Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our graves.
— William Shakespeare, King Lear
That I am lashing together another week’s “Red Dirt” on a Tuesday afternoon, with Weld’s weekly print deadline beginning to bear down upon me with the speed and subtlety of a runaway train, is in no way remarkable. Indeed, if there is living proof of the material with which the road to the Nether Regions is paved — as a quick aside, I’m quite certain that the contract on that project was let by the Alabama Department of Transportation — it is my weekly avowals to do better in this regard.
My own inalterable shortcomings notwithstanding, this particular Tuesday is not a normal one. It is Election Day in Alabama, and while I wish I could attribute my deadline-pushing ways, at least this week, to having been held up by throngs of my fellow citizens crowding the polls when I went to cast my ballot earlier today, I am obliged instead to report that poll officials outnumbered voters by a ratio of 10-to-one — the “one” being me.
While dismaying, this is not really surprising. Not given the general rate of turnout in our local elections of late, along with a dearth of compelling races on either the Democratic or Republican primary ballot, whether here in Jefferson County or statewide (there were a few, to be sure — but only a few, and virtually all of those in district races, rather than at-large contests in which all voters have a say).
All other things being roughly equal, it seems safe to say that the single biggest factor in today’s low turnout is the utter vacuity of the television and radio ads that, as ever, proliferated the airwaves with increasing frequency in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Negative advertising is nothing new, of course. But if the comments I have heard from friends and read on social media are any indication, the collective tone of this year’s campaign season has caused even the most dedicated believers in the necessity of exercising the franchise to reach their high-water mark of tolerance for name-calling, mudslinging, and even Obama-bashing.
Among those who did make it to the polls was Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley — a discharge of civic duty for which I am willing to give him full credit, even if his name was on the ballot. In the obligatory “impromptu” press conference afterward, the governor reportedly took the opportunity to denounce negative campaigning.
“I don’t like negative ads,” Bentley said, according to Al.com. “If you have to run down your opponent to build yourself up, you may not be a good opponent yourself.”
Leaving aside the fact that such a statement is an easy one to make for a man who probably will receive somewhere north of 90 percent of the Republican primary vote against token opposition, I do have to question Gov. Bentley’s memory on this one. He apparently has forgotten the ads and automated phone calls during the 2010 campaign that lambasted his opponent in the GOP gubernatorial runoff — now-Congressman Bradley Byrne — mostly for daring to state his belief in science. Those ads and calls were funded by the Alabama Education Association, and benefited Bentley greatly, though he assiduously denied any connection with AEA.
He was, of course, lying — which suggests that it might be more correct to question his words than his memory with regard to today’s Election Day comments. In fact, that would seem to be the prudent route, given the fact that Bentley told another lie in that same press conference when he said that creating jobs for Alabamians is his top priority as governor.
Or, to allow again for a more charitable view of our governor, perhaps he is simply incompetent. In any case, he’s not very good at creating jobs. Alabama ranked 49th among the 50 states in job creation during 2013, and as of May was the only state in the Union in which unemployment was higher than in the same month last year (we outperformed only Alaska, which deserves everything it gets for unleashing Sarah Palin on the American public).
Despite Bentley’s supposed laser-like focus on job creation, Alabama’s prospects don’t appear to be improving — at least if we are to believe that bastion of the vast left-wing media conspiracy, The Wall Street Journal. In an analysis released last week, the WSJ reported that, across the breadth of this great nation of ours, there were only 11 metropolitan areas in which current unemployment rates are higher than they were a year ago. Ten of those are in Alabama (the other is Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which happens to be the hometown of the spiritual leader of the national Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh — a coincidence that probably shouldn’t amuse me nearly as much as it does, but there you have it).
One of those Alabama metros is Birmingham, where we have plenty of problems of our own. Not the least of those is our location in a state with a legacy of poor government under Democratic administrations and a Democratic-controlled legislature that not only has been continued under Republican control, but made worse. Unimaginably worse, and perhaps irreparably so.
What can we do about it? Well, we can’t secede from the state (Can we? It just might bear looking into). And, barring a miracle of near-Biblical proportions, we’re going to have four more years of Robert Bentley. Given those facts, I would suggest that we would do well to focus our energies within — and to focus them equally upon building on our undeniable strengths and mitigating our unavoidable weaknesses.
To the extent that Alabama’s government is ever going to emerge from its legacy of corruption, incompetence and willful benightedness, I believe that it is going to have to be Birmingham that leads the way. We can start by taking care of our own business — electing better leaders, demanding more of them and ourselves, giving the people of our community something to vote for, rather than against.