While stretching my legs at one of the Alabama “Welcome Centers” along Interstate 10 last summer, I browsed through a formidable collection of pamphlets touting the state’s various tourist destinations. I’d never seen so many travel brochures in one place — and I used to live in Florida!
The cover of the Alabama Civil Rights Trail pamphlet caught my eye. The cover had pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and President Barack Obama. King and Obama are smiling, while Parks stares seriously from a booking mug. Behind the trio looms Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, the site of Bloody Sunday, where police used billy clubs and tear gas to attack civil rights marchers on March 7, 1965.
The second sentence of the pamphlet explicitly links the historic protests in Alabama to Obama. “Without the struggles for voting rights in the 1960s, Barack Obama could not have become president.”
Frankly, I was surprised that a state with overwhelmingly conservative Republican leadership would have Obama featured so prominently in the state’s Civil Rights Trail pamphlet, almost as if Obama were the culmination or bookend to the civil rights movement headed by Dr. King. (Of course the cynic in me has to allow for the possibility that the pamphlet is calculated to remind Alabama’s white majority that Obama is their enemy. Not that they may need much reminding.)
After all, Alabama voted heavily against Obama in the 2008 presidential election. A March 2012 poll showed 45 percent of Alabama Republicans believed Obama was a Muslim while only 14 percent correctly believed Obama was a Christian. The remaining 41 percent were unsure. I’d venture to say that most Alabama conservatives who are not misinformed about Obama’s religious persuasion (or birthplace), still take a dim view of him, and believe his policies are harmful to the Republic. Yet they comprise the political base for the Republicans who currently lead the state.
Outside of New Orleans, Obama isn’t popular in Louisiana, either. But don’t expect our state tourism bureau to go out of its way to link our own African-American Heritage Trail with Obama’s re-election.
After all, some of our top state leaders have invested heavily in their opposition to Obama. In fact, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter resuscitated his political career after his involvement in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal, largely on the basis of opposition to Obama, plus a healthy dollop of illegal immigrant scapegoating.
Governor Bobby Jindal, for his part, has spent enormous amounts of time during the past two years campaigning for anti-Obama candidates like Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, or one-time Presidential hopeful Rick Perry. Now, Jindal has become an increasingly visible surrogate for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Jindal has gone so far as to refuse to implement the Affordable Care Act because, he says, “It makes more sense to do everything we can to elect Mitt Romney to repeal Obamacare.”
That’s pretty convenient. While Romney is reportedly narrowing his list of choices for a running mate, Jindal, a top Romney surrogate, essentially says that “electing Romney” is the state’s most important health care policy.
Let’s emphasize a few obvious points, because I’ve made my own far-flung linkages in this post:
It was an historic milestone when Obama (a U.S. citizen who happens to be Christian) won the presidency in 2008. But that doesn’t signify the realization of King’s dream. Obama is not a titanic figure in America’s history of Civil Rights. Certainly, our nation has made progress over the past half-century, but we have plenty more bridges to cross (and not just in Alabama or the South) before America has truly “overcome,” in King’s sense of the word.
Nonetheless, I was impressed that Alabama’s tourism bureau recognized that Obama’s election — whether or not they supported it — was a memorable event and that it might be a useful way to introduce young people to Civil Rights history. Also, they seem to understand that linkage to Obama might increase tourism along the Civil Rights Trail and benefit the state economically.
Similarly, perhaps, the Affordable Care Act is also historic. But it’s also not a visionary solution to the persistent problem of skyrocketing costs, mediocre health care outcomes. Most of the leaders in this state disapprove of “Obamacare,” even though it could help cover the half-million Louisianans who are currently uninsured. These leaders might consider putting aside their vested political interest in seeing Obamacare fail and, for the good of the state, implement elements of the program that would help Louisianans just in case their fervent political hopes for November don’t come true.