On Monday's Anderson Cooper 360, CNN's Anderson Cooper refreshingly admonished a Democratic state senator in Alabama for his "incendiary injection of race in the final days of this election." Cooper interrogated Hank Sanders for his robocall which predicted the return of the "cotton fields of Jim Crow" if the Democrat candidates for governor and lieutenat governor weren't elected.
The anchor led his program with a promo of his "Keeping Them Honest' segment which included his "incendiary injection of race" label of Rep. Sanders's robocall. Two minutes later, Cooper played the Democratic state senator's recording: "This is Hank Sanders, Alabama state senator, and I'm still mad as hell. I say, hell no! I ain't going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days. I'm going forward with Ron Sparks, Jim Folsom, and others who would do right by all of us. I hope you're mad as hell and will not go back, and you have the power to choose. I will stand until hell freezes over."
Before playing his interview with Rep. Sanders, the CNN anchor stated, "It's a pretty serious charge to make, but does he have actual evidence to back up his statements?" He continued on this note in his first question to the Democrat:
COOPER (from taped interview): Senator Sanders, how can you say to voters in your state, as you did in this robocall, that, if the two Republicans running against the Democrats for governor and lieutenant governor, if they win, that they're going to bring you and Alabama back- quote, 'to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days'? How can you say that? I mean, what evidence do you have of that?
When the state senator answered that "there's a certain mean-spiritedness that's out there...and that makes this election extremely important. If we want to go forward, then we have to go forward with people who are- will try to include everybody, as opposed to people who may not include everybody," Cooper pressed him for a direct answer:
COOPER: Your robocall says nothing about mean-spiritedness or division in the country. Your ad is specifically saying that these two politicians- these two Republicans, Robert Bentley and Kay Ivey- will return you and others- African-Americans in Alabama- to the cotton fields of Jim Crow. I mean, that's an extremely incendiary comment, and you don't provide any evidence. I'm giving you an opportunity to provide specific evidence.
The Democrat continued to avoid a direct answer, but the anchor didn't back down for the remainder of the interview:
SANDERS: Let me say this: the ad does not mention the Republican candidates at all.
COOPER: Well, yeah, it mentioned- it mentions the two Democrats and says that, unless the Democrats are elected, then it's going to go back to the cotton field of Jim Crow.
SANDERS: Jim Folsom and Ron Sparks have been inclusive of whites and they have been inclusive of blacks. In Alabama, there are no African-Americans, elected officials, who are Republicans. The governor of Alabama has one person in his Cabinet [who is] African-American, so just generally excluded.
COOPER: You're not just saying that they're not inclusive. You're saying 'the days of Jim Crow,' and I got to tell you, it just seems like you're fear-mongering. You're touching very emotional racial buttons in order to get people to vote for your candidates- no?
SANDERS: I grew up during that time. I experienced it firsthand. I know exactly what that situation is, and I'm concerned that we will slip back into those days if we don't stand up and fight. I'm encouraging people to do something positive, and that is to go out and vote. And I'm saying, if you don't go out and vote, then you can slip back into the days that we- none of us want to go back to, because they were horrible times. I lived through them myself.
COOPER: Well- and I respect that, sir, and- but I guess I'm just- you know, these are very serious allegations you're making against two Republican candidates, and you're not providing any specific evidence about some policy that they- or something in their track record. You have actually worked with some of these candidates, from what one of them says. You're- you haven't specifically said anything about them that would really tell somebody why they want Jim Crow to return.
SANDERS: Well, I didn't say anything about them specifically one way or another.
COOPER: Oh, come on, sir. Come on. You know-
SANDERS: Wait a minute- wait- wait a minute-
COOPER: If you say an ad saying if- unless the Democrats are elected, unless two specific Democrats are elected, we're going to go back to Jim Crow, what you're saying is, if these two Republicans are elected, we are going to go back to Jim Crow, and how- and you can't say that.
SANDERS: Well, I'm talking about a much broader situation. It wasn't personally directed to two people.
SANDERS: I'm talking about a much broader situation that all of us find ourselves in.
COOPER: But, sir, that's not true. Sir, you recorded a robocall for two candidates, a candidate for- the Democratic candidate for governor, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. That's what you did. It's a very specific robocall you recorded. You didn't record a robocall saying there's a general meanness in the land. There's racism in the land. We have got to fight against it. You have got to go to the polls in order to fight against racism- that would be one thing. You're saying, Jim Crow, cotton fields, and unless these two Democrats are elected, that's where we're going.
SANDERS: I know what I said, and anybody can listen to the ad for themselves. What you're doing, in fact, is trying to put words in my mouth, and I-
COOPER: How so?
SANDERS: I didn't mention anybody specific. I didn't say anything against the individuals. I didn't call their names. I'm talking about a broad situation of us slipping back into a situation that I lived under. To- I was grown before I got a chance to register and vote. I was grown before I can go into various places and eat without being harassed, and I can't afford to go back there, and I think I have an absolute right to be able to say to folks, it's time to vote. It's time to stand up, or else, you risk sliding back into a terrible situation. I do not apologize.
COOPER: And I respect your right to say that, and I respect you coming on the program to defend the ad- appreciate it. Thank you, sir.
Cooper even went after Democratic strategist Paul Begala when the pundit brushed aside the robocall during a panel discussion immediately after the interview:
COOPER: Paul, putting out a robocall saying that if you don't vote for the Democrats, you're going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days- I mean, he complains about meanness and polarization out in this land. Doesn't that kind of rhetoric, though, contribute to meanness and polarization?
PAUL BEGALA: Well, yes, but it's so over the top, nobody is going to believe it, so completely irresponsible.
COOPER: Oh, come on. Plenty of people (unintelligible)-
BEGALA: I'm not defending it. It's so completely irresponsible. It degrades- Senator Sanders's district includes Selma, and he talked about living through that. It- it's a sacrilege to use that kind of language when you represent that kind of area, and that's the only thing I can hope, is that I think voters are smart. And you get that call at home, you're going to think- look, I'm- I take a backseat to no one in my distaste for elected Republicans, but no sensible person is going to think, if you vote Republican, we will be back to Jim Crow and cotton fields. It's crazy.