Aunt Jemima Rice, Uncle Tom Powell?
A couple of years back entertainer and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte kicked up dust when he lambasted Colin Powell as a "house slave" for touting President Bush's policies. Now a white Madison, Wis., radio talk show jock has done a poor man's Belafonte redux and branded secretary of state designate Condeleezza Rice an "Aunt Jemima" for allegedly being a white man's lackey. This dime store high priest of racial correctness also branded Powell an "Uncle Tom." These are silly, juvenile, racial cheap shots.
But Belafonte's Powell blast was even more disappointing. Powell could be called on the carpet for misleading the UN, and the European allies, on Iraq's phantom WMDs, foot dragging in condemning Sudan's genocide in Darfur, and shoving African and Latin American development issues to the backburner. Belafonte instead took the cheap way out and verbally mugged him. Rice can be justly criticized for being too hawkish, too fawning toward Bush, too lacking in social and diplomatic graces, and too inexperienced to broker an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and resolve the crisis over Iran and North Korea's nuke threat. Instead she's labeled a bandanna-wearing mammy.
It's simply much easier, more fun and certainly more attention-getting to hack up Powell and Rice for allegedly selling out black interests, than making a thoughtful case against their policies and politics. The double standard of self-appointed racial correctness vigilantes hangs out all over the place. They don't pole-axe Attorney General designate Albert Gonzales, who is Mexican American, Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Mel Martinez, who is Cuban American, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who is Chinese, as traitors and lackeys for serving in the Bush administration.
Belafonte, the Wisconsin talk show loudmouth and the other verbal muggers assume that blacks in the Bush administration are wind up toys to be manipulated by Bush and the Republicans, and play no part in making or shaping policy.
But Powell did buck Bush and back affirmative action, urged a formal nuclear treaty ban, prodded increases in economic assistance, and HIV/AIDS prevention aid to Africa, and futilely pushed for the U.S. to participate in the U.N. World Racism Conference in Durban in 2001. Even when he practiced deception at the UN on WMDs, he still held out for a bi-partisan, global engagement approach on Iraq. Powell gave the Bush administration foreign policy luster and credibility that it couldn't buy. Bush needed him much more than he needed Bush.
Rice lacks the stature, track record, and racial sensitivity of Powell, but she has sterling academic and political credentials that Bush sorely needs to keep his foreign policy star from further corroding. It remains to be seen whether she can duplicate Powell's fetes. But if the verbal hatchet welders have their way she'll never have that chance.
Powell and Rice's assailants believe that all blacks are inherently, or should be inherently hostile, to Bush administration policies. This is political fantasy. More than 2 million blacks voted for Bush in the presidential election. That was a significant bump up from the black vote total he got in 2000. In the crucial battleground state of Ohio, that ultimately sealed the White House for him, blacks gave him nearly a quarter of their vote. The great untold story of campaign 2004 was that those estimated 90,000 votes gave him the cushion he needed for re-election.
Before blacks helped tilt the presidential scale to him, there were glaring signs that many blacks had bought Bush's pitches that his faith based initiative, school vouchers, and boost in minority home and small business ownership had done more to aid blacks than anything the Democrats had done. Bush also sold them on the notion that he marched in lock step with them in opposing gay marriage and abortion.
That didn't mean that blacks stampeded to the Bush wagon. There were too many bitter feelings about Bush's slam of affirmative action, his four-year snub of NAACP leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus, the Iraq debacle, and the alleged suppression of black votes in Florida and elsewhere for that to happen. But their Anybody But Bush hostility did not spill over into blind hostility toward Rice or Powell. In polls and surveys, Powell consistently remained universally admired by most blacks for his rise to the top of the political heap.
As for Rice, when Bush's counter terrorism expert Richard Clarke attacked her before and during the 9-11 Commission Hearing earlier this year for falling asleep at the wheel and failing to warn Bush about possible terror attacks, many blacks privately grumbled that Rice would be the scapegoat for alleged Bush intelligence failings.
Powell and Rice's great sin is not that they slavishly defend Bush's much maligned foreign and domestic policies, but that they honestly believe that they can make a difference in an administration that many blacks loathe. The real Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms are the ones that name-call them for trying.