Inherent within each of us is conflict. Generally speaking, we think growth is good. Progress is a sign of achievement. As George Bernard Shaw so aptly articulated, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Indeed, politically, at one time or another, persons within each Party have embraced the label, “Progressives.” Even the most entrepreneurial embolden the idea of Progress. Goldman-Sachs boldly bolsters, Progress is everyone’s business.” However, while we glorify growth, we disdain it. Most of us look back and think, “Those were the days.”
The good ole days are commonly defined as “when we were young.” It might have been the 1930s, 1940s; the fifties were fine! In earlier eras, schools were vehicles for success. Now, these same institutions are seen and scored as failures. Teachers were principled. Today, throughout the news we read, educators are perverse. Our children come home and tell tales that affirm what adults have come to believe is true; teachers are bad! Public education is worse. Students and parents surmise, home schools or private learning centers would better serve their needs. Cyber classes too must be an option. Online learning tailors a lesson, much more so than a unionized teacher would. The people want Choice!
There is one consensus; tests are good. Accountability is the gold standard. Current conventional wisdom counters what was thought to be exceptional, in the nineteen sixties. Decades ago, those under thirty and even their elders changed the world for the “greater good.” The baby boomers were beautiful or were they bad…bad for the country and worse for businesses?
Whatever the point of view, it is clear the revolutionaries transformed the conversation in ways that irrevocably challenged conventions. Even our nation’s President, in those years pursued policies that reeked of progress. “The Great Society” brought with it the Elementary and Secondary Act. There was a War on Poverty” underway. However, some at the top thought such a battle might topple Free Enterprise.
Big Businesses did not necessarily embrace the evolution. People in power particularly, took note. Tycoons and their corporate attorneys saw the “60s revolution” as a threat. One brave company soldier devised a plan to take the country back. His name? Lewis F. Powell. His resolve, Infiltrate America’s campuses.
The man soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court saw the dichotomy that exists within us all. Change? Is growth good or bad? Is “Progress everyone’s business” or is advancement only favorable when it serves the few? Do we characterize change in innocuous ways, and simply say, “The times they are a changin'” or do we take action? Lewis F. Powell put pen to paper; he presented what he envisioned as a better plan, and perhaps it was. If better is defined by policy and principles that endure and become deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, then The Powell Memo is phenomenal. Justice Powell found the keys that open all hearts, “freedom and choice.”
As Lewis Powell observed, few among us could argue against the right to choose. Prominent Democrats, disconnected from the damage done to public education, advocate for Charter schools. Vociferous Republicans vote for vouchers. Independents invest in home schools. Parents persuaded by corporate campaigns frequently succumb. Moms and Dads pull the parent-trigger. Only belatedly do people learn that Charters, which pass for public schools, are not. Vouchers validate separate, but equal. While several do, some home-schools may not satisfy a child’s need for socialization. Most significantly, regardless of which of these paths we choose, there is a chance that democratization will be lost.
The question we each must ask ourselves is which is more important to us, personal freedom or the freedom we share as a nation? When we think only of our own offspring what do we reap and what will society sow? Thomas Jefferson offered his assessment…
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
Might freedom and choice present another conundrum, an inner conflict of sorts? America’s foundation is found in freedom. The three most significant documents in our history are often referred to as the “Freedom Documents -the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The question is what freedoms we choose, or how we choose to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Is our personal freedom more important to us than the freedoms we share as a nation?
Not surprisingly, in the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson thought it best to provide freedoms for the common good, the commonweal, and common citizens, rich and poor. With his entrance into the Oval Office the vision of “The Great Society” was born. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as part of the “War on Poverty” brought together what can be a conflict within us, our love for the past and desire to progress. As President Johnson reflected as he signed the Bill into law, “I felt a very strong desire to go back to the beginnings of my own education-to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.
The assertion was an affirmation. Growth is good. We can progress and still preserve what we loved in the past. Problem arises when powerful people, Philanthropists, people with the ear of politicians, policymakers, and pundits disagree with this declaration.
That is what occurred in 1971. Industrialist and Attorney,Powell was outraged. He thought the laws and the logic as liberal poppycock. More so, the Barrister saw the changes as an attack, an affront. An assault on Free enterprise. Lewis Powell communicated his concerns and composed his clarion call, a blueprint for marketers. He titled it, A Confidential Memorandum, Attack on Free Enterprise System. Powell purported…
Dimensions of Attack
“…what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.
Sources of the Attack
The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.
The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.”
Chief Executive Officers, and the esteemed fellows within the United States Chamber of Commerce, all agreed. Each Entrepreneur saw the source of our evolutionary evils as respectable, but wrong.
Academics teach. Clergy preach. Intellectuals invoke. Artists, Journalists, and Scientist evoke. The Media is the Message. These influential individuals whom, according to the then corporate Attorney, Powell changed the conversation for the worse, needed to be stopped. To convert the perceived Attack on Free Enterprise; images needed to be changed.
An honorable profession, teaching, needed to be seen as subversive, if the marketers were to be successful. To convert the conversation, Conservatives had to be seen as intellectuals. Traditional theories need to be floated and substantiated. Research would be done in the College of Right Thought. The clergy and cultural elite too must see the light. Conservative dictums must dominate. After all, Powell proclaimed.
“…Those who eschew the mainstream of the system often remain in key positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action. In many instances, these “intellectuals” end up in regulatory agencies or governmental departments with large authority over the business system they do not believe in…
‘We, the US Chamber of Commerce, companies and corporations must make believers out of detractors, convert our critics, win over naysayers and we will’ Tycoons had the power to move masses. Powell only told them that they needed to use what was at their disposal. US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Columbia Broadcasting Services (CBS) had easily access to the people. Moms, Dads, and the young ones invited these industries in daily..indeed, in every minute of the day.
We turn on “Televisions.” Tune into the radio. Read periodicals. “The Scholarly Journals.” “Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets.” “Paid Advertisements.” Lewis Powell explained, these are our tools. Our techniques need only be honed. Professional public relations firms were already employed by the agencies. Change emphasis within a message and audiences will be moved.
Repeat the results of partisan reseacrh often enough and the pubic too will recite the claims. Teachers are bad. Public schools are failures. Intellectusls comprise a “socialist cadre.” “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries…would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed.” Revolutionaries are educated in public schools.
Thus it is so. For four plus decades now, the American people see no conflict. We, the people were changed as was the way in which we speak. Growth for Free Enterprise is good. Public Education and Educators are perverse. Progress is a sign of achievement. Businesses and Lewis F. Powell proved this. If we have a plan and plod away patiently, we can realize a success that lasts longer than a decade. Perhaps, we, the people can revive The Great Society, Rebuild the American Dream, Restore the principles within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Today, the question is, do we, each one of us feel the strong desire Lyndon B. Johnson did…“to go back to the beginnings of [our] own education-to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.”
Please let us Save Our Schools! Let us be On the March to preserve and Transform Public Education.
Then, in 1965, there was a vision. President Lyndon Johnson addressed the tragedy that existed in America, poverty. He had hoped to give birth to a Great Society. Mister Johnson dreamed of the day when the truth of America reflected the richness that is often said to define this country. Yet, his aspiration was deferred. In a desire to create a Great Society, or two, one at home and one overseas, Lyndon Johnson lost his bearing. Ultimately, he destroyed most of what he hoped to build. As President Obama begins his walk down a similar path, people ponder; what might President Obama plan and unintentionally promote.
For President Johnson, a single war, not the one on poverty, but instead the fight on foreign soil stood in the way of his, and America’s, true success. The fiscal burden was a heavy weight on the nation’s budget. Nevertheless, President Johnson insisted that the Administration ardently pursue American involvement in Vietnam while spending billions of dollars on domestic problems. Much like our present President, Mister Obama, who eagerly escalates the war in Afghanistan, Lyndon Johnson believed he could attach inequities on the home front and still secure a win on distant shores.
Each Commander-In-Chief seemed to understand the excessive strain on the economy; yet, Johnson and Obama remained stalwart; they could do it all. President Johnson, in time, relented. He resigned himself to defeat. He had not succeeded in his fight against poverty; nor did he triumph in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson exited the Executive Office without the legacy he had hoped to leave. Mister Obama, some say will realize the same fate. Others observe that he has a luxury that President Johnson did not have. Obama, just as his immediate predecessor had, learned from history.
In the mid-1960s, the Great Society was born and brushed aside. The futility of the battles and American blood shed was a load too large for average citizens to bear. Ordinary people protested. The emphasis President Johnson had hoped to place on poverty was lost. Thus, the desire to eliminate dearth in the world’s wealthiest country went by the wayside. The thought to offer equal opportunities to the economically oppressed was forfeited. Combat was far more visible then the poor. This truth taught all President’s since Johnson that if you want the people to support your agenda, hide what you do not want the people to see.
Today, photographs of struggles do not fill the airwaves. Earlier Administration made certain of this and the American people accepted the bliss of ignorance. People in the States prefer to believe that they support the soldiers, even though American policies lead these young men and women to slaughter.
Radio Broadcasters barely, rarely, or never mention the body counts abroad. Homeless persons, huddled together for warmth on the streets of the world’s wealthiest nation do not cause a stir. Journalists just walk right past the indigents. The fortunate few impecunious, those who can afford a room are easy to avoid, especially since they had dispersed. The Suburbanization of Poverty helped to further isolate individuals who, most Americans, wish to keep invisible.
In the year 2010, there is no need to mention a misery out of sight, not the war in the Middle East or the economic conflict between the classes. Announcers would rather rant, rage, and argue about Party politics, report on ploys, or discuss the latest and greatest scandal.
Then and now, the underprivileged are, time and again, avoided, ignored, or intentionally hidden. Embarrassed by their plight, the destitute do not speak up. On occasion, these individuals are overwhelmed with what they must to do just to survive. This serves Administrations well. Issues, silently secured away from the masses, and the media, also work well for our Congressmen and women.
Without awareness for the fallen, soldiers family’s, and the unfortunate thousands who do more than flirt with financial failures, Americans never think to address these costly concerns, poverty and warfare. Legislators in our nation’s Capitol like that.
Therefore, those who lack a more powerful political presence require someone in Washington to talk for them. Lyndon Johnson hoped to articulate what the all too frequently concealed could not.
Today, the disadvantaged have gone the way of the past President. Frequently, they are the objects of scorn. People perceive the wars Johnson waged were lost. Neither Vietnam, the conflict that the Johnson presidency is oft remembered for, nor the Great Society ended the way Mister Johnson envisioned. In truth, no Chief Executive of this country can move the mountains of policies that establish and maintain poverty. That is a task only the people can accomplish. We, the people, if change is to come, must never forget that we are the voice of the downtrodden, or could be.
However, in the many decades that have passed, the public has chosen not to take up the call. Communities separate and on their own have not cared to become Great Societies. Instead, individually, and as neighbors, we have weakened the structure that could have supported those without the dollars to purchase the bootstraps the impoverished are told to use to pull themselves up.
As a nation, we do not provide adequate education for the poor. Thus, success, or jobs that provide a sufficient salary are lost. As a society, we relegate the less skilled to service positions. They may live closer to the more stable and secure citizens, indeed, they may need to in order to survive. Yet, the penniless are no better off. They are barely able to adopt the label of Suburbanites. This poverty-stricken population has boomed; yet, even in the ‘burbs the underprivileged are no better off, just better concealed
Elizabeth Kneebone, Senior Research Analyst and Emily Garr, Senior Research Assistant
The Brookings Institution
January 20, 2010
An analysis of the location of poverty in America, particularly in the nation’s 95 largest metro areas in 2000, 2007, and 2008 reveals that:
By 2008, suburbs were home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25 percent-almost five times faster than primary cities and well ahead of the growth seen in smaller metro areas and non-metropolitan communities. As a result, by 2008 large suburbs were home to 1.5 million more poor than their primary cities and housed almost one-third of the nation’s poor overall.
Midwestern cities and suburbs experienced by far the largest poverty rate increases over the decade. Led by increasing poverty in auto manufacturing metro areas-like Grand Rapids and Youngstown-Midwestern city and suburban poverty rates climbed 3.0 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively. At the same time, Northeastern metros-led by New York and Worcester- actually saw poverty rates in their primary cities decline, while collectively their suburbs experienced a slight increase.
In 2008, 91.6 million people-more than 30 percent of the nation’s population-fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More individuals lived in families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of poverty line (52.5 million) than below the poverty line (39.1 million) in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, large suburbs saw the fastest growing low-income populations across community types and the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200 percent of poverty.
Western cities and Florida suburbs were among the first to see the effects of the “Great Recession” translate into significant increases in poverty between 2007 and 2008. Sun Belt metro areas hit hardest by the collapse of the housing market saw significant gains in poverty between 2007 and 2008, with suburban increases clustered in Florida metro areas-like Miami, Tampa, and Palm Bay-and city poverty increases most prevalent in Western metro areas- like Los Angeles, Riverside, and Phoenix. Based on increases in unemployment over the past year, Sun Belt metro areas are also likely to experience the largest increases in poverty in 2009.
If common citizens are as committed to change as they said they were during the 2008 election cycle, let us look back so that we might move forward. Consider the United States Constitution. This divine document states, that average Americans, can petition our Representatives of what matters, society as a whole. After all, it is we, the people, who place men and women into Congressional offices. Our Senators, and those in the House, know who has the truest influence. Corporations cannot employ our Representatives without our permission. You, I, and even the registered impoverished voter, can, and must, create the Great Society that Lyndon Baines Johnson did not. I think such a provision is our right and responsibility, For as Author John Donne recited . . .
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…
As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….
No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
On the first day of the New Year, a banner headline screamed to elite readers of The Wall Street Journal,“What Kucinich Saw: Witnesses Described His Close Encounter.” Murdoch News Corporation Journalist, Michael M. Phillips offered what booklovers yearn to learn, the personal history of each of the players in a Presidential campaign. Tall tales and tittle-tattle capture the attention of Americans. The substantive information provided in these yarns, is scant. Nonetheless, the entertainment value is vast. An expectant public wants the dirt. We are happy to sling mud and spit in the face of historical leaders.
It is far easier, and perhaps more pleasurable to speak superfluously than it is to delve into the real issues. The effects of economy on the average American, the wars and the carnage that is expected to continue long into the future, health care, expensive and inadequate as it is, and especially racism are thought too delicate to fully discus. This truth was made more obvious, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agreed to a truce for the “good of the country,” the Democratic Party, and for their respective campaigns.
The meaningful discourse, now purposely thwarted by the two most prominent Presidential hopefuls, began when the former First Lady spoke of the democratic system and how change is created in American society. Senator Clinton said, “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Clinton continued. “It took a president to get it done.”
The comment, “unfortunate, and ill-advised” as defined by rival aspirant, Barack Obama stirred much debate. Afro-Americans nationwide stopped and reassessed their stance. Influential Blacks in Congress cautioned the candidate.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington, D.C., in Congress, joined the chorus, warning Clinton to “watch out” in her comments on race. “The black community is not only sensitive on race,” Norton said in an interview on Bloomberg Television today. It is “super-sensitive on race.”
Loyal Clinton supporter, Andrew Young, a Black leader, and a trusted aide to Martin Luther King, remained faithful, as did others Clinton devotees.
However, amongst the electorate, those less famous for the active role they played in the fight for freedom, there was much rage. Many recall the sacrifice Black people made, the blood spilled, and the dream more real today with thanks to reverend King and his commitment to Civil Rights. Battered and bruised, peaceful individuals held onto their hope. They trusted they could change a nation mired in racism. Black folks learned to believe, inspired by a man who made history, and who transformed a way of life, Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. Hence, for countless Americans, Hillary Clinton’s remark was unwarranted, unwise, and diminished the achievements of Reverend King. Her statement was equally dismissive of the tens of thousands who stood beside Martin.
Clinton argued her words were misunderstood. Her intent distorted. She reminded Americans of her history, and her close affiliation with Black causes and Afro-American leaders. Accusations flew across the aisles. For days, the rhetoric raged on.
In truth, the words could have come from any candidate, or any individual. The pronouncement could have easily been made on the streets. For dark-skinned persons the proclamation speaks to the profound prejudice in America. For the average Joe or Joanne, Clinton’s observation verified what they believe. There is no reason to hope that a man or a community can change what is. Common people are powerless. In American, people think that only the President of the United States has the authority to accomplish what others cannot.
In the “Land of the free and home of the brave”, most people believe they cannot make a difference. Americans consider the government as separate from self. The public feels powerless. No matter the race, religion, or creed most Americans think they, as individuals, can do little to create change. For the majority of the population, it makes sense that a prominent Civil Rights Leader could not realize his dream without the assistance of a higher Earthly authority.
Members of many an activist group think themselves ineffective. Efforts to transform the country, and the planet, are great. Yet, the masses do not see what advocates do. On the rare occasions that they do, citizens retort “You cannot fight City Hall, so why try.” Perchance, that is the reason that the mainstream media does not report on rallies, or possibly, those in power, the influential individuals who control American democracy do not cover dissent for they do not wish to sanction the little guys and gals. Attempts to alter the establishment appear futile, or are accepted as such.
Conventional wisdom is we, the people, do not control what occurs in this country. Legislators make laws. The President of the United States ratifies the regulations. There is little regard for the will of the people. Once in a while, an Act may benefit the common folk. Such was the circumstance in 1964. However, for the most part, the little people, particularly persons of color, cannot expect to alter a nation, or its citizenry. In this country, people accept the process. Hence, initially, few questioned Senator Clinton’s words. Indeed, countless, thought the statement accurate. Some dark-skinned community leaders, who supported the Senator prior to the statement, avowed their continued commitment.
Residents of the United States, mostly, remain resistant to the rhetoric, In the “Land of the free,” it is easy to understand that while feathers might be ruffled and the hairs on the back of many a neck might be raised the candidates and the constituents will go on as though this topic is not as important as others. In America, apathy abounds, and why not. People have no reason to hope. They do not trust that they, as individuals, or even as community leaders with millions of followers, can transform this nation. Thus, for the majority of citizens, the Clinton comment went unnoticed.
Nonetheless, numerous Afro-Americans heard the words and were disheartened. Hillary Clinton’s spouse, Bill had long been characterized as the “First Black President of the United States.” The two, together, husband and wife, were said to have done more to improve the circumstances of Afro-Americans than any other “Administration” had. Among those who felt close to the Clinton’s, there was wonderment. How could a Clinton make such a statement? Hilary is not Bill. Her background and upbringing are significantly different from his. Hillary Clinton’s childhood and adult pursuits may be more typical for white Americans
For many Caucasians, and perchance for Hillary Clinton the uproar over her analysis of what occurs in America before change can occur, seemed a mystery. Countless white Americans did not take offense; nor did they comprehend why Black persons might have. In truth, incalculable numbers of light-skinned individuals never understood much of what Black Americans thought, or think. White people hear that African Americans consider Bill Clinton the “First Black President.” For Anglos this belief was and is a paradox. Some Anglos admittedly struggle to believe this man is beloved by people of color. Essayist, Suzy Hansen, of Salon fame, was among the befuddled. Hansen confessed the determination made no sense to her. The Columnist recounts her observations.
In her now-famous defense of a scandal-plagued Bill Clinton, Nobel prizewinner Toni Morrison, went so far as to call him “our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.” “Clinton,” Morrison wrote in the 1998 New Yorker essay, “displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
I remember reading Morrison’s essay and choking. Morrison’s estimation of Clinton’s blackness seemed shallow, offensive and beside the point. At the time, I wasn’t the only one unnerved, and I’m sure many people still have problems with calling Clinton “the first black president,” no matter how Morrison intended it. Yet, in retrospect, I realize that my sharp reaction had something to do with age: I was pretty young when Reagan and Bush were in office. Like most white people, I didn’t understand how Clinton related to the African-American community; I also had a limited memory of how other presidents treated blacks.
In America other Presidents, all ivory skin leaders did not relate to the difficulties of dark-complexioned persons. The prim and proper alabaster population, daily, disregarded the plight of people of African descent. Black persons were to be seen, working, and not heard. For centuries, Americans, White, Anglo, Saxon Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Agnostic, and Atheist alike thought Afro-Americans were less valuable, less intelligence, less important than their Caucasian brethren. Indeed, paler pinkish persons did not feel remotely related to those whose skin shone a purplish brown hue.
For centuries, Caucasians sought to control the Black man or woman. When they realized the error of their ways, white people did not know what to say, or do. Subtly, Anglos shunned African-American citizens. Oh, smiles were exchanged. Cordialities could be heard. However, in sallow-skinned abodes across the nation, individual spoke from there heart. “Girl, you better not marry a Black man.” “Son, don’t you be seen with that girl. You will put the family to shame.” On the surface, in public, white folks may have been polite. They may appear accepting; however, ask them what they think in the quiet of their homes . . .
In recent years, as Black people gained a modicum of power, whites withered when in their presence. Caucasians embarrassed to divulge the disdain that had been passed down for generations, worked to present a posture of approval. In truth, for a vast number of Caucasians, tolerance was the tone. There was an unspoken tension between the races. In fact, today this strain still exists. Yet, the majority of Americans wish to believe the anxiety does not exist. There is much pressure not to be thought of as prejudiced.
Bill Clinton was not, and is not defined as a bigot. Black Americans felt he truly felt their pain. President Clinton had lived as Black persons do. He could and does relate. African-Americans appreciate this. Journalist, Suzy Hansen wanted to explore why this might be. In an interview with DeWayne Wickham, Hansen, and her readers, learned “Why blacks love Bill Clinton.” DeWayne Wickham, a former adjunct faculty member in the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism, an occasional presenter at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, an author and a columnist for USA Today offered his informed opinion in response to Hansen’s questions.
You do explain how poorly previous presidents have treated — or haven’t treated at all, for that matter — the black community. Do you think the black community’s enthusiasm for Clinton has something to do with the fact that Reagan and Bush were particularly insensitive? Was Clinton refreshing?
Ronald Reagan and George Bush I were part of a long line of presidents who just didn’t get it when it comes to people of color, particularly African-Americans. Of the first 15 presidents, 13 of them were staunch supporters of slavery. Eight of them actually owned slaves. Only John Adams and John Quincy Adams had no stomach for the institution. When you start talking about 41 presidents, you’ve already lost a third of them right there.
Then, what you find is that most presidents ran away from the black community. It was a difficult issue during slavery for white politicians. It was a difficult issue in the post-slavery period for politicians. It was a tough issue for a lot of presidents during the Jim Crow era when blacks were knocking on doors, demanding anti-lynching legislation, and Southern politicians were coming into the halls of Congress and the Oval Office, saying, “Not on our watch will you push that kind of legislation upon our people.”
The legislators had the power of the vote in Congress, and African-Americans had only, on their side, the moral high ground. Most presidents opted for the power of the vote. You have to get up to FDR and LBJ — on whose watch the important civil rights legislation in our history was passed. So, the list is very short.
What makes Clinton special is that he found a way to connect with us that was personal and up close. He convinced us in words and in deeds that this relationship was at least partly in his heart, as well as in his head. This guy grew up in the back of his grandfather’s store in Hope, Ark., hanging out with black kids.
Perhaps, this explanation helps us to understand the importance of empathy. Bill Clinton does not differentiate between a person of one color or another, or at least he discriminates to a lesser degree than other American Presidents did, or white persons do.
Characteristically, Caucasian Americans may associate with ebony individuals; they can befriend a select few of those labeled Black. However, unless Anglos integrate Afro-Americans into their real-life, place their dark-skin brethren in their hearts, until Anglos, by choice associate with persons of color, day in and day out, they cannot truthfully claim to be colorblind. Yet, they do, and then make statements such as the one Hillary Clinton offered.
A Black American; however, knows to the core, in the United States, there is no equality. Ample evidence demonstrates, just as the former First Lady implied. “The man” [or powerful white woman] must determine what is best for America. An influential leader, rarely if ever a person of color, must do what needs to be done. Only a person strong enough to be placed in Oval Office can better the nation. Thus far, no Black person has been thought to be of the caliber necessary to be President of the United States.
Americans claim Afro-Americans are not experienced enough in matters of State. They are not competent to lead a country. Ebony applicants lack the talent or skills necessary for the job, or so citizens of this country proclaim. There is always a reason not to advance a Black candidate beyond where he or she is. In the past, and possibly in the future, a white individual can and likely will fill the boots of President of the United States, of a corporation, or a community board, not because they are better suited for the position, it is just not quite time to leave racism behind.
Even Bill Clinton accepted this truth. When President Clinton decided to withdraw his nomination of Civil Rights Lawyer, Lani Guinier for Assistant Attorney General, his actions spoke volumes. Lani Guinier expressed her deep and sincere frustration for the fact that we live in a nation where people choose to distort the history of a Black Leader. Guinier was sorrowful; she did not have an opportunity to defend herself against the inaccuracy of numerous attacks. Prominent Civil Rights Lawyer, Lani Guinier could not publicly correct the misrepresentations of her record. However, she added her acknowledgement that a “divisive debate” over race was the “last thing” this nation could afford.
In taking the latter position, though not in her larger views, Guinier typified the current stance of most American liberals and much of the left by implying that the Democratic Party’s hesitantly progressive politics, is such a fragile flower that it cannot survive even the frank discussion of racism, let alone the pursuit of ‘race specific reform initiatives.
After a stint of resignation for the reality that was in the 1990s, when Lani Guinier agreed to forfeit her nomination, and forego the potentially conflict-ridden conversation the reflective Harvard Law School Professor and co-Author of The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy spoke out. In a 2004 an article titled A People’s Democratic Platform Guinier wrote . . .
Never has it been clearer that Democrats must promote a national conversation about what it means to be a multiracial democracy.
However, this dialogue has yet to occur. Each time the people of this country have an opportunity to ford a new frontier, and fashion a multiracial democracy, we forego the necessary discussion. We rather not chat about what could be, let alone act on alternatives.
Two years after Guinier’s declaration Americans were again confronted with the realities of racism. The race for a Tennessee Senate seat was on. Black American, Representative Harold E. Ford Junior, the Democratic candidate from Memphis whose campaign for the Senate was considered among the most hopeful in a mid-term election was doing well in the polls. People in the community gravitated towards the refined son of a former Congressman. A lawyer in his own right, this sophisticated genteel gentleman seemed ideal to replace retiring Senator Bill Frist. The Republicans feared the rise of Harold Ford, and decided to feed on the fears of the white American electorate. Republicans framed an advertisement and fashioned a message that is ever-present in America.
The commercial, financed by the Republican National Committee, was aimed at Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., the black Democrat from Memphis whose campaign for the Senate this year has kept the Republicans on the defensive in a state where they never expected to have trouble holding the seat.
The spot, which was first broadcast last week and was disappearing from the air on Wednesday, featured a series of people in mock man-on-the street interviews talking sarcastically about Mr. Ford and his stands on issues including the estate tax and national security.
The controversy erupted over one of the people featured: an attractive white woman, bare-shouldered, who declares that she met Mr. Ford at a “Playboy party,” and closes the commercial by looking into the camera and saying, with a wink, “Harold, call me.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, who is single, said he was one of 3,000 people who attended a Playboy party at the Super Bowl last year in Jacksonville, Fla.
Critics asserted that the advertisement was a clear effort to play to racial stereotypes and fears, essentially, playing the race card in an election where Mr. Ford is trying to break a century of history and become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.
Hilary Shelton, director of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Washington bureau, said the spot took aim at the sensitivities many Americans still have about interracial dating.
John Geer, a professor at Vanderbilt University and a specialist in political advertising, said that it “is playing to a lot of fears” and “frankly makes the Willie Horton ad look like child’s play.”
Professor Geer was alluding to the case of a convicted black murderer used in Republican commercials contending that the 1988 Democratic nominee for president, Michael S. Dukakis, was soft on crime.
Mr. Ford has been campaigning as an independent, new generation Democrat dedicated to changing the atmosphere in Washington; to putting more attention on the needs of the middle class and on bread and butter issues like health care and to bringing a fresh approach to the war in Iraq. He has strongly resisted Republican efforts to pigeonhole him as a liberal.
While the label Liberal can be avoided, other terms will suffice. A Progressive cannot wipe away the color of their skin. Harold Ford was unable to separate himself from the image of a single Black man on the prowl for a white woman, or so we might surmise. The quality candidate did not win the Senate seat.
Barack Obama may try not to draw attention to what could be problematic for his campaign, the race factor; nonetheless, accomplished and admired as he is, he cannot negate that his skin color, and how white persons react to any claim that causes white America concern will influence the vote.
In Nevada, registered voters received robot-calls. The intent was to remind white Americans, already anxious, of what they feared most. Barack Obama is not as he appears. A Harvard scholar, a former State Senator, a United States Senator, and a Presidential aspirant, is just as our enemies. He must be. His middle name is Hussein and . . .
“I’m calling with some important information about Barack Hussein Obama,” says the anonymous caller. “Barack Hussein Obama says he doesn’t take money from Washington lobbyists or special interest groups, but the record is clear that he does.”
The male voice concludes: “You just can’t take a chance on Barack Hussein Obama.”
In America, we do not speak of race; however, differences in skin color are always on our mind. Caucasians see a Black person walking in a “white neighborhood” and they wonder why. If whites hear of a crime, they assume the perpetrator is Black. Pink-skin people work to demonstrate that they believe in equality; however, since they, themselves feel hopeless and not among the authorities that rule it is difficult for them to accept that there was a man, and a time, when Black people moved mountains of hate.
Nonetheless, whites try to understand, on occasion. Caucasians set aside a day to honor the Civil Right s Leader, Martin Luther King Junior. A holiday was established so that all might revere and remember the dream.
As the turmoil and talk of the truce faded, Americans celebrated. On Tuesday, January 15, 2008, as the nation observed the anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s birth, and settled back into oblivion, satisfied that neither Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama would mention the unspeakable, the headlines screamed again, “Beware!” Beware! Black People cannot to be trusted. Weary white Americans, woeful of a world they have never known, are willing to believe Barack Obama must not be placed in a position of power. Again, Americans are easily absorbed in distraction. As witnessed earlier, some subscribe to the popular stories. They spread rumors. True, false, or not as a narrative might lead us to believe, Americans reveled in the chatter, before Hillary Clinton touched a nerve, and will again. People hope gossip will lessen the pain or at least help them to avoid discussions of the truer issues. If accusations are made against one person, than we need not look at the blanket of bigotry that envelops most every white American.
A column in the Washington Post this morning by Richard Cohen reported that Trumpet Magazine, founded by Obama’s pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ, Jeremiah Wright had named Louis Farrakhan “Man of the Year” in 2007.
Wright wrote that Farrakhan “truly epitomized greatness.”
Obama’s campaign released a statement from the senator earlier today.
“I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan,” Obama said in the statement. “I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.”
Cohen reported in the Post that Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, had said that Obama and his minister disagree on many issues and Farrakhan was one of them.
However, in the Anglo eyes of many an American, extremist, and a man defined as Anti-Semite by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, Louis Farrakhan and Barack do have one common bond besides the association with the Pastor, each is a darkly complexioned man in America. That alone is enough to end a political career, let alone remind white Americans, this man cannot become President of the United States [and we would not want him to marry our sister.] Black Americans have been unable to ford this barrier. An individual with hope cannot change what is . . . at least that is the perception most Americans hold dear.
The accepted conviction is America needs an Administrator. We must have an overseer, an authority figure to guide us. When citizens select a President, we look for a known quantity, an established leader. In this country, we have a history of elite rule and we are comfortable with the familiar. Bill Clinton was thought exceptional for although he was a Rhodes Scholar, he was also a child of poverty. Bill Clinton’s common roots and authentic comfort with people of color entitled him to the title of “The First Black President.”
When the Clinton’s were in the White House, Blacks were welcome. They did not need to enter through the back door. An invitation to be part of society in a more real sense was appreciated. No other President accepted Afro-Americans as Bill Clinton had. The contrast between what had always been and what was in a Clinton Administration was great.
However, we must ponder; was the title bestowed, in part because those who never fully expected to see a Black man or woman in the Oval Office during the course of their lives, those who have been poor and beaten-down for so long are grateful for small favors. Black persons have seen the bottom. Thus, even a small step above the bedrock seemed to be sky-high.
Might we consider the more drastic change that occurred with thanks to a man with a dream. While Marin Luther King Junior may not have signed the papers that allowed for a freedom Black Americans had never known, without his efforts, without his will, without the masses that followed his lead, no President would have dared to move the mountain that obstructed our unified view of what could be accomplished.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson would never have thought to do as he did. Bill Clinton could not have conceived of the possibilities, unless or until Doctor King and millions of Americans with hope in their hearts had gathered together to shatter the notion that Black persons would silently serve as economic slaves to the white masters.
After the Hillary Clinton declaration one of those instruments of change, who served the people in a practical manner, a man who marched for civil rights, and did more to create equality than Bill Clinton might have spoke on the topic, now re-titled taboo. Cleveland Sellers, heads the department of African-American studies at the University of South Carolina, is an Obama supporter, and a veteran of the civil rights movement. When asked how he felt after hearing Hillary Clinton’s comment, he offered why he did not believe she felt his pain.
During the New Hampshire primary battle, Hillary Clinton made a comment about Martin Luther King that seemed, at first anyway, to diminish his role in the civil rights battle in relation to that of President Lyndon Johnson. She quickly clarified those remarks and re-emphasized the accomplishments of King, but how has that played in South Carolina??
That created some real problems, because it was an indication of a kind of insensitivity. For a veteran of the civil rights movement-and that’s what I am-it wasn’t just Dr. King, it was all of the unsung heroes and heroines of that era. Modjeska Simkins here in South Carolina, and the Fannie Lou Hamers, and the children in Birmingham, and the people who rode the freedom buses and went to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 … All of these people created the climate in which Congress felt the pressure and acted.
Mister Sellers was not the only one to express his displeasure. Prominent persons, radio professionals, and elected officials were disenchanted. The Clinton charm wore thin in contrast to the coldness of a claim.
In South Carolina, scene of a key showdown on January 26, where half the Democratic electorate are African Americans, black radio hosts have expressed outrage over Mrs Clinton’s remark. Now one of the state’s most influential black congressmen is hinting that he might endorse Mr Obama.
He said he was angered by what he claims were dismissive comments about Martin Luther King by Mrs Clinton. Aides to Mr Obama, who hopes to become America’s first black president, are also accusing Bill Clinton of being racially insensitive when he said in New Hampshire last week that Mr Obama’s campaign was a “fairytale.”
James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress and a veteran of the civil rights movement, referred to a comment made by Mrs Clinton on Monday, the day before her stunning comeback in New Hampshire set up a brutal nomination battle with Mr Obama. . . .
Mrs Clinton has since tried to clarify the comment, but the damage was done. Mr Clyburn, who had previously said that he would stay neutral, told The New York Times that he had been “bothered a great deal” by the remarks and was rethinking his position..
Even amongst the electorate, there is much clamor. In South Carolina, there is ample concern for the Clinton comment. For some, Martin Luther King was able to deliver the dream, and did far more than Bill Clinton might have. The monetary gains, while great could not have been realized without the dreamer who helped millions to believe, to speak out, and who worked to ensure the invisible people were seen.
Mac’s on Main is a popular soul food restaurant in South Carolina’s capital, Columbia. It is run by chef and City Councilman Barry Walker. The walls are decorated with signed, framed photos of blues greats like B.B. King and laminated maps of his council district. Walker is undecided but said he is unhappy with the direction the Clinton campaign has taken.
“I think they are going for broke now, going for whatever they can do,” he said.
Referring to an incident on the eve of the New Hampshire primary in which Clinton became teary-eyed while speaking to voters, Walker said, “crying isn’t going to help here.”
“She can cry all she wants, (but) black people have been crying for years. What’s going to help here is addressing the issues that are affecting us,” he said.
Joseph Free of Columbia, who was dining at the restaurant, agreed.
“They (are) … getting into the part I was hoping wouldn’t happen … (turning) the thing into a race problem,” he said.
Free’s comments reflect a kind of collective disappointment in the black community, according to Todd Shaw, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.
“I think that African-American voters are wise in the sense that they know there is more to come. That is the fear,” he said.
Once again, apprehension triumphs. Just as Americans accept that we must do all that we can to protect ourselves from those our leaders call foreign enemies, citizens embrace an agenda that allows us to eliminate discussion about the enemy within, racism.
Senators Clinton and Obama decided that talk of the divide between Anglos and Afro-Americans would not be healthy. They mutually adopted a truce to protect Americans from themselves. The two candidates have elected to continue as they had. Distractions dominate the campaigns. Americans continue to engage as Wall Street Journal Columnist Phillips did. As a country, we consider the most pertinent questions, the ones we ponder each day without prodding.
Will Barack Obama’s past drug use preclude a White House future? Will Christian conservatives forgive Rudy Giuliani his two divorces? Will voters forgive Hillary Clinton for forgiving Bill?
And what exactly did Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich see hovering above actress Shirley MacLaine’s house 25 years ago?
Could Dennis Kucinich, or any other human being, have seen the least likely unidentified object in the political skies, a truce between the two most prominent Presidential candidates, a permanent cease-fire. He could have as could we. In Presidential politics, as on the streets of America, we do not speak of what is real. Racism remains a staple in American society. A Presidential aspirant who speaks of change through hope, is reminded of the fact that we must do as always has been done. Experience teaches us, a white person with a plan will always be more effective than a Black individual who can inspire others to dream.
White persons want to suspend the storm, perhaps through eternity. Black people, who know their place agree to simmer silently. Few recall the words of the man who made a difference. It was not President Johnson who motivated millions in droves. Nor did Bill Clinton truly change conditions for the people of color. It was Martin who refused to remain silent. The message Reverend and Doctor Martin Luther King Junior carried throughout the country and into Washington District of Columbia advanced why we see today, Blacks and whites working together to bring about equality.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.