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Stick to your guns: A political lesson from Cleveland

Cleveland's Civil War memorial - and its Romney-free districts during this year's election - have a thing or two to teach us about politics.
Cleveland's Civil War memorial.

Cleveland's Civil War memorial. Knute Berger

Right after the election I went to Ohio, carrying the thanks of a grateful nation for the outcome of the presidential election and the side benefit of having driven Karl Rove to reveal his madness on national television. Friends and family in Ohio, by the way, say "You're welcome."

Reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer indicated that there were entire precincts in the Cleveland area — nine to be exact — where Mitt Romney did not receive a single vote. As a friend from Akron noted, you'd think the simple ballot error rate would have generated at least one Romney vote per precinct. It wasn't only Cleveland that came through with inner city solidarity. In Philadelphia, there were over 59 precincts where Romney voters were nil, and in Chicago, 37.

A big part of that was the solidarity and enthusiasm of the vote by people who were told they were not supposed to vote, or certainly not welcome to unless they jumped through many hoops. GOP voter suppression efforts fired folks up; many of these non-Romney precincts were in heavily African-American communities. (Here's an interesting account of Obama's Cleveland ground-game.)

As I wrote last week summarizing the election, the Civil War was won yet again, and the not-quite solid South and angry white male Copperheads were left to buy more guns and file secession petitions.

On a visit to downtown Cleveland just before Veteran's Day, I visited the spectacular Civil War memorial — the Cuyahoga County Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument — which sits at the city's center. At 3 Public Square, to be precise. With a 125-foot pillar topped by a figure of the "Goddess of Liberty," it is a tribute to the men and women of Ohio who served in the Civil War on the Union side. There are elaborate busts, statues and a shrine, featuring reliefs depicting everything from the charging of Federal troops to the ladies of the Sanitary Commission (the war's version of the Red Cross). It lists the names of the thousands of robust, corn-fed Ohioans who served in the Union cause. Rebel soldiers appear mostly as dying or defeated figures.

The monument was erected in 1894, roughly 30 years after the war's end. One remarkable thing about it is how un-apologetic it is. The Civil War was a triumph of good over evil, of free men over slavery. This is no namby-pamby monument that nods to brothers on both sides or invites misty contemplation over a blank piece of granite. The Civil War was a righteous war, and this memorial is still firing shots at the enemy.

An elaborate, life-sized relief of Abraham Lincoln, for example, features him freeing the slaves. But what is Lincoln doing in the image? He is holding up a manacle with one hand that he has taken off a slave. And with the other, he is handing the man a rifle. Yes, Lincoln is personally arming a black man. Cue Fox News to go berserk.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment helped free the man, but Lincoln is shown giving him his Second Amendment rights. This was a radical notion 150 years ago — even 40 years ago. Even now, as Fox and others panicked about a gunless member of the New Black Panther party appearing at an urban precinct as an election monitor. A statue of a Republican president arming African Americans is still a radical statement in this country. Many Republicans today don't even want them to have ballots.

The monument is surrounded by statues depicting various units in the Union army and navy fighting. My great grandfather served as an artilleryman in a neighboring Illinois volunteer battery during the war, so I was drawn to that scene. The Union gunners aren't poised by their guns, they aren't looking into the distance to calculate how to hit some remote target. These Ohioans are shown with their gun leveled, about to fire into the presumably oncoming enemy army. Their gun is set to kill. The scene is titled "At short range."

We're fighting at, and sometimes over, the ballot box these days. The lesson I took from the Cleveland war memorial is that just as Ohio troops helped save the Union then, Ohio voters came through along with millions of others, to maintain that victory and roll back the forces of disenfranchisement. The Karl Roves and their confederates were taken by surprise and routed, thanks to the vigilance of people who haven't forgotten what was fought for and what is still at stake.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Nov 19, 4:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Could the election results have been different if the Plain Dealer didn't publish seven days a week, as currently contemplated? The paper has a pro-labor editorial board and endorsed Obama; would its influence wane as an online publication?

A Facebook campaign aims to save Ohio's largest newspaper.

Please "like" Save The Plain Dealer (www.facebook.com/savetheplaindealer). Maybe you could be the 5,000th person to sign the petition at change.org (www.change.org/petitions/save-the-plain-dealer).

The loss of the print Seattle P-I has had a tangible effect on the edification of our community; Seattlepi.com has maybe a dozen journalists, as opposed to more than 100 before the paper ceased. The Plain Dealer is Cleveland's ONLY daily newspaper. If it no longer publishes daily, Cleveland will become the largest US city without a daily newspaper.

It's easy to think it doesn't have an effect here in Seattle. But losing a daily news source in Cleveland likely will have some sort of effect on national politics.

SallyD

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 1:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, there has been a Cold Civil War for much of the last ten years, however, I think a more apt analogy is that is the Northern, Coastal and Liberal states who are the Confederacy. They are selling a socialized vision of America very much askance of the Constitutional intent of the Founding Fathers. These "rebels" with their urbanism, mega-corporations and light rail, have been working with an essentially small core group of ideologues, force feeding their will on a reluctant populace through media and melodrama.

jabailo

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

I didn't know your family was "Ohio Valley" (referring any area within the general drainage basin of the river; we all have a common culture, you know). Hubby still cherishes the sword that his great-grandfather carried on the trek to Atlanta with Sherman.

This article is so right-on, Knute. For the first couple of years of the Obama presidency, some folks tried to day,"Oh, he's just new and untested. It's not really about race. We're past that, as a nation."

Now, I think we have sufficient evidence of dog-whistles and code words, of pseudo-lynchings and parody ... the fact that people like Dinesh D'Souza and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are taken seriously ... to know that, no, we're not past that.

Thank you, Ohio.

Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh, that our current president would have the same fire in his belly. Sometimes his dispassion is really hard to take. Maybe we should start a petition to make him go stand in that square you described for a few hours.

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Much ado about nothing. The outcome was never in doubt in my mind. Incumbents win over 90% of the elections, making this an easy call. He won quite handily. I mean just look at what the GOP put forth, a successful business person. When was the last time one of them occupied the White House? Bottom line: Obama needed Ohio about as much as he needed Wyoming, but Ohio did matter in the 1860 election. Without it Lincoln would have lost and that would have been a national tragedy.

All the fuss about the 2012 swing states was just mindless filler and a source of income for the talking heads that make their living occupying the airwaves for no apparent reason. Hard to believe anyone paid attention to them, but they did. Which doesn't speak well for the collective intelligence of the average TV viewer, D or R.

Djinn

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 4:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Romney was no successful business person, he was an inheritance brat. There are successful business persons, but Romney is not one of them.

You ask when was the last time a "successful businessperson" occupied the White House. We were told that George w Bush was a successful business person, you know the "CEO President; remember "Bush is an oilman, a successful businessman with an MBA". So, the answer to your question would be: for the two terms of the presidency that ended slightly less than four years ago.

The "successful businessperson" as president did not work out too well.

Then, there was the "successful businessman" Herbert Hoover. That did not work out too well either.

So, this is what you get with "successful businesspersons" as president: A Great Depression, and A Great Recession/Depression.

An individual, who can not remember that the successful businessman George Bush was president for two terms ending only four years ago, should not be making comments on the intelligence of TV viewers, D's, R's, or anyone else.

jhande

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 7:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Wait, you mean you are not a "successful business person" if you dad arranges for people to give you a baseball team at a fraction of market value? Or an oil well?
But you are a "successful business person" if your dad gives you a big wad of stock that you can sell to pay for your multiple Ivy League degrees, and then you can call up your dad's friends to invest in your new business, and they send you 20 or 30 million of offshore dirty money?

Ries

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 11:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Just like those idols you worship, Kerry, Kennedy, Gore, Edwards, et al. Notice you don't question the filth of the your idols money.

You learn the difference between hick and rube yet?

Djinn

Posted Wed, Nov 21, 8:23 a.m. Inappropriate

my idols are Hunter S Thompson, Frank Zappa, Hakim Bey, and Patti Smith. You obviously havent visited any of the pagan shrines us hicks and rubes worship at lately.

Ries

Posted Wed, Nov 21, 6:57 p.m. Inappropriate

I rather like Alan Watts, Dalton Trumbo, Darwin, Woody Guthrie, and William Faulkner. I avoid shrines and all places of worship, as it tends to dull the mind. Enter at your own risk.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Nov 21, 1:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Your side won, Knute. I guess you have a right to gloat.

kieth

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