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Thousands of activists from across the nation join arms and march across the Edumnd Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on Sunday, March 4, 2012, 47 years after the historic march that spurred Congress to pass and enact the Voting Rights Act. (Photo: AP/Kevin Glackmeyer)

Forty-seven years ago this past Sunday an interracial contingent of some 600 civil rights activists attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They failed. Alabama state troopers and local police officers, upholding the racist laws of that time and place, met the peaceful marchers on the bridge with the brutal force of billy clubs, attack dogs, and tear gas.

It took two more marches—a second effort two days later saw 2,500 marchers crossing the bridge and turning around and a third march had the federal protection of 2,000 soldiers and 1,900 National Guard members—for the civil rights activists to finally succeed in their journey from Selma to Montgomery, the Alabama state capitol.

Marking how much life in America has changed, there’s a website today promoting something called the Bridge Crossing Jubilee. Set against a stark-black background and underneath the photo of a gray-haired black man holding Old Glory at the foot of the iconic bridge, the website’s home page explains its welcoming purpose:

The Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee is held the first full weekend of every March to commemorate “Bloody Sunday,” the March from Selma-to-Montgomery, and the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In addition, the Jubilee is the celebration and commemoration of the right to vote and March from Selma to Montgomery… We look forward to seeing you at this year’s Jubilee.

Now this is progress! Continue Reading »

Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere to turn the New York Knicks' season around, but the conversation about his unlikely rise to fame has often included a racial component. (Photo: AP/Kathy Knomicek)

(Disclaimer: I know this space is typically reserved for matters of serious report, like politics and, well, more politics. Rest assured I’ll return to politics soon enough. And for my faithful readers who know nothing of sports save the ins and outs of the presidential horserace or the ups and downs of congressional polling statistics, bear with me because you’re going to learn something very important about the character of our nation that politicians are unlikely to share with you.)

Linsanity has overtaken almost everyone I’ve spoken with during the past week.

In the incredible case you’ve escaped it, Linsanity refers to the global obsession–or craze–with Jeremy Lin, the professional basketball player whose play for the erstwhile forlorn New York Knicks has set everyone atwitter with his out-of-nowhere story. He was the star of his state-champion high school team in Palo Alto, California, but wasn’t highly recruited to play college ball. Instead of accepting a walk-on role, he enrolled at Harvard, a school better known for brains than brawn. He excelled in the classroom and on the court, but after graduation was overlooked by NBA scouts.

Surprisingly, to me, I’m no exception to the Linsanity madness. I love college basketball, but generally yawn when it comes to the professional game. But I’ll admit that I’ve succumbed and can’t get enough of the guy. Or his amazing story.

Unfortunately, all this celebrity carries a racial edge to it, which is the part that fascinates me most. Continue Reading »

Regardless of who wins the GOP nomination, the Republican candidate will rely on either the economy stopping its current positive trend or turning to social issues that have lost traction among the American public. (Photo: AP/Paul Sancya)

For a Republican candidate (pick any; for the sake of this argument it doesn’t really matter) to win the White House this fall, one of two things must happen, and neither of them are good for the GOP or the nation.

First, the prime conservative argument against re-electing President Barack Obama is that he’s responsible for the lack of jobs and high unemployment. For conservatives to make that argument stick, though, they’ll have to bet against prosperity.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) previewed the conservative argument in a critique of the White House budget proposals. “The president offered a collection of rehashes, gimmicks, and tax increases that will make our economy worse,” Boehner said.

But as of late, the economy seems to be turning around, not getting worse. Indeed, that argument hit a snag last week, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the January unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent, down from 8.5 percent in December and 9.1 percent back in August.

The January figure continues a trend of good news. The December figure was surprisingly revised upward to 203,000 new jobs from the previously reported 200,000, and November’s figure was revised upward to 157,000 from 100,000. Altogether, it’s a promising sign that things are beginning to look up. Or, as The New York Times reported, “the recovery seems finally to be reaching American workers.”

If—and it’s a huge “if”—the job creation pace continues as it has in recent months, then the economic argument against President Obama loses its luster. Regardless, few economists predict the unemployment rate will return to the double-digit figure of late 2009, and many are crossing their fingers that it might fall a few tenths of a percentage lower. That’s good news for the nation, but not so cheery for a Republican presidential nominee.

That brings us to the second line of attack the forthcoming GOP nominee is likely to fall back on to win. For lack of a better name, let’s call it a return to divisive culture wars. This gambit is an attempt to rally hard-right conservative voters by attacking immigrants, gay and transgender Americans, and women’s health rights.

Once again, the conservative approach is drilling into a dry well. Continue Reading »

Occupy Wall Street protestors march in New York City near Zuccotti Park in October, 2011. Occupy Wall Street began as a movement to expose the growing class stratification in America. (Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle)

In an odd, roundabout way, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has given Americans an opportunity to witness what so many of us have steadfastly refused to acknowledge: Yes, America, we are a class-stratified society.

Of course, the former Massachusetts governor didn’t mean to do this. He probably laments having told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien last week that he wasn’t worried about the poor because they have a safety net to support them. Nor is he losing sleep over the plight of the wealthy. If, as I suspect, he meant exactly what he said, he leaves little doubt with his attempt to clarify. “I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 to 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling,” he explained.

So he believes that the overwhelming majority of Americans are in that great, nebulous economic cloud called the middle class (or “middle income,” in his words). It’s an easy mistake—most Americans would agree with him, believing the middle class is larger than it really is.

These days Americans seem more class-confused than class-conscious. Continue Reading »

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer points her finger in the face of President Barack Obama during an intense conversation on January 25, 2012, at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

With a waggle of her right index finger last Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer erased the question of whether black voters will be enthusiastic about going to the polls in support of President Barack Obama. Now, you can count on it.

Gov. Brewer almost guaranteed that large numbers of black voters will turn out on Election Day because they will march to the polls, still angry about Brewer’s one-finger salute of the commander-in-chief. Nothing motivates voters like anger. So I envision their collective disgust to register in a wave of ballots, striking back at what so many perceive as the ultimate disrespect of the nation’s first black president.

This isn’t a bold prediction. Rather, it’s more of a reasonable assessment of what I’m hearing and reading about the durability of the anger over the now-infamous tarmac photo. Continue Reading »

By 2050 the United States will have no racial majority and the uneven racial and ethnic population growth of the future could very well reshape the course of presidential politics for generations to come. (Photo: AP/ Charles Krupa)

To keep myself interested while waiting for the GOP to complete its circular firing squad, I’ve begun to look down the road to the campaigns to come. No, I’m not talking about the November general election. Rather, I’m fascinated by what it will take to be president in the decades to come, when the United States will be a much-changed nation from what it is today.

I’m not alone in envisioning such progressive, future-forward politics. Stefan Hankin, president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington-based public opinion research firm that advises progressive organizations and Democratic politicians, told me recently that “[t]he future for progressive policies is not about 2012 or the next election in two years. It’s about growing the future and seeing where the path leads us.”

The path that Hankin referred to is the fact that within the next 40 years, possibly sooner, the nation will no longer have a majority white population. In a study that his firm released late last year, Hankin noted that the U.S. population will grow by 19 percent over the next two decades, but such growth will not be spread evenly over all racial groups. Whites will increase almost 4 percent, which pales in comparison to the 63 percent growth rates of Latinos, 55 percent growth of Asians, and the 27 percent increase in the number of blacks. By 2050 the Census Bureau estimates that white Americans will be a statistical minority in the nation, with no racial group comprising more than 50 percent of the population.

To be sure, demography isn’t destiny. But the uneven racial and ethnic population growth of the future could very well reshape the course of presidential politics for generations to come. Continue Reading »

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asks his staff, "what's next" during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Years ago when I started my professional life as a newspaper journalist, I believed sincerely that when people consumed a daily diet of facts along with their morning coffee, they were inclined to make better civic-minded decisions. Now some three decades later, I’m no longer a reporter covering a beat, and I suspect that my youth may have been misspent.

Writing this week in The Wall Street Journal, columnist Carl Bialik noted that voters “have strong opinions about policy issues shaping the presidential campaign, from immigration to Social Security.” But for many of them, their understanding of the facts supporting their views “can be tenuous.” He pointed to studies that repeatedly demonstrate that Americans vastly overestimate the percentage of citizens in the country who are foreign-born by a factor of more than two. Worse, they overestimate the percentage of those who are living here in the shadows as undocumented residents by a factor of six or seven. If those voters have bad facts, it’s nearly impossible for them to reach rational and reasonable conclusions about immigration policies.

Even if these voters have the right facts, however, it may not make a difference. Political scientists John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California at Berkeley found just that to be the case. In a paper presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago, the two scholars tested whether giving the public accurate information changed their attitudes toward immigration policies. Sadly it did not. “On average, then, providing correct information does not change attitudes toward immigration,” they wrote. Continue Reading »