911 Volte-Face for Black America

Many black activists blamed the recent defeat of Alabama Congressperson Earl Hilliard and Georgia Congressperson Cynthia McKinney on their mild backing of a Palestinian state, and criticism of Bush's war on terrorism. Supposedly, they were done in by legions of white Republicans, by negative media publicity, and by wads of pro-Israel money dumped into their opponent's campaigns. This wasn't the reason for their defeat. Blacks make up a majority of voters in Hilliard's district, and a near majority in McKinney's. Jewish groups and conservative Republicans didn't deliver the knockout punch, black voters did. Many either stayed home on Election Day, or voted against them. They were seen as out of touch and out of step with the mood of many blacks in post 911 America.

If McKinney and Hilliard had paid the scantest attention to that changing mood they would have found that blacks are scared stiff of possible new terror attacks, have become passionate rooters for swift military and legislative action against terrorism, worry less about the issues of race and poverty, and more about their personal security, are more enamored of Bush, and more distrustful of the Democrats than ever. Polls taken immediately after the 911 attacks gave the first big hint of the stunning volte-face of blacks on politics and issues. By big margins they backed profiling and the carrying of identity cards, tighter security measures and shakedowns at airports, and were more willing than in the past to enlist and serve in the armed forces.

A recent poll conducted by First Amendment Center found that a near majority of Americans were willing to restrict First Amendment liberties, brook no criticism of the military, and to monitor Muslim groups. The poll gave no racial breakdown of the respondents. But if it had, it almost certainly would show that many blacks were just as willing as whites to scrap some personal freedoms to fight terrorism.

Blacks have also done a huge volt-face toward Bush. Just days before the terror attack, Congressional Black Caucus members were hammering Bush for not attending the World Racism Conference in Durban, South Africa, the Florida vote debacle, and his tax rebate that potentially drained billions from health and education programs. The attack changed all that. With the lone exception of California Democrat, Barbara Lee, the entire Congressional Black Caucus backed Bush's war powers resolution that gave him a free hand to wage war against any person or country suspected of terrorist activity. And that included McKinney and Hilliard who did join Lee in dissent and issued public statements that sounded every bit as bellicose as Bush in demanding decisive military action against terrorism. Some Caucus members went further and supported his controversial anti-terrorism bill.

In the year since 911, other than McKinney's stray potshots at Bush that got her in hot water, Caucus members have been loath to say or do anything that could be construed as dissenting from the war on terrorism. Civil rights groups have also watched what they say and do about Bush's policies. At the NAACP and Urban League's recent national conventions, there was virtually no public mention of Bush's war on terrorism and the relentless assault by Attorney General John Ashcroft on civil liberties protections.

Their tepid criticism or mute silence on Bush policies is a bell-weather of post 911 black sentiments. For the first time in nearly a half century, as many blacks as not have said that they like a Republican president, and that president is Bush. A recent poll by Black America's Political Action Committee, a Washington D.C. based political think tank, found that nearly 40 percent of blacks say that Bush is doing a good job. Even more ominous for black Democratic politicians, nearly forty percent of blacks reviled the Democrats for taking them for granted.

The flag waving, the downplay of civil rights and civil liberties concerns, support of war action, and the love fest with Bush by blacks can't be chalked up solely to fear, media brainwashing, and soaring political conservatism. Rally round the flag patriotism has always been intense among blacks in times of war and crisis in America. In the Gulf War in 1991, blacks composed more than one-third of the fighting force. When Congress voted unanimously to authorize then President Clinton to wage war against Serbia in 1998, other than Lee, who cast the sole vote against the war resolution, and a small number of black militants, there was scarcely a murmur of opposition among blacks, and none from the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups. The 911 terror attacks made more blacks than ever willing to wave the flag, swap some personal freedoms for increased security, backburner civil rights and civil liberties, and cheer President Bush. On the first anniversary of 911 nothing has changed.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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