In the five minutes between coming to terms with the special election for Senate in Alabama being a long night and going upstairs to brush my teeth, Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma came in and shoved Doug Jones, the Democrat, over the top.
Goddamn. I mean, goddamn! I just want to come on down and hug all of you. Welcome back to Purple America, Alabama. We love you.
OK — without Wikipedia, can you name the last Senator elected as a Democrat from Alabama? If you said “Howell Heflin” you win. Heflin, who was first elected in 1978, and whose politics were remarkably similar to Trump Republicanism, was re-elected continuously until he retired in 1996. Similarly, Richard Shelby, Alabama’s current senior Senator, was also elected on the Democratic ticket in 1986. But roundabout the time when Heflin was thinking about retiring, Shelby put a little spit on his finger, stuck it in the wind, and decided to become a Republican.
So Doug Jones is the first Senator to be elected from Alabama from, as Howard Dean used to say, “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party,” for a very long time, possibly since Hugo Black was elected in 1926. Yet Black, who became in some ways more liberal after his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1937, was also tainted by Ku Klux Klan membership, and by his opposition to civil rights. In contrast, Jones has a lifetime commitment to civil rights, prosecuted former Klansmen for their orchestration of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, and is a strong and unequivocal proponent of women’s right to all forms of reproductive choice.
I have a Ph.D., in history, and I know when history is speaking: it spoke last night. But please don’t get all excited about this being a turning point in and of itself. This slugfest of an election raises a number of questions about the path to a Purple America, and I want to sketch a few of them out.
For the rest of this essay and a terrific video of Nina Simone singing “Mississippi Goddamn” published on December 13 2017, go to Public Seminar.