The most disturbing aspect of the current election season is the extent to which previously respected public figures have shed some of the skin with which polite society clothes the elemental. Those so inclined can read up on Kundalini yoga, which posits the stages — or "chakras" — through
which human nature rises from serpentine origins all the way to spiritual ecstasy.
Putting that another way, there's a little bit of snake in all of us, and in case after case it slithered out during the course of the pre-election period — in one case, in particular.
Walter Bailey is a distinguished and dedicated man, and while the longtime former county commissioner may appear to some to be literal-minded and over-zealous in his assault on the vestiges of de facto segregation in the public and private spheres, he has for the most part waged his campaign honorably. Though not everyone would agree, Bailey is well within his rights to consider the late Memphis native and Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest to have been "despicable" and to opine that public honors for such a man — pre-war slave-trader, the general accused of massacre at Fort Pillow, post-war founder of the Ku Klux Klan — are "unconscionable."
What was unquestionably despicable and unconscionable, however, was Bailey's lending himself to a TV commercial which coupled Congressman Steve Cohen's image with that of a sieg-heiling hooded Klansman. The congressman's offense? Having voted some years ago, while a member of the Center City Commission, against Bailey's proposal to change the name of Forrest Park and disinter the remains of the man buried there.
Never mind that neither Mayor Herenton nor the City Council found merit in the proposal at the time. Bailey not only held a grudge but, in serving as front man for the loathsome commercial, lent himself to the most sordid of desperation tactics on the part of the congressman's opponent, Nikki Tinker.
About Tinker, who has seemed unable to articulate even a single recognizable campaign theme or reason for anybody to elect her to anything, not much can be said at this point — except that she has besmirched her own probity almost beyond redemption, a fact that would benefit neither her nor the district should she manage an upset win over the incumbent.
Only two members of the Congressional Black Caucus have gone on record in support of Tinker, and both of them signed on as co-sponsors to Cohen's resolution, passed on a voice vote by the House of Representatives last week, committing that branch of the Congress to a formal apology for the institution of slavery and for the long aftermath of Jim Crow oppression. The resolution was greeted as epochal by the worldwide press.
Tinker and her supporters have tried to label Cohen's achievement, almost unparalleled for a freshman congressman, as "opportunist." It was surely no more so than Abraham Lincoln's choice of an opportune time, post-Antietam, to issue the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. And in the case of Cohen (whose legislative and civic record on civil rights issues is impeccable), the element of sincerity is beyond question.
Win or lose, Cohen has already made his mark on history, while Tinker and Bailey, quite frankly, have disgraced themselves.