Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mississippi and the Obama "Beat" Goes On

By Norman Markowitz

Mississippi has a not so good reputation in U.S. history.

It was the state whose 1850s Senator, Jefferson Davis, became the first and thankfully only president of the Confederate States of America. It was the state whose late 19th century "Mississippi Plan," became the model for the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the former slave states. It was also the state that produced some of the most grotesque racists in U.S. history--Senator Theodore Bilbo who spewed hatred on the floor of the Senate routinely, sometimes vilifying personally African Americans who dared sit in the Senate Gallery; Congressman John Rankin, whose specialty was anti-Semitism along with virulent anti-African American racism (he saw U.S. support for the allies before WWII as a Jewish conspiracy and in a truly loony gesture on behalf of Soviet American cooperation called Joseph Stalin a "Christian gentleman" who had defeated "the Jew" Leon Trotsky in the Soviet Union) and headed HUAC in 1945-1946. And of course, Senator James O. Eastland, who combined rabid anti-Communism with rabid racism as chair of the Senate's "Internal Security Committee" and cheerleader for the White Citizens Councils formed in the 1950s to serve as the "respectable" protector of segregation (the KKK was of course segregation's underground terrorist face). One could go on at great length about the many crimes committed in the name of preserving the cruel racist tyranny that goes by the name of segregation, but there is good news from Mississippi today.

Barack Obama won as expected the Mississippi primary which puts him closer to the Democratic nomination. Those who disparage the large African American vote that he received in the primary should remember that people gave their lives to establish in fact the right of African Americans to vote in elections in the 1960s, and that right was only established after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those who disparage Senator Obama's remarkable achievements in running for the Democratic nomination should also remember that his victory in the Wyoming caucuses, a state in which the African American population is very very negligible, was a victory among the sort of people who vote in caucuses, that is activists and militants who are necessary to the party's long-term success, the people who gave Senator Obama a solid victory in the small Texas caucuses while he was losing the state primary to Senator Clinton. Senator Obama has won caucuses consistently through the nation.

Senator Obama is drawing more and more people into the political process, unlike his opponent. While he may have lost the primaries in Ohio and Texas, he has, I think a better chance to carry those states than Senator Clinton in a general election, because many of the rural voters who voted for her against him in the primaries are likely to vote for John McCain in the general election. In Ohio particularly, a battleground state with both a strong labor movement and strong well organized reactionary forces, Obama has a much better chance to carry the state.

Mississippi is still by no means a great place from my readings. Its rightwing Republican governor, Haley Barbour, has said that the book should be closed on the crimes "of the civil rights era," that the people of Mississippi need "closure" in response to the 2005 trial of Edgar Ray Killens for his involvement in the 1964 murders of James Chaney, James Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the "Mississippi Summer" Civil Rights Activists who gave their lives trying to register African American citizens in a state which denied them elemental citizenship rights. That book should not be closed.

Obama's victory in Mississippi puts him, by some estimations, around a little more four hundred votes away from the nomination and gives him a delegate lead of around one hundred and forty over Clinton. The nomination may come down to both the remaining "Super Delegates" and to the bloc of delegates that are committed to John Edwards on the first ballot. Edwards should understand that the progressive forces in the Democratic party and the nation whom he appealed to in his campaign are now overwhelmingly supporting Senator Obama and it is in his interest to throw his support to Senator Obama. The "Super Delegates" who are heavily elected leaders and former elected figures in the Democratic party should also realize that both the breadth of Senator Obama's overall support and his potentiality to win a decisive victory are far greater than Senator Clinton. All of this will continue to be true, even if Senator Clinton, as expected, wins the Pennsylvania primary, where she has huge organizational support, just as it was true after her Texas and Ohio victories.

Mississippi has often been a harbinger of very bad things in the U.S. past Yesterday it was, hopefully, a harbinger of some very good things in the U.S. future.

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