H. Brandt Ayers: Coming GOP crackup
Mar 03, 2013 | 4397 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Newt Gingrich, left, and Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead. Photo: Associated Press
Newt Gingrich, left, and Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead. Photo: Associated Press
Rummaging through the length and breadth of my journalism career, as the phantom decades rolled by, I looked for something relevant to present reality. Quickly, a single year jumped out — 1948.

That was some time before I took up the reporting craft, but Alabama and the South were to live with the consequences of events that year; it was the year the Southern Democratic Party began to splinter on its way to oblivion.

The Alabama Republican Party is about to suffer a similar fate.

Cracks first began to appear in the state’s solid GOP when the county executive committees re-elected Bill Armistead as state chairman over the objections of the leadership, including Gov. Robert Bentley.

Rebellious factions are consistent with the state’s independent nature, but Armistead is a fellow who sees things — “da-da da-da,” as in the Twilight Zone — outlandish ethereal shapes from the fevered mind of fringe movie producers.

In a minute, we’ll get to the movie whose weird plotline Armistead swallows, but first, what are the signs of dissent in a one-party state then and now?

In 1948, Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal” policies — meaning fair deal for blacks — split the party into loyalists who went all the way with the president, loyalists who opposed a civil rights platform, which included Sens. Lister Hill and John Sparkman, states-righters who wanted to bolt the party immediately on racial grounds and a faction within the states-righters who went to the convention to block a civil rights platform, determined to walk out if it passed.

The result was a convention of all the states-righters from all over the South, the famous Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, a strange brew in Alabama terms that stirred the Ku Klux Klan in with the Mountain Brook country club.

Former Alabama Gov. Frank Dixon, with the dignified good looks of a Methodist bishop, gave a rousing keynote speech assailing the federal government and glorifying states rights. In private correspondence he revealed what “states’ rights” meant, “The Huns (Nazis) have spoiled our notions … of a master race.”

The convention nominated South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond as its presidential candidate to carry the flag of “states’ rights.”

From then on, loyalists, inheritors of a progressive tradition that included Hugo Black, Jim Folsom and Tom Kilby, struggled for supremacy against increasingly harder-line segregationist states-righters.

The struggle finally ended in 1964 when the GOP nominated a presidential candidate who had voted against the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater, who swept all the hard-line states-righters into the Republican Party.

A unique set of circumstances — with race at its core — created the emergence of the Republican Party as the dominant political force in the South.

Though overt racism is no longer the dividing line in Southern politics, the physics of a one-party state by the laws of nature is bound to create factional divisions.

For instance, one theory for Armistead’s re-election is that he was a hero to the zealous, doctrinaire Tea Party faction within the party. When The Star’s man in Montgomery, Tim Lockette, inquired, his source replied, “Which Tea Party?”

If there is a staring, brain-locked, Gullibility Wing of the Tea Party, it is no wonder that Bill Armistead is its champion.

The plot of the far-right propaganda film, “Dreams of My Real Father,” that Armistead says he believes, goes like this: Obama’s grandfather is an underground CIA operative who convinces Barack Obama Sr. to marry the president’s mother to disguise the fact she was already pregnant by a labor and Communist Party organizer, Frank Marshall Davis.

Weird as it sounds, Armistead believes it. He told a GOP women’s group in Fairhope last September that they should see the film, which he said “is absolutely frightening. I’ve seen it. I verified that it is factual, all of it.”

Among the questions that might be asked about the film is: Is communism genetic, carried in the male sperm …? Oh, forget it, the show is worse than the worst nightmare; to treat it logically is a waste of time.

However, I sympathize with the elected leadership of the party, being of sound mind, not wanting the governing party to be perceived as being chaired by somebody who thinks horror films are real life.

But the fissures beginning to appear on the surface of the solid GOP in Alabama and elsewhere were bound to happen. It will be fascinating to watch the cracks grow between the Establishment and the several Tea Parties over time.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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