Friday, April 15, 2016

A Wall So High: Senator Sam Ervin and North Carolina's Controversial Potty Police Law

by Nomad

With his Southern drawl, dry wit, and country-lawyer persona, Senator Sam Ervin became a national hero to many during the Watergate hearings. Yet, here was a staunch conservative Democrat- a Dixie-Crat.
Today he very likely would be disgusted by what's going on in his state. 

Remembering Senator Ervin

Most of us of a certain (unspecified) age recognize the name, Sam Ervin. During the long painful summer of 1973, Congress convened a special session in order to get down to the bottom of an extraordinary White House scandal, involving a contracted break-in of opposition offices and a badly-handled coverup by the president.

Starting from May 17, 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee began its nationally televised hearings and throughout that summer, the nation stood witness to every detail of Nixon's dirty tricks and his vain attempts to keep them from wrecking his presidency. 
At the helm of that committee was a flabby-jowled Democratic Senator named Ervin.

Ervin was a treat for those of us- like me- incapable of understanding the Washington proceedings or of appreciating history in the making.

As I recall, he came across initially as a rather slow, rather amusing grandfatherly type. It was easy enough to dismiss him as a bumbler or cartoon character.
In fact, it was soon understood that Ervin was sly fox and resolution determined to get the facts.
Some 319 hours were broadcast overall, and 85% of U.S. households watched some portion of them. The audio feed also was broadcast gavel-to-gavel on scores of National Public Radio stations, making the hearings available to people in their cars and workplaces...
Over a year later, the president- who had assured the American public he was not a crook- was forced to step aside, unable to clear his name and unwilling to be held accountable. On August 8, 1974, Nixon, with a weary salute from the steps of his presidential helicopter, became the first president in US history to resign from office.

Ervin took a lot of heat during the Watergate hearings. Rolling Stone noted at the time:
Jim Fuller of the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reports his newspaper gets calls at all hours of the day and night, some from as far away as Houston, demanding that "that fat, senile old man" lay off the President. "The most common threat," Fuller says, "is castration." Ervin doesn't look worried.

Ervin, The Last of a Dying Era

In some ways, Ervin was an enigma. His political career spanned a period of radical change for democrats in the South. Ultimately, the Southern states would turn their backs on the Democratic Party, making Ervin one of the last of a last of a dying era. 

After the Supreme Court's 1954 decision requiring the desegregation of public schools throughout the nation, Senator Ervin, as a so-called Dixie-crat, organized a white populist revolt by drafting "The Southern Manifesto." 

The document was signed by 101 politicians (99 Southern Democrats and two Republicans) from AlabamaArkansasFloridaGeorgiaLouisianaMississippiNorth CarolinaSouth CarolinaTennesseeTexas, and Virginia

One quote from the manifesto reads:
"This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding."
Of course, the "amicable relations" was based on African-American acceptance of a second-class status in the community and not friendship or equality. This was the true nature of the "understanding."

Four Southern Senate Democrats refused to sign: Albert Gore, Sr.Estes KefauverRalph Yarborough and Lyndon B. Johnson. Given the enmity it produced from their Southern colleagues,that rejection was a courageous stand.  

Years later, Ervin would undergo a change of heart, (sort of) stating that he felt the court's ruling might have been correct, but the mandating of desegregation was "improper."

When it comes to that his stand on desegregation, Ervin has his defenders. They argue that, at heart, he was a Constitutionalist
The federal authority, he felt, should  never be allowed to force itself upon states. This was a fairly common excuse for discrimination during this time. It was an insult to the proud South, they claimed.

While he opposed federal legislation to combat race-based discrimination but did not do so in harsh, ugly or demagogic terms. His conviction, born from another age, simply lead him in the wrong direction. The fact remains however that, in total, the North Carolina Senator logged more hours filibustering civil rights legislation than any other senator from Dixie. 
As one source maintains:
While he once maintained that Americans were entitled to "their prejudices as well as their allergies", he did not seem to be motivated by prejudice himself, but more by his suspicion of federal power. Ervin said he didn't like what the Warren Court "has done to the Constitution"
Clearly, this was a man of paradoxes and contradictions. His legacy is a conflicted one.

In that way, Ervin was perhaps an appropriate representative of his time and region. Probably the worst that can be said is that he was on the wrong side of history.

Despite his opposition to desegregation, in 1961 Ervin was outspoken in his condemnation of racial violence and wasn't afraid to speak against Southern leaders, including those in his own party, whom he saw as stirring up hate. Violence, hate and intolerance had no place in politics, no matter what one's particular prejudices might be. 

According to the book, Senator Sam Ervin, Last of the Founding Fathers, he was the first Southern politician to condemn the bloody attack on the freedom riders. A civil right supporter, Senator Philip Hart praised Ervin's actions.
"One of the fine events during these trying days was the quick response which Senator Ervin of north Carolina gave, forcefully calling for a return to law and order and protection of the freedom riders. This is responsible souther leadership of which we can all be proud.."
When he died in April 1985, Republican state Sen. Daniel Simpson of Burke County said of Ervin.
"Senator Ervin never sought fame, he never sought fortune, he never sought the limelight, but he achieved all of these because he had a set of goals and ideas he never lost sight of."

North Carolina's Pride and Raleigh's Shame

As the above clip clearly shows, Senator Ervin was intensely proud to be a native of North Carolina. He was once called "“the most North Carolinian of North Carolinians.”   
We can only speculate whether he would be as proud of his state today.

As you may have heard, there's been a storm of protests in recent weeksdirected at the state legislature due to the passage of a bill which many see as a support for discrimination of LGBT citizens.
HB 2 bans all cities in North Carolina from enacting their own anti-discrimination measures. They must follow statewide standards, instead, which provide no protection for LGBT residents.
Bill Press for MSN attempts to explain how this dangerous nonsense developed:
It all started when the city of Charlotte joined hundreds of cities across the nation in enacting a city ordinance prohibiting businesses from refusing to offer services to customers, just because they happened to be gay. Homophobes in the state legislature, appalled at any sign of tolerance toward gays in the Tarheel State, rushed into action.
Within hours, with no public hearing, the legislators hurried through a draft law, which McCrory signed into law the same night.
Whether the state plans to use a special police force- "The Potty Police Patrols"- to ensure compliance by city officials is not clear. 

The new law (actually a banning of a ban) has been cited as just another example of how Republican-controlled legislatures of various red states have used "religious liberty" as an excuse for legalized discrimination.

The reaction to the legislation has brought a great deal of shame to the state. The backlash, reports the New York Times, includes Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Deutsche Bank, and PayPal. Additionally, more than 80 chief executives of corporations and technological giants — including Facebook, Apple and Google — signed a letter to Governor McCrory. The statement urged that the law be repealed. Bank of America, which has its headquarters in Charlotte, also signed the letter.

Critics claims that the entire controversy might have been avoided had the legislators been more independent of special interests.

Theocracy in the Making?

According to Right Wing Watch, two of the most public spokespeople for the new North Carolina law were David and Jason Benham, two brothers who have built a high profile on the Religious Right.

These are a pair of butch reality-TV stars, the source of a lot of undeserved fame. It's fair to call them the Kardashians of the Christian Right, having come to a fabulous celebrity life in much the same way. 
When their intolerant opinions became public knowledge, the executives pulled the plug. Just as they would have if the brothers had been Neo-Nazi Satan worshippers. In fact, it was much more than simply holding intolerant opinions. 

David Benham was also a cofounder and board member of Coalition of Conscience, an anti-LGBT organization headed up by radical anti-LGBT activist Michael Brown.

As per the usual bully scenario, they both claim to be victims of LGBT persecution. Speaking of bullies, Benham's organization, Coalition of Conscience urged parents to keep their children out of school on the annual anti-bullying “Day of Silence” which people like Brown and the Benhams claimed was "the queen of all the numerous homosexuality-affirming activities that take place in public schools."

Furthermore, he has reportedly stated that Christians must be "willing to die" in fight against marriage equality and other LGBT rights and that their battle against LGBT rights is a battle against a "parallel kingdom run by Satan" that "seeks to rob kill and destroy."

When the network kissed them adios, they took their show on the road and become staples at conservative events and Republican campaign rallies.
What else do they have to do?
They have also become enthusiatic supporters for Candidate Ted Cruz, reportedly joining his campaign's 19-member “religious liberty advisory council.”  

The council, supposedly made up prominent religious leaders, meaning, of course, the Christian religion. In fact,  David Benham attended Jerry Falwell's Liberty University for a few years while brother Jason graduated from that university in 1998 and got a master's degree from American Christian College in 2001. 
Esteemed Christian theologians they are not.
This council has called on Cruz to direct a review of the IRS’ treatment of religious organizations and to direct federal agencies to respect the free exercise of religion.  
  • Rescind Executive Order 13672 – an order that requires certain federal contractors to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; 
  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate its requirement that all employers include coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures;
  • Review and clarify existing Department of Education guidance on prayer at school to ensure it adequately explains the rights of students, teachers, and other employees to live out their faith.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has adopted the same structure as the Ted Cruz's Council. In that case, it is called Guardian Council of the Constitution, an appointed and constitutionally-mandated 12-member council that wields considerable power and influence. 

The Iranian Council  allows only one definitive interpretation of Islamic values as a support for Iranian law. Under such a council, reform is altogether impossible.  

In other words, the Ayatollah Khomeini's idea of the perfect theocracy right smack dab in Mayberry.

Redefining Religious Liberty

Right-Wing Watch points out:
What happened in North Carolina this week underscores the reality behind the Religious Right’s claims that they are being persecuted in America. In the view of people like the Benhams, “religious liberty” doesn’t just mean the right to live freely as you choose; it also means the ability to restrict the freedoms of others as they see fit.
Salon points out that this abuse of religion to institutionalize discrimination is nothing new.
"Religious liberty” gambit was used to justify Jim Crow laws, as racists claimed that because their religion forbade race-mixing, they should be able to impose their views on everyone else."
But not only Jim Crow laws, interracial marriage, segregation, and, further back in history, slavery itself. In each case, the very same Christian values that demand we treat others as we would wish to be treated are appropriated to enforce very different principles in state capitals.

Of course, it is not merely a perversion of the religion but of the very definition of "freedom." Freedom (or religious liberty) was never meant, after all, to be a means of imposing your own religious views on the rest of the world. It was supposed to mean the right to live your life and the dictates of your faith without fear of persecution.   
Now it seems to have become a legislative tool for quite the opposite effect. 

None these events would have surprised Sam Ervin who was a very strong believer in keeping religion and government as far apart as possible.

"Every American," said Ervin, "has the constitutional right not to be taxed or have his tax money expended for the establishment of religion."
Or in promoting and imposing a single religious viewpoint on all taxpayers who deserve due progress and equal representation.

Mr. Ervin died 31 years ago this month. He would undoubtedly be dismayed at what has become of his state when it comes to the merging of religious intolerance by extremists with the power of government.