Nation Topics - Executive Branch
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It was one of those odd little paragraphs that leap out at you, so filled with unexpected images it was. "What would Al Sharpton do if Bush calls him?" inquired Peter Noel in a recent issue of the Village Voice. Sharpton's reply was pure deadpan: "I would not meet with Bush alone.... There has to be an agenda that the black collective agrees with. Clearly, I'm not looking to be part of the Bush administration."
It was inspiring to know that Al Sharpton had seriously thought about what to do if Bush should call him. It was inspiring because I figure there's at least as much chance of Bush calling me as Sharpton. So if the press is interviewing him about such prospects, then I should be prepared.
First of all, the Bush team needs me. I don't know how to say this gently, because I know how hard they tried, but most of us in the black community agree that Sister Condoleezza and Brother Colin do not a rainbow coalition make. And since John Ashcroft is backed by the Christian Coalition and Bob Jones University, I know that Bush knows that the fair and unifying thing to do now would be to make a radical lefty critical race theorist like me the head of the civil rights division. Yes, me--the frizzy-haired feminist alternative to Al Sharpton. I offer myself up as Bush's own personal Lani Guinier.
Since we're looking ahead here, I must confess that, like Sharpton, I wouldn't meet with Bush alone. Not that I worry about becoming the next Monica Lewinsky or anything, but all in all, I'd want witnesses. The kind of witnesses I'll bet Donald Rumsfeld wishes he had to explain those tapes in the National Archives. The ones in which he agrees with Nixon that African blacks are "just out of the trees." Rumsfeld, who's heard saying, "That's right," "I know" and "That's for sure," now has no better excuse to fall back upon except that he was "acknowledging," not agreeing with, Nixon.
But with me, a Bush White House would never have to worry about such embarrassing moments, because on each and every tape for posterity you'd hear me, loud and clear, exclaiming, "Say what?" and "You've got to be kidding!" You'd hear me reciting the Emancipation Proclamation, telling people about the Reconstruction Amendments, chanting passages from international conventions against the death penalty and pointing out Greece on the map.
What of my broader political agenda, you may well ask. Unlike Al Sharpton, I'm not ambitious enough to come up with something with which a presumed "black collective" might entirely agree. Nevertheless, since I was among the 92 percent of blacks who collectively voted Democratic, I'm confident that I'll be a lot closer to that goal than Republican "civil rights activists" like Abigail Thernstrom.
Like Laura Bush, I'm also a great believer in literacy. So when Lynne Cheney rises up to decry the decadent state of the arts in America, I'll help out by making sure the National Archives has plenty of copies of that lusty lesbian love story she published before Dick gave her what must have been a really, really good spanking. When librarians ban Harry Potter for promoting witchcraft, I'll be sure to suggest that they try replacing it with the 1853 edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar--that children's book Bush says he so enjoyed reading as a child, but that some bitter liberals insist wasn't published until the year he graduated from college.
When John Ashcroft waxes nostalgic about the good old days of the Confederacy when "the races" lived together in honeyed harmony, I'll help set up the Sally Hemings Memorial Genealogical Resource Center so that all of us black folk who were so much happier then can find our way back to our beloved masters. I sincerely look forward to homesteading my own little cabin-in-the-garage, listening to the chilluns tell the neighbors how like family we all are. If the Missus wants to give me a little pocket money, and if I freely choose to do a few small chores like plowing the back forty, then isn't that precisely the utopian arrangement that former Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez, referring to the hospitality she bestowed upon a former slave of her own, described as "an act of charity and compassion"? Indeed, I foresee a mass migration of freedom-weary blacks streaming back to Tara to live with our good white cousins who have been waiting all these years for us to see that home is where the DNA says it is.
Moreover, when failed nominee Chavez continues to attack labor unions for interfering with such good intentions from her post at the Center for Equal Opportunity, I will see to it that she becomes a global role model of free enterprise, and on prime time. I'm pretty sure I could interest Fox in a program called Survivor Too. I see Ms. Chavez and the entire cast of characters of her think tank being transported to a remote tenement building in South Central Los Angeles. There they would have to learn to catch and broil rats, thatch their own roofs, find an open gas station when the toilets overflow and commute to their jobs in Washington, DC, by public transportation. To make it interesting, I suppose we could jack up the stakes with a Wolof-only language requirement. Each week, we the American public would be allowed to call in our votes and kick one resident out onto the street, where, dressed only in skimpy rat-skin jerkins, they would be consigned to begging for food on the mean streets of the financial district. If Chavez gets to Washington within one year of Inauguration Day, she gets that Cabinet post after all.
Finally, when Tommy Thompson succeeds in getting a federal ban on abortion and does away with welfare as we know it, I pledge to resurrect Jonathan Swift's modest proposal that the nation's Truly Deserving Rich round out their diets by dining on the plump babies of the Truly Undeserving Poor.
A baby in every pot, a contented ex-slave in every garage. I sit by the phone, waiting to serve.
Alagaroooo! Go CCNY, yea team!
Sorry, but I got carried away by the appointment of Colin L. Powell as
secretary of State. Not just because he was in my class at the City
College of New York, then called the immigrant's Harvard, but because
it's important for George W. Bush to have people around him who know what
it's like to make it without inherited wealth.
I've wanted to vote for Powell for President ever since I read his
1995 autobiography, which describes a guy who came up the hard way and
knows he couldn't have done it without the very public assistance the GOP
leadership in Congress so maliciously maligns. Writing of his years at
CCNY (now City University of New York), Powell said, "I received a free
college education because New York taxed its citizens to make this
investment in the sons and daughters of immigrants and the working
Both of us were the children of immigrant garment workers, a group
that is today still among this country's most exploited people. Yet less
is done for their children now than was done for us. As Powell recalls,
our college tuition was only 10 bucks, and there existed a vast network
of community public programs to provide support.
It's true, as George W. Bush said in announcing Powell's appointment,
that it's "a great day when a son of the South Bronx succeeds to the
office first held by Thomas Jefferson." But the South Bronx then, like
all poor quarters of the city, was not a symbol of public neglect but
rather a vibrant place dotted with community centers and excellent
schools. The burnt-out wreckage of the Bronx that followed was the direct
consequence of government funding cutbacks in programs for the poor that
had been the salvation of our generation.
Powell is a believer in the private sector's power to solve most of
our problems and has done much recently to encourage an increase in
private and corporate civic responsibility. But as he wrote in his
autobiography, "I am not, however, knee-jerk, anti-government. I was born
a New Deal Depression-era kid. Franklin Roosevelt was a hero in my
boyhood home. Government helped my parents by providing cheap public
subway systems so that they could get to work, and public schools for
their children, and protection under the law to make sure that labor was
not exploited--Social Security allowed my parents to live a dignified
retirement. Medicare gave them access to quality care during long,
painful terminal illnesses."
This is the guy who in 1995 had the temerity to tell the Wall Street
Journal that we should stop "demonizing" poor people on welfare and go
after the true "welfare kings," the corporations and the high-priced
lawyers and lobbyists that get the government to do their bidding: "Why
do all these corporations pour a ton of money into . . . the next
election? The answer is they are buying affirmative action, they are
buying preference, they are buying quotas--all the things we think are
terrible when the same terms are applied to minorities and those of our
citizens we think are less advantaged."
Powell voted for LBJ and Jimmy Carter and was reluctant to declare
himself a Republican. But his support of Bush and his prominence now in a
Republican administration will turn out to be a good thing--if he is able
to remind the President of his election season commitment to
"compassionate conservatism." The fact that Powell has been one of the
leading voices warning of the instability engendered by ever-sharper
class divisions throughout the world should make him a very progressive
Secretary of State.
Powell is properly admired as a military man, but his greatest
achievement has been as peacemaker. In the previous Bush Administration,
he engineered the stand-down of US and Soviet nuclear forces from their
high state of alert and was a strong defender of arms control. When one
reads the history of the Gulf War, Powell emerges as a consistent voice
for caution and negotiation prior to use of military force.
His is a voice in the Republican Party that cannot be ignored, because
he cuts through the unholy alliance of God and greed that has come to
dominate the GOP agenda. He has said he is "troubled by the political
passion of those on the extreme right who seem to claim divine wisdom on
political as well as spiritual matters. I am disturbed by the class and
racial undertones beneath the surface of their rhetoric."
That's the essential test of the Bush Administration and the
Republican Party: Will they continue to serve the interests of the rich
while counting on the Christian Coalition's social agenda to blind
working people to the betrayal of their economic interests? Or will Bush
define a truly moderate Republicanism in the Dwight D. Eisenhower mold?
The Republicans weren't always the party of strident meanness, and
perhaps Powell's appointment is a sign that Bush intends to follow
President Clinton's lead and govern as a progressive centrist. Bush
should mark the fact that Clinton leaves office with the highest approval
rating of any President since Roosevelt. Bush could do worse than to
follow those two Presidents' excellent example.
It all began in the heat of the summer of 1940. Hitler was at his peak in Europe. France had been defeated.
In 1996, Gore Vidal narrated his debacle defending the programs he wrote for the History Channel, which dealt with on the imperial aspects latent in the American presidency, to a panel of corporate media.
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