This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

The Oklahoma Confederacy Disconnect

President Barack Obama in Denver

The historical disconnect between Oklahoma as a legal entity granted statehood in 1907 and the Civil War makes waving the Confederate flag here as part of the state’s heritage almost as inane as the ugly racist overtones.

Note I use the word “almost.” Waving the Confederate flag in the face of the first black American president, which happened here this week, is an ugly and intentional act of racism and hatred. The Confederacy, under its flag, sent thousands of its people to their deaths in the nineteenth century to sustain the sordid and inhumane institution of slavery, which remains a blight on the nation’s historical record. American slavery still remains foundational to any discussion about racism in this country.

Let me be clear: Waving the Confederate flag in honor is a blatant act of racism or might represent a lack of basic historical knowledge. Waving it in the face of an African American in a taunting manner might even rise to the status of a crime given specific circumstances.

President Barack Obama visited Oklahoma on Wednesday and Thursday, speaking in Durant about expanding rural Internet access and then about corrections reform at the federal prison in El Reno. He stayed overnight at an Oklahoma City hotel. In Durant and Oklahoma City, he was met with extremely small groups of people waving Confederate flags, which made world news and embarrassed or should have embarrassed people in the state.

Even some Oklahoma Republicans were actually shocked. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, for example, condemned the flag wavers in no uncertain terms. A statement by Cole on the issue begins like this:

I was shocked and disappointed by those who showed up to wave Confederate flags soon after President Obama arrived in Oklahoma. Their actions were not only disappointing but incredibly disrespectful, insensitive and embarrassing to the entire state.

The Confederate flag has been in the news recently following the shooting death of nine people at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, has been associated with the flag in images and media stories. South Carolina just recently removed a Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds.

The flag wavers in Oklahoma were miniscule, but they were there, and they received broad, worldwide coverage. Yet it should be simply noted that Oklahoma didn’t even become a state until 1907, more than 40 years after the South lost the Civil War. Of course, people live here who might have grown up in the seven initial Confederate states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, but it’s a reach in terms of symbolism to directly connect “Oklahoma” (note the quotes) to what gets called “the old South.”

My point here is any historical or heritage argument made in favor of waving the Confederate flag in Oklahoma just doesn’t fit neatly with the state’s history. It’s a skewed and complicated connection. Ironically, “Oklahoma,” the legal entity, got some really bad press out of a historical symbol it really has no right to claim in the first place. There IS the fact that some members of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations primarily fought with the Confederates in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, but some members of these nations were pro-Union. Again, it’s complicated, and worth studying, but it’s obvious Oklahoma doesn’t have an old-South plantation heritage, say, like Mississippi or Georgia. Again, Oklahoma wasn’t a federally recognized state during a war between federally recognized states.

This doesn’t mean Oklahoma doesn’t have its own history of racism and hatred in which a predominately white power structure limits the civil rights of people belonging to minority groups, but as much as linking this to the Confederate flag might make perfect sense the state just wasn’t a state when the plantation owners sent their sons to die for a lost and dishonorable cause.

Season of the Gaffe

Image of Oklahoma state Capitol building and church

To re-paraphrase an old Donovan song, it “must be the season of the gaffe,” and it’s growing as old as the song itself locally and nationally.

I’m not the first to point this out. Matthew Pulver recently wrote about the media’s obsession with gaffes in Salon.com. But the reporting of so-called verbal gaffes committed by politicians often misses the point. Are they miscommunications corrected by a simple apology or, more likely, are they statements of belief and value systems?

Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican Party, all have made the news recently for supposedly miscommunicating ideas, and the local and national media has seized on them voraciously.

Here’s how it works: A politician says something controversial. The media reports it. The politician’s opponents demand an apology or ridicule what the politician said. The media reports it. The initial politician then issues some type of clarification or apology. The politician’s opponents claim that it isn’t enough. The media reports it. Then another politician gaffes it up, and the cycle repeats itself.

The next presidential election doesn’t happen until 2016 so I will go out on a limb and forecast a lot of gaffe reporting awaits us in the future. Must be the season of the gaffe.

On the local level recently, Fallin made news when she appeared in front of reporters to not know the three branches of government. That was followed by an Oklahoma Republican Party Facebook post that compared people on food stamps to animals, which created a tremendous amount of controversy. Both made national news. Fallin, to my knowledge never clarified her statement. The chair of the Oklahoma GOP, Randy Brogdon, apologized after a storm of criticism.

In each case, however, the main issue seemed to get lost in the reporting.

As I argued earlier, Fallin most likely knows the three branches of government include the executive, judicial and legislative. Here’s what she said that caused the media firestorm:

You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.

The media, of course, focused on how she clumsily described the branches of government. But it was her main point that deserved more discussion. Her point basically was that Oklahoma voters, not a court, should be allowed to decide the fate of the Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. As you know, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 2 the monument must be removed from the Capitol because it violates the state’s constitution.

But the very purpose of the judicial branch of government is to uphold laws and constitutions while protecting those people with minority viewpoints from tyranny and mob rule. Fallin is expressing a deep-seated philosophical viewpoint about the rule of law, and her refusal to remove the monument and her basis for it should be the focus of scrutiny.

The media also seized on a cruel Facebook post by the Oklahoma Republican Party. Here’s the text of that post, which has since been removed:

The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."

Thus ends today's lesson in irony ?#‎OKGOP

Another gaffe? Well, Brogdon sort of apologized and the post was removed, but the point is that there are many, many people in Oklahoma that possess misinformation about people who receive food stamps. They close their minds to studies and basic financial information that prove the vast majority of people who receive assistance are actually in dire need of help.

Should we let voters decide every issue, even if it’s discriminatory against another group of people? Should we allow children to go hungry or even starve to death in this country because they “will grow dependent on handouts . . .”? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Who cares if Fallin knows the three branches of government or whether Brogdon is truly apologetic? What matters is the substance (or lack thereof) of their narrow viewpoints.

The Branch of Defiance

Image of Mary Fallin

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin isn’t generally known for possessing brilliant oratory skills or known for making witty and resonating off-the-cuff remarks to the press, but that held true for her Democratic predecessor Gov. Brad Henry.

Maybe a majority of Oklahoman voters just don’t trust slick talkers. Certainly, there’s a lot of distrust here for President Barack Obama, one of the best orators ever elected to political office. The use of soaring rhetoric and ironic, witty retorts, the result of intellectual insight and practice, must be an anathema to the down-home spinners here.

Given all that, it didn’t surprise me in the least that Fallin supposedly fumbled her way verbally through an attempt to defend the Ten Commandments monument, which still stands on state Capitol grounds despite the recent 7-2 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that it must be removed.

The media made a big deal about Fallin’s definition of the three branches of government when she talked to reporters about supporting the monument recently. This is really just a side issue to what she was trying to say, and I’m fairly certain the college-educated Fallin knows the three branches of government include the executive, legislative and judicial. Here’s the Fallin quote that caused the media storm:

You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.

I’m not the first to point this out, but the so-called gaffe (or, really, was it a gaffe?) is far less important than a governor openly ignoring a court ruling so people can decide to impose their religious beliefs on other people. The judicial branch of government was established, among other things, to prevent such occurrences. The rule of law prevents the rule of mob and tyranny over minorities.

Fallin’s specific point seems to be that she wants the legislature to create a ballot title so voters can repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution in a general election. That section states:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

At this point, I’ve written about this section and the ruling so much I’m losing some interest in its legal and historical specifics. Here’s my last post on the issue. Here’s the one before that. The court’s ruling, it should be noted, is not at all controversial in any legal sense. Read the section. Note that the Ten Commandments monument is currently on public property.

What everyone should be concerned with, however, is that Fallin has NOT ordered the monument removed and is acting defiantly against the basic rule of law. Even if Oklahoma voters eventually vote to repeal the section, which is a reasonable expectation, then the monument should be removed until they do so. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has essentially asked the court to reconsider the decision, but the 7 to 2 vote represents a solid majority.

Both Fallin and Pruitt probably also know, along with their three branches of government, that there’s still constitutional arguments to be made on the state level against the public location of the monument beyond the use of Article 2, Section 5, or at least I think so. There’s also the federal court system as well, the overall issue of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment. It’s highly unlikely the American Civil Liberties Union will give up on the case if the state constitutional section is repealed. This case is going to go on.

I have a deep appreciation for the historical civil disobedience practiced peacefully by Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers during the civil rights movement, but the Ten Commandments monument case doesn’t begin to rise to this level. The vast majority of people in Oklahoma have broad access to the Ten Commandments. It’s in the Bible. It can be found on the Internet. Study it. Promote it. Talk about it in Sunday School classes. The monument’s public location isn’t a matter of a violation of rights or an action for equality, precepts guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The monument is a stone with some words on it put up in 2012 and paid for by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow and a Southern Baptist ordained deacon and Sunday School teacher. Put up the monument on some private property. Allow people to view it. I would bet most people against the monument’s public location wouldn’t mind or care. I certainly wouldn’t care. But Fallin should comply with the court ruling and get it off state property.

The lesson taught here is not that our governor doesn’t even know the three branches of government, which she most likely does, but that it’s okay to ignore the rule of law and the judicial branch of government. Ignoring the rule of law in this case is not heroic civil disobedience. This is about publicly privileging Judeo-Christian religious edicts above other religions and people without religious affiliations. It’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

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