I was caught unawares and saddened by U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder's announcement last Friday afternoon that he wouldn't seek re-election this year.
It's always been safe to take Snyder at face value. If he said his four children, including three one-year-old triplets, were the deciding factor, then they were the deciding factor. Certainly, though, the prospect of a venomous re-election battle meant he'd have been torn away from the children even more than as a commuting congressman.
From my political perspective, Snyder was too good to be true for a Southern congressman. He is not reflexively liberal. He is far too thoughtful for that. But he is reliably courageous. A lonely vote against a popular war? He cast one. Support of full rights for the country's oppressed sexual minorities when the noisy mob said it was political poison? Vic Snyder was a man for all seasons.
All is not lost for Democrats with Snyder's leave-taking. Indeed, Democrats' chances might be improved by a fresh face from outside Washington in this race, such is the unhappiness with incumbents. John Brummett wrote this week that a mushy centrist, preferably from a growing red suburban county (Faulkner, Saline) might be the ticket to complement Pulaski County's usual strong preference for Democrats.
A mushy centrist would be pretty disappointing after unalloyed courage, but better than a teabagger. Just as total failure of a health bill will be disappointing, even if the bill's a mushy compromise. Just as the implosion of Barack Obama's esteem among voters is disappointing.
But I was reminded on Monday's King holiday that things can change for the better. Taking the longer view, you could easily see Monday that Martin Luther King Jr. was right. The arc of the moral universe DOES bend toward justice.
I ran a photo Monday on the Arkansas Blog of a 1958 state Capitol rally of segregationists bearing signs saying race mixing was communism. Their shrill cries that year weren't a dying gasp of hate. Faubusism held sway in Arkansas for too many more years. But change did come.
Those same Capitol steps were employed Monday for a rally at the end of the NAACP's Martin Luther King Day “marade.” Ambitious politicians of every hue took part. Nor was this the only event of note.
Nolan Richardson, the black man who led Arkansas to the promised land of men's basketball, spoke at a King day event at Philander Smith College. John Walker, who's been suing the Little Rock School District for racial justice since not too many years after that seg rally at the Capitol in 1958, challenged consciences again with a speech at the Clinton School of Public Service. Walker and the school's namesake, Bill Clinton, both come from a place called Hope.
At the Central High School National Historic site, park rangers read to children from a book about King in the shadow of the school where federal troops were necessary to deliver on the Constitution's promise of equality in 1957.
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a shiny new monument to the black experience in Arkansas, called citizens, black and white, to a day of service.
If this kind of race mixing be communism, let it roll down like a mighty stream. Meanwhile, I'll try not to unduly sweat the smaller stuff, big as it might seem on any given day. Like one of my favorite hymns says, a thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone.