pastor from one or two wealthy members who are angry at the pastor and want to get him fired," explained Auburn's Flynt, who is also a Baptist preacher. "I've talked to ministers who've said, 'I'd really like to take a position on this, but I can't afford to, I have no protection.'"
Finally, Gov. Riley did get some love from the Christian Right this week:
On election day, about 40 members of [a pro-Ten Commandments group] walked up Dexter Avenue from the Judicial Building to the Capitol to see if Riley had [displayed a granite plaque of the Ten Commandments they had given him]. He had. No doubt realizing that polls showed 68 percent of Alabamians supported Moore's position that the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public buildings—the same percentage of Alabamians, by chance, that voted against the tax plan—Riley's office had created a brand new "Foundations of Our Law" exhibit in a backroom of the Capitol and hung the Ten Commandments plaque there, alongside posters bearing reproductions of documents like the Code of Justinian and the Magna Carta. . . ."God is here," a man said, his voice seeming to tremble. "God is in this state."
But his people, sadly, appear to be looking the wrong way.
Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 10 September 2003 at 5:18 PM