Ideally…

John Archibald is a columnist for The Birmingham News/al.com. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the paper, and all the time at al.com. If you are not familiar with al.com, it is the best source for news about Alabama. Unlike the television stations and newspapers who all have a particular political bent (mostly religious, conservative, and Republican), you can always count on al.com to tell the truth. They don’t print a story unless they can back it up with evidence, not something that can be said for most television news people. John Archibald is one of my favorites and I want to share two of his latest columns. The first is a fantasy that never was nor ever will be, but it’s a nice fantasy, one that would make the south a true paradise that it should be (minus the heat, although sweet iced tea does slightly compensate for that). The second is Archibald doing what he does best, telling it like it is. He’s good with calling out hypocrisy, some thing that too often the news media forgets to do. Though he is talking about Alabama politics, he might as well be talking about politics anywhere. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

I want my South back

I want my South back.

You know the place. It recognized the past, but didn’t wallow around in it. My South could laugh at itself, because it knew deep down it had it made. It had food to make you drool and music to make you feel, and it had the prettiest of people. It blushed at compliments and shook off insult, because the quirks other folks ridiculed were the wrinkles that gave it character.

And characters.

It was proud, but it was not afraid. It was welcoming, and it was – I swear it’s true – gentle.

I miss that place. But then, maybe it never really existed at all, outside my head and my hopes. Maybe it was just an aspiration and an ideal, passed along by Southerners who knew this place and its people were nothing more or less than the sum of their scars. Where they came from shaped who they were, but did not dictate where they’d go.

That South was real to me. And I want it back.

I’m talking about my South, the way Morgan Freeman would say it or Harper Lee would write it, with pain up front and promise on the back end. I’m talking about the South the way we wanted it to be, the way some of us believe it can still be.

Not the Confederacy, or George Wallace. Not even Lynyrd Skynyrd, though the band will play on my soundtrack. I want the Southern Pride, but also that Southern Promise.

My South is not a place that blames everyone and everything for the unfairness of it all. It’s not one that pines for a day that probably never was and never should have been. My South could not watch unaffected as old people suffer, or stand by as children go without.

It was never a place so insecure that it barred its doors, never so offended by the ways of others that it wished them suffering. It saw needs and filled them. It saw hurt and eased it.

Oh, there was always hate and pain and righteous wrong in the real South, in a land built on man’s inhumanity to man. But centuries of sins brought together a magical blend of cultures that made us something better than our parts. Our Eden was already perfumed with clover and honeysuckle, and together we added barbecue and collard greens. You can smell it today.

It’s a place where you can laugh long and joke about anything. Except mama. It’s a place where being a gentleman has nothing to do with a seersucker suit, where it’s OK to disagree about politics or policy or even football, but it’s never an excuse to be rude.

Maybe it’s true that my South only existed in my head. Perhaps it was just a romantic notion, as misguided as those who look back at the good old days and see only good. But my South is not just the past. It is the hope for a better future.

In my South we are one people in one amazing place. Proud of who we are and proud of where we have been. And in my South we are proud of the changes we have made. We look at each other and see … each other. We know pain, but we believe in promise.

Because we know we can be more, and better, and kinder, and fairer. We can be more giving and more forgiving than the world would ever imagine. And we can do all that better together.

In my South.

Alabama double standard: Politicians judge you, but not themselves

For a bunch so holier-than-thou, the Montgomery gang sure has become forgiving.

Of each other, I mean.

Oh, they’ll judge you and me on our politics and national origin, our race and gender and religion and values. They’ll poke around in your bedroom to see who’s there – and who’s not. They’ll throw you in jail just to look tough on crime. And – oh yeah – they’ll disqualify you as their brother or sister if you don’t interpret your Bible the same as them.

But let a few fall off their high horses and the pillars of piety start to crumble.

Personal responsibility gives way to tolerance, of all things. Alabama values become fluid. All of a sudden – quick as a lawmaker can say OH MY GOD, WHAT IF THAT WAS ME – mercy and compassion debut in the Capital City.

Because self-preservation trumps accountability.

I swear Rep. Mac McCutcheon is like the lifeguard in this cesspool. Anywhere there’s a politician drowning in a deep end of his own doing, there’s McCutcheon to drag him to safety.

He was there for Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Soon as Hubbard was popped on 23 felonies for using his office for personal gain, McCutcheon came to assure us “Mike Hubbard is our Speaker and our friend.”

Now he’s there for Gov. Robert Bentley, with an amendment to a resolution that will derail attempts to impeach the governor. Because forgiveness and compassion are important.

This from a guy who once sponsored a bill making it illegal for ex-cons to homebrew beer.

And if McCutcheon’s the lifeguard, Rep. Jack Williams is the pool boy. He rushes to anyone who fouls the water and apologizes for the mess.

He talks so much about forgiveness these days you forget he used to talk of “accountability” and “responsibility.” When some Republicans questioned whether a guy facing 23 ethics charges really should be speaker, Williams lamented “the politics of personal destruction.”

Not the personal destruction of crime. Or scandal. Or governing with a hand out and an expectation of special treatment. The “personal destruction” he criticized came from people demanding better.

This is where we are. With a group of so-called leaders who want to blow up the whole system because they can’t keep their noses clean. That’s why Williams last year sponsored a bill that would gut the ethics law and allow indicted politicians to beg for money to use in their own defense funds. It is why the Ethics Commission – which would rather give a politician a road map around the law than to hold him to it – now says it’s OK for Rep. Randy Davis to take a job from a company with political interest.

Alabama politicians always find a way to take

If you can give a legislator a job with a wink and a nod, campaign finance and ethics reform means exactly squat. These wolves have huffed and puffed and blown our hope for honest government to hell.

The Speaker will go to trial. It looks like the governor has fouled his pool in legal and personal ways. The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is again facing complaints from the Judicial Inquiry Commission.

And our government is as crippled as our trust.

If you don’t think so, just look at what Hubbard has done to budgets of the state’s district attorneys and the attorney general – whose office is prosecuting Hubbard. Look at what he does to routine bills prosecutors want to see passed.

This session he diverted several of those bills — which had absolutely nothing to do with himself or the armed services – to the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. To die.

That committee, by the way, is chaired by Rep. Barry Moore. Who was charged with perjury – and acquitted – by the AG’s office.

They don’t want oversight. They don’t want accountability for themselves. And they don’t want the law to apply to them.

Just remember it, the next time they judge you.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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