‘Condi for pres’ is condescending

They’re talking about Condi for president.    Maybe it’s because it looks more and more like U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) will be the Democratic nominee in 2008. Perhaps the Republican strategists, or at least those on board with the idea, are thinking that the best antidote for that possibility is a black woman. A black woman conservative, after all, might be appealing to many in the party because she doesn’t have that civil rights baggage they all hate so much. Her pit bull-like loyalty to George W. proves she’s a team player, and proves she’s more than willing to place the needs of her party far above the needs of her race, which white conservatives have got to love.

Strangely enough, perhaps her most appealing added bonus is, you guessed it, her race. Because no matter how conservative Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be, it obviously doesn’t change her race, which means it doesn’t change the strong possibility that a Condi candidacy could siphon away black votes from the Democratic base. African-Americans are among the most loyal of Democratic constituencies, repeatedly voting for Democratic candidates in overwhelming numbers, and the Republicans have been strategizing for quite some time trying to figure out a way to bring this alliance to an end. An appealing black candidate is the best possible weapon.

If former Secretary of State Colin Powell had run for the presidency, that strategy just may have worked. I believe a large number of blacks who normally would never have considered voting for a Republican would have strongly considered crossing party lines for Powell out of race loyalty and because Powell was such an impressive figure who made a lot of black people proud. Powell also would have had strong appeal because, as more than one sociological observer has said, blacks as a whole are pretty conservative on certain issues and wouldn’t have necessarily faulted Powell for not being properly anointed by the more well-known black civil rights leaders and high-ranking black officials. The chance to vote for such an accomplished black man for president — one who actually had a serious chance of winning — would have proven irresistible to a lot of black folks.

I would not have been one of those folks. I would never argue that Powell is not impressive, because in many ways he is. I think it’s good that he is on record as being a supporter of affirmative action — a position that made many conservatives nervous — but overall Powell is still a faithful conservative, the kind of guy who is still sticking up for the Iraq war despite having been duped in getting us into it. In short, though I think he probably would have been better than Bush — how hard is that? — I still have strong ideological disagreements with the man, and I’ll be damned if I ever vote for a black person for president just to say I did it. For my money, that’s not thinking clearly. If someone like Powell or Rice subscribes to ideas that I believe are detrimental to the country, then what point am I making by voting for them simply because they’re black and, oh, boy, wouldn’t it be neat to say I helped to elect the first black president?

So far, Rice has said that she has no interest in running for the presidency, and I sincerely hope she doesn’t change her mind. After eight years of her boss, I think four — or eight — years of Condi would be just about the worst thing that could happen to this country as a whole, not just black people. But if Republican strategists do manage to convince her that she owes it to the party to “take one for the team,” then I also hope black voters won’t be seduced by the appeal of being able to vote for a black candidate, even though that candidate has remained steadfastly at the side of the same man who took his own sweet time responding to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina while going out of his way to support policies that would wreak havoc on black America.

Sure, race matters. Sure, it would be nice to see a black president in our lifetime. But it matters who that black president is and what that person stands for.

More than a decade ago, when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was being battered about in the hurricane of his Senate confirmation hearings, making the absurdly hilarious claim that he was the victim of a “high-tech lynching,” I remember getting into a rather heated debate about the man with a good buddy of mine in a south Florida newsroom where we both worked at the time. My friend, an African-American, was strongly in support of Thomas’ confirmation. I was equally opposed to the idea that someone such as Thomas, whose record and opinions stood in stark contrast to the late civil rights legend Justice Thurgood Marshall, should be the one chosen to replace him. As far as I was concerned, Thomas’ nomination was an insult and he deserved every bit of hell he was getting both in the press and in the hearings.

My point of view was pretty upsetting to my friend, who believed that Thomas should be given a chance. I remember him telling me something to the effect that once Thomas got on the bench he would surprise a lot of folks — both folks like me as well as folks like the first President George Bush who nominated him — because he would be far more supportive of the rights designed to help African-Americans and the poor than his previous record might indicate. All we had to do was give the man a chance. After all, look where the man came from, right? Thomas grew up dirt-poor in the South and knew firsthand what racial and class discrimination could do to a person, and my friend was convinced that there was no way he was going to forget where he came from. Once on the Supreme Court, where appointments last a lifetime, Thomas would no longer have to dance to anyone’s tune to get ahead; he could relax and let the real Clarence Thomas come out to play. The blackness would take over, just watch.

So I’ve been watching for more than a decade now, and I’m still waiting to see why I should have supported Thomas’ nomination. A rubber stamp for Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s most conservative and far-right member, Thomas has proven to be pretty much just what I figured he would be, which is an embarrassment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Thomas isn’t a “real brother” or “isn’t black enough” because I sincerely hate it when I hear anyone using that kind of terminology. If you’re born black in this country, then you’re black. Doesn’t matter what your political leanings are, and it doesn’t even matter if you hate being black, because blackness isn’t a members-only club where one has to gain approval of the other members.

Brother Thomas is just as black as me or any other African-American, but he’s just a black embarrassment who should never have been placed on the Supreme Court. Sister Rice is no different.

In other news: To keep a light on post-Katrina New Orleans, this just in from the Web site counterpunch.com: “Compounding the fact that hundreds of thousands of people remain scattered across the country and separated from each other ... for Christmas, Greg Meffert, the city’s chief technology officer, announced on Friday that 2,500 homes have been scheduled to be demolished immediately. The majority of the homes to be bulldozed during this holiday season are located in the Lower 9th Ward,  the part of the city most affected by Katrina when the levees of the Industrial Canal suddenly exploded, flooding the economically poor, black neighborhood.”

Whether you buy the conspiracy theory or not, it just keeps getting more and more interesting, doesn’t it?

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. Send comments to [email protected]
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