By David Hill - 08/02/06 12:00 AM EDT
Charles Barkley nearly broke my heart last week when he said he’s joining the Democrats.
“I was a Republican until they lost their minds,” explained the aspiring switcher.
Given that Howard Dean, leader of the Democrats, is the only known politico to lose his mind publicly on live national TV, I can’t help but believe that Charles is a little confused.
I am going to be gentle about this because I have a soft spot for Sir Charles. We both grew up in small Alabama towns and attended Auburn University. Being a fellow Plainsman and now a resident of Houston, where Barkley finished his NBA career, I identify strongly with the onetime Republican from Leeds, Ala.
But institutional ties alone can’t adequately explain my affection. No, my deepest admiration grew from reading two of his books, both of which included enough biographical reflection to convince me the Hall of Famer has a good heart — for his home state, his family and community, and particularly the most vulnerable in our society, kids and the poor.
In his latest book, I May be Wrong, But I Doubt It, the seeds of Barkley’s partisan bolt are evident. He complains Republicans from Washington were sent to him as emissaries, hoping to exploit his race and celebrity. “They need Black Republicans in Alabama,” he understood. But somehow these missions went awry, and now Barkley’s issuing blanket denunciations of everything Republican.
Come on, Charles, really. Condemning the entire Republican Party for the actions of a few knuckleheads is as wrong as damning the entire NBA when a few “gangstas” make a roster or the commissioner makes a bad call. You probably think it’s fairer to judge the NBA in light of its Hall of Fame players and better-behaved stars of the present. Well, that’s how you should judge Republicans.
You don’t need a delegation of Republicans from D.C. to figure this out. Stay there in Sweet Home Alabama.
For a Republican Hall of Fame visit, I’d drive from Leeds to Winston County. When you get there, ask someone to point you to the Sardis No. 1 Baptist Cemetery. There you will find more than some dead white guys.
You will find a lot of headstones with the letters “G.A.R.” This stands for Grand Army of the Republic, the Yankee army. These are white Alabama Republicans who opposed secession, joined the 1st Alabama U.S. Cavalry and risked their lives and properties to fight for a Union and president that set the slaves free.
One of these dead white guys was Jonathan Barton, my great-great-grandfather. He later served as a Republican legislator trying to make sure freed slaves got a break. But eventually your new friends the Democrats ran the Republicans off.
Jonathan and his Republican neighbors didn’t lose their minds, but they lost most everything else during and after the Civil War, to your benefit.
More recently, your incumbent Republican governor, Bob Riley, showed more guts than any Alabama Democrat has lately when he tried to reform the state’s tax system to create more funding for public education. Yes, some Republicans and big-business interests opposed the effort, so Riley lost his reform referendum. He didn’t lose his mind, yet he could have lost his job for daring to help the very kids you say you now want to assist. But despite taking that unrewarded political risk, Riley will be reelected this November. He’s still playing hard late in the game, just as Sir Charles always did.
I could be wrong, but I doubt it: 2010 gubernatorial hopeful Barkley belongs on the same Republican team Bob Riley plays for.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.