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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Someone's doing something

by John Brummett | September 14, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

Sarah Sanders has dipped into her Trump-network campaign millions for an opening television spot.

It's about the goodness of Arkansas made evident when a president from here and her dad the then-governor opened the door of Little Rock Central High in 1997 to the Little Rock Nine.

That was in a symbolic reconciliation ceremony four decades after the state famously barricaded the school to keep those brave Black youngsters out--until, that is, the American government sent troops to enforce the law.

So, actually, Arkansas wasn't good in 1957. It was bad. The federal government was good.

On that day in 1997, Sarah's dad, Mike, gave a fine speech. He told of visiting with Sarah, when she was 11, the Yad Vashem remembrance in Jerusalem of the Holocaust. He told of Sarah signing the guest book, and, in the comments section, writing, "Why didn't someone do something?"

Someone did. America did, from Omaha Beach to Okinawa. Arkansas helped, not as a state standing up against America, but as a proud province within a brave and heroic America.

And someone did something in 1957. Again, it was America.

Its courts ordered justice for Black students victimized by hate and discrimination in a rogue state. Its president--a Republican hero of the aforementioned war--sent American troops to "do something" about those retro-Johnny Rebs making such a hideous spectacle of themselves in Little Rock.

And it was the late, great Arkansas Gazette doing something, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its noble editorials urging its outlaw town to comply with federal law. And it was brave Little Rock women--standing up against the state, not America--organizing to reopen the schools after the state closed them rather than grant Black children justice.

Sarah doesn't quite get it. And that explains why a couple of paragraphs I wrote the day after she announced her gubernatorial candidacy--by asserting that she would lead Arkansas' last line of defense against America, specifically Democrats she disagrees with who hold a temporary tenuous majority--left her aghast.

This is what I wrote: "For decades now the state has treated governor as its one non-nationalized office. It has elected well-liked pragmatists who gathered along a range from center-right to center-left to try to moderate our state's demagogic and racist political history and modernize its backwards economy. Now comes the new generation bouncing off the knee of [Donald] Trump to declare that our governors will return to resentment and backwardness."

She couldn't imagine that I was comparing her to Orval Faubus, the governor who led the failed 1957 Arkansas rebellion against America.

But Faubus was merely manning Sarah's last line of defense against America. Post-Faubus governors named Rockefeller, Bumpers, Pryor--and Huckabee--sought to moderate and modernize the state. And Sarah was rising from Trump's knee to say, whether she understood what she was saying or not, that she would take us back, at least in the broad demagogic themes of our gubernatorial politics.

Then, just the other day, a Biden administration official said on television that the federal government would "run over" Republican governors standing in the way of the new presidential vaccine mandate. And Sarah linked that video clip on Twitter and said, "The hell you are."

That reminded me less of Faubus than of George Wallace citing Jefferson Davis and the great Anglo-Saxon tradition to bellow "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

I don't approve of the Biden official's imagery and indelicacy. President Eisenhower didn't talk that way in 1957; he reluctantly did his law-enforcement duty. He walked softly and carried a big Constitution.

But I abhor Sarah's campaign essence, which is to oppose America in some version of the Civil War, simply because the American people elected a temporary White House occupant who has a more expansive view of federal power on vaccination mandates than she does.

If Biden's action is too expansive legally--and it might be on the employer mandate--that's for American courts to decide, with rulings that are to be complied with, not for office-seeking demagogues to inflame and exploit.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the smallpox era that government could mandate vaccines in the interest of public health. Biden pushes that authority only on the federal employer mandate, and only because he's trying to lead, to break through the resistance of Republican governors extolling some version of "freedom" over public well-being.

"Freedom" to do what? Deny equal education to Black children? Deny our human responsibility to care about one another's health?

The element of Biden's mandate that presumes to use OSHA and workplace safety laws to mandate vaccines on large employers will be litigated, and it might be adjudged an overreach.

But let's make clear that it will be opposed by states standing in the way of the public health interest. And let's make clear that Biden will be defending it as someone doing something.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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